The summer of 1969 wasn't a very good one for me.
I was sixteen and my mother was dying of cancer. I'd known since May that she was terminal, and it was pretty harrowing. It was hard on everyone, of course; my brothers were only eight at the time and this was pretty hard to take, especially as she was at home, not hospitalized.
There were two things I recall most about that summer: the fact that I was losing a lot of sleep from hearing Mom's groaning with the pain and my stepfather trying to do what he could for her. The other was a dog that belonged to someone who lived across the street from us. Every night, for hours on end (or so it seemed) that dog howled and howled. The two sounds made a hellish counterpoint as I tried to sleep.
When I came home from church on Sunday, the 17th, I knew that there was something going on. My grandmother had been there all weekend, and my oldest sister had arrived while I was out. Dad told me he'd called my middle sister and my uncle as well. I didn't need anyone to tell me that the end was near.
My grandmother had a fit of the vapors, in keeping with her rather histrionic personality, and I spent the bulk of that rather long, hot afternoon in my room. I just wanted to be left alone. My oldest sister, the one to whom I've always been the closest, tried to encourage me to join the family downstairs, but I just couldn't. And that dog across the street was howling for all he was worth--in the broad daylight, no less.
Sometime a little after five, I heard my grandmother start wailing and carrying on and I knew it was over. I called Denise, who was sleeping, and left a pretty blunt message for her with her mother, something like, "Well, when she wakes up, Mrs. Dieter, would you tell her it's all over? Mom just died." I remember saying that, and thanking Denise's mother for her expression of sympathy, then hanging up.
Dad sent my brothers upstairs--my grandmother was having something near to hysterics, and he didn't want the little guys any more traumatized than they'd already been. I remember taking them into my parents' room where they'd been sleeping all summer anyway (Dad slept on the couch, since we had a hospital bed set up in the dining room for Mom).
It was only then that I was able to cry, as the three of us sat there holding on to one another.
When we finally got sleeping arrangements sorted out, I just fell into bed. There were two things I realized the next morning: the dog had stopped howling sometime before I'd gotten to bed, and it was the first good night's sleep I'd gotten all summer long.
After the bustle of the funeral, as we started to settle into being a family of four instead of five, I asked Dad if he'd heard the dog howling all summer. He said yes, and remarked that he'd never heard it again after Mom died on that hot Sunday afternoon...