EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations recently. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com about Arizona Wildcats athletics. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
BY ERNIE McCRAY
Special to AllSportsTucson.com
Not too long ago I heard Garrison Keillor cite a poem about the passing of his cat either on Prairie Home Companion or the Writer’s Almanac.
A line from it says:
As we stroked her and said,
‘Good cat. Good cat.’ And she lay down her head
On our lap
And took her nap.”
After listening to the tribute I kept thinking of my favorite pet, my dog Jackson, a handsome black lab, who left this world a few years back. He, literally took a nap, just laid himself down quietly and then let himself go. I was just devastated although I knew the day would come as he had become feeble and old and had slowed down considerably. It seemed like it was over night: one day we, him, my mutt, Lolli, and I are flying through the many paths in our neighborhood or through the sands of a choice of beaches, and then one day Jackson is looking at us as if to say, “Hey, I would if I could but since I cain’t I ain’t.” And then he was gone.
I still miss those days, our walks in particular, something we’d do come rain or come shine in sickness and in health for nearly twelve years and we would be stepping seriously. People would say as we whisked by: “Hey, who’s walking who there?” And we’d just smile as we kept on stepping down the line.
Jackson was born to walk and I am so honored that he didn’t mind me tagging along. And, for the longest, tagging along was precisely what I did. It took us a while, a lot of trial and error, to develop a rhythm. When he was little (a period of about a week in his life) I was the one moving along too fast on our daily walks (and sometimes a run) and then all of a sudden he was practically flying me like a kite while I’m yelling “Heel! Heel!” and he’s looking at me with a “Heel? What the hell is ‘heel?'” expression on his handsome face.
Oh, what times we had on our journeys. I can never forget those moments when he and Lolli would abruptly disappear into the bush and then just as suddenly reappear, thrusting me into a tug of war with them over some bone that looked like it was probably the key missing evidence in a murder case of many years gone by.
You never knew what they would come out of the darkness with. For instance, I had never, for a moment, wondered what happened to King Kong after he died until those dogs of mine dug him up (had to be him or Godzilla) one night at about the 12th hole of the Balboa Park Golf Course. Ewww, the smell! Bad dogs! Bad dogs! And they’re looking at me like “Dude, you haven’t eaten until you have a piece of this! Tastes like chicken!” No thank you!
The three of us on our walks were forced to run from coyotes and from automatic sprinklers, too, that would come on full blast with no warning and we ran sometimes just to be running. Our being together often was the highlight of so many of my days and I would suspect their days too, and sometimes the stress that had cursed me earlier in a day would, because of them, just fade away like a breeze at play.
They brought so much joy my way, teaching me lessons about love and loyalty and how to live life to the fullest, the way it’s supposed to be lived. They were my true soul brother and sister.
Jackson, especially, inspired me just in how he lived his last days. He’s my hero if I’ve ever had one. He was about 84 in homosapien years when he took his last breath of air. I hope to live much longer than that but when I look back on those days I remember how it would take us the amount of time it takes today’s Congress to move on anything to get to places we, at one time, would reach in no time – but he was so game and when we got to where we could rest he would slowly sit and then slowly lie down, looking as though he was going to literally melt into the ground like grilled cheese on a porous bun. But we made it. Loved that beautiful canine.
My dream is to age as gracefully. To him and Lollie I say, as Garrison Keiller said to his cat, Meiko:
May you curl up and rest, with a quilt for a nest
May you run, may you leap, and be young in your sleep.
And, in my words, May I, in some form, see you again.
Thank you for being such wonderful friends.