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The Day She Disappeared In Dayton

...is it forever this time?

By Donna ReneePublished 6 months ago 9 min read

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. Turkey is gross and green bean casserole is downright disturbing, but my Aunt Cathy's mashed potatoes were pretty legendary and there were always tons and tons of rolls with butter and my Nana's homemade strawberry jam. I was nine years old that year. Even though I knew that we wouldn't play dress up in the sprawling, slightly creepy, unfinished basement the whole week like we used to, I was still looking forward to seeing my older cousins and my aunt and uncle who lived in Dayton.

Dayton, Ohio is only a few hours away from where the rest of my family lived in West Virginia, but we really only came here once a year. My Aunt Cathy and Uncle Dave had a big, old house with lots of rooms and lots of space...and Aunt Cathy was a talented cook. That made Dayton the perfect place for the biggest family food-related gathering of the year. We would always go shopping on Black Friday with my Aunt Cathy too, we'd scour the paper for the best coupons and wake up super early and everything! Some years, we'd even all go do the Turkey Trot together on Thanksgiving morning.

I remember the end of that long drive to Dayton so clearly.... Our station wagon was off the highway now and winding through neighborhoods where flaky paint peeled from 1920's homes. My dad recited the last few steps in the journey, like he did every time. My older sister, Bekah, and I joined in. Of course, we knew it by heart. I think I still do, actually, all these years later.

Let me try...now, how was it??

Right on Needmore,

Left on North Dixie

Right on Siebenthaler,

Left on Catalpa,

Right on Otterbien,

and left into the driveway!

Yes, I've still got it! Not surprising, really. We recited the steps of the journey a LOT on those trips.

I know, I know. Give me a break...there was no such thing as GPS and there wasn't much to do in the car in those days, no cellphones and even a few hours in the car seemed to drag on eternally.

The station wagon shuddered to a halt and we all piled out of the car. The old white house stood on a small rise like a sentinel guarding the deep backyard. My cousin Dan was sitting on the blue cushioned front porch swing waiting for us. Dan was always my favorite older cousin, probably because of the age thing. Hmmm. I guess I should explain the who's who of Thanksgiving before I go any further with this story.

Well, Dan was only a little older than me and my sister...I guess that made him my youngest, older cousin? There were four of them and the other three all seemed so much older than me. Ben was the oldest older cousin, he's always been funny and very strong, like a body builder or something. My sister and I could hang off his arms while he'd lift us all the way off the ground! Matt was the next oldest, he was really tall and was always listening to cool music. Beth was the only girl. She was sassy, smart, super pretty, and she taught me how to towel dry my hair without making it frizzy.

Then there's my Aunt Cathy and Uncle Dave. Also in attendance that year were my Nana and Papap, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Larry, and my Mom, Dad, sister, and me! Oh, and Cookie, of course.

Who is Cookie? Only the BEST DOG EVER!

She was a pound puppy originally...and she transformed from a flea infested terrier/poodle/who-knows-what-else into an incredibly smart and friendly little gray mop of a dog who loved to learn new tricks and visit people in nursing homes. Cookie's only major vice was garbage, well, after we'd gotten rid of the fleas, anyway.

Cookie had been returned to us many times over the past few years by some kind soul who'd found her out behind the local grocery store eating anything that had fortuitously fallen out of the dumpsters. It was a familiar event in our household. We'd frantically scour the neighborhood for her (because she'd also sometimes go looking for snacks in backyard compost heaps) only to have someone from the store walk her home (again) covered in grease and rotten vegetable scraps.

For a dog obsessed with finding snacks in the garbage, Thanksgiving was the most wonderful time of the year. She always came with us when we went to Aunt Cathy and Uncle Dave's house. It saved my parents from having to find a dog sitter over the holiday week but she also came with us because Cookie was my Papap's favorite person. Yes, you read that right.

Papap loved all of us grandkids (me the most, I think!) but it sure seemed like he enjoyed having Cookie around more. I think us grandkids were just too much for him sometimes...Our constant noisy play often made his hearing aids squeal with feedback, so he often turned them off when we were around and missed out on a lot of conversation.

Papap had also fallen off of a deck when I was a toddler and broken his neck. He was lucky to have survived but the accident had left him with no range of motion in his neck. He couldn't look side to side or up and down anymore and having all of the grandkids running around him made him uncomfortable. Cookie didn't though.

Nana and Papap's house was just down the street from ours so me and my sister would end up there several times a week with Cookie in tow. Whenever we'd come in the door, Cookie would go tearing through the kitchen and down the hall to the den where Papap sat and watched TV Land in his recliner for most of the day. I'm 99% sure he kept some secret snacks for her back there because I'd never seen her move that fast if food wasn't ensured. Her feet would slide out from under her and she'd go careening into the wall on her breakneck race to find Papap.

When it was time for dinner, Cookie would sit under Papap's chair at the long, wooden table because, of course, he snuck her bites of everything. He was too hard of hearing to be annoyed like the rest of the adults were by her constant high pitched whining for table food, or maybe he just always had his hearing aids turned off? Regardless, in Papap's eyes, Cookie could do no wrong.

So anyway, now you know everyone who was there for Thanksgiving! I won't bore you with descriptions of the massive amounts of food that were served and devoured or visuals of the towering stacks of dirty dishes piled by the tiny kitchen sink. All you need to know is that on Thanksgiving day, after everyone was stuffed to the gills, someone let Cookie out to pee in the backyard.

And they must have forgotten her there.

It could have been 15 minutes or it could have been 2 hours before anyone noticed.

But Papap eventually came looking for Cookie and she was nowhere to be found in the sprawling old house.

After a few minutes of calling for her, another few minutes of crinkling American cheese wrappers, checking all the bedrooms and bathrooms, and a few frantic flashlight passes through the backyard, we reached the inescapable conclusion... Cookie had run away again. In Dayton.

My sister and I were in tears.

My dad drove around the block a few times calling out his window for Cookie...no luck. With darkness falling and the temperature plummeting, my Uncle Dave (bless him) went out with a headlamp and searched the surrounding neighborhoods on foot for nearly two hours. He returned with the beginnings of frostbite and bad news and my sister and I cried and cried.

I remember my Nana and my Aunt Cathy comforting me, and my cousin Dan saying that we would make posters that night and bike around tomorrow in the daylight putting them up on all of the telephone poles. Someone would find her. Someone had to...

But it was getting so cold and she had probably been hit by a car and what if she froze to death in a ditch and what if...what if...what if.

And poor Papap. That tough old WWII tail gunner and broken neck survivor just couldn't take this missing mutt!

Another hour passed with the joy of the holiday completely snuffed out. There were some halfhearted attempts to start up a board game or a movie but no one was in the mood for family fun anymore. Not with Cookie out there somewhere in the cold, dark night.

And then it happened! Someone went downstairs to fetch some packets of Swiss Miss from the storage shelf on the basement steps, heard a strange noise, and went to investigate.

Cookie's infamous, high pitched whining was coming from behind the locked workshop door in the far corner of the enormous, unfinished basement where no one ever went to play anymore. The key was quickly found and Cookie was released from her basement prison cell. There were slobbery dog kisses and joy all around. The holiday was saved!

But how could Cookie have possibly even gotten into the locked basement in the first place and then gotten herself further locked into the off-limits basement workshop?


Ohhhh, Papap.

Poor Papap.

He confessed.

He'd gone down there hours and hours ago to grab the toolbox so that he could take a look at a plumbing concern for Aunt Cathy. He didn't know that Cookie had followed him downstairs like she followed him everywhere because he couldn't turn his head to look behind him. He couldn't see poor little Cookie at his feet in the workshop because he couldn't look down...and he couldn't hear her toenails on the cement basement floor because, well, he couldn't really hear much at all. So Papap had collected the toolbox, diligently locked the workshop, turned off the lights, and went back upstairs, completely oblivious to her forlorn whines of confusion.

All was forgiven in the end and Cookie probably gained five pounds from all the treats that Papap slipped her in apology... but I'd be surprised to hear that Papap ever locked a door again.

***written in loving memory of Papap (and Cookie)***

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About the Creator

Donna Renee

Hi! Thanks for reading! My hobbies include making coffee, drinking coffee, and starting to write a story and then rage-deleting it when I get the slightest bit frustrated.


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  • Roy Stevensabout a month ago

    Memories become so precious. This is a lovely tribute (though it's a bit harrowing) to two of your loved ones (at least). I've been down to Dayton a number of times to visit the US Air Force Museum and, yeah, it does have a collection of weird street names- or is that just me I wonder. Cookie sounds like she was a sweetheart and a lucky puppy to be carried along in your remembrance! Like your Papap, my Uncle George Fiddler was a tail gunner in WWII but I never met him, he's buried in The Netherlands near where his plane was shot down. What a generation they were!

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