I can't see peaches on a roadside without calling to mind my first Damn Good Dog. My mom and I were driving south from our home in Alabama towards the Gulf of Mexico when we spotted a stand with a hand-painted sign: "PEACHES." There must be fifty or more of these places on that stretch of road, but as luck had it that day, we stopped at the one where an an old Boxer mama was nursing the last of her pups behind an old shed. The man asked, "Can I help you, ma'am?" and to my surprise, my mother replied, "Only if you're giving away puppies."
I'd been afflicted with the worst kind of puppy yearning for the entirety of my ten years but had always been denied because military life was way too transitory. Military pets often get left behind when you have to go to your next duty station, which was every two to three years if you're lucky. But there my was my mother, making a deal. If that little girl pup was still there when we returned from our day at Panama City's Shipwreck Island, then we'd take her. Of course, I thought of nothing else all day. There wasn't a waterslide around that could take my mind off that dog at the fruit stand. When it was finally time to head back to Alabama, I'd already named her. It was 4th of July weekend, so in honor of that, she would be called "Liberty."
That was the same year I read Where the Red Fern Grows for the first time, and as I wept at the ending, I climbed out my bedroom window, underneath which Liberty's doghouse had been strategically placed. (My mother was a crafty sort and had built the dog house herself using a heavy tin Coca Cola sign for the roof. This created the perfect venue for Liberty to jump onto and peep into my window when she wanted anything.) I lay there with her that night sobbing over the loss of Old Dan and Little Ann, and Liberty just nuzzled me lovingly like damn good dogs do.
Now the years have passed and I've had a few more dogs since her, but around this time every year, when the southern fruit ripens and shows up on the roadsides in bushel baskets, I'm taken back to that time with her. I still see that expectant dog-face looking in on me with those boxer wrinkles on her brow and hear the din of her tail wagging against her tin roof. I close my eyes and imagine those muddy paw prints still on my window pane. If it's true what they say about all dogs going to heaven, then I'm sure Liberty is up there with my mama, and they're both waiting for me under an angel-painted sign for "Peaches."