Plane & Pilot
Saturday, December 1, 2007

Obituary For My Friend

You don’t know true sorrow until you lose a dog

It was early on the first day of the EAA Northwest Regional Fly-In at Arlington, Wash., and Marlene called me at the exhibit. She sounded strange, so I walked away from the booth for some privacy and stood in the middle of a wide and grassy fire lane with lines of exhibit booths on both sides. Then a voice I knew said words that I understood, but that my brain refused to comprehend: “Budd, Nizhoni died about an hour ago.”

I can’t even describe the feeling. Nizhoni was our dog and, next to Marlene and my kids, my closest friend. I received a similar call 22 years ago, when a voice at two in the morning said, “Your brother, Gary, has died.” He was 42. Nizhoni was only eight. It’s hard to decide which one hit me the hardest. The passing of my parents didn’t even come close.

When my brother died, it wasn’t until the next day that it set in and I cried. After a minute or two on the phone with Marlene about Nizhoni, I became completely unscrewed. Right there in the middle of an air show crowd, grief rolled over me and nearly took me to my knees. I sobbed as I’ve only sobbed once before, for Gary. I couldn’t, and I still can’t, believe our little girl is gone. And I can’t believe I’m sitting here writing about it. But anyone who has read Grassroots for even a short time knows Nizhoni, and I couldn’t let her pass without letting our friends know. I’ve put off writing this for months because I knew it would be hard. And it is. I’m only glad you can’t see me.

She was a loving part of everything we did. For instance, I clearly remember flying home one afternoon with her and Marlene in our C-140A when the tach decided to eat its innards. It began making this incredible high-pitched scream as gears were being digested, and it was driving Nizhoni nuts. She couldn’t get away from it. Marlene was flying, so I put my hands over Nizhoni’s ears and held her tight. She burrowed into my chest and calmed down. There’s no feeling like that of a dog giving itself over to you in total trust.

And then there was the time we spent at a friend’s house in a fly-in community. They had this really unusual stiff grass, like a tall crew cut, in front of their hangars. Nizhoni was still a puppy and would go bouncing through the grass like a wind-up toy, leaping higher and higher before diving nose-first into the grass and burrowing into it like a gopher. Then she’d pop up and do it again and again. Our hosts, who weren’t even dog people said, “You’re going to be sorry if you don’t videotape her.” And they were so right. We’re definitely sorry.

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