Remembering Bear

John Latta
Executive Editor
[email protected]

I looked up lonely in one of my dictionaries and it said:
1a: being without company: LONE b: cut off from others: SOLITARY
2: not frequented by human beings: DESOLATE
3: sad from being alone: LONESOME
4: producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation

There are a lot of solo drivers out there who are alone and don’t think very much about it. Others hate being alone, but they’re not lonely. But many are. And even people who don’t mind being alone sometimes need warmth to keep out the cold of unexpected loneliness.

When you’re a child on your own, there are stuffed animals and favorite blankets to hold on to that know why you are crying and can take the edge off fears in the dark. You know they understand you and what you are thinking. You never have to explain why they have these powers, never have to work it out or write it down, analyze it or have anyone else understand it. They simply have the ability to take away some of the emptiness, to soften your sadness and help a spark flicker back into the way you feel about your world.

But then we grow up. Sometimes when you’re a trucker, that ache of loneliness is still there, creeping into your soul like a patch of fog on a clear day. Or there’s that sudden blue feeling, a sigh, a deep breath. There are days when sad songs make you think, “I know that feeling.” But you can’t really take a stuffed elephant or a blankie out on the road with you.

There is, however, something that has the same power. A dog on the road can love away the road blues, no questions asked, no demands made. And that’s what got me thinking about Bear, a shining example of the power of canine love, a black cocker spaniel with a gleefully uncontrollable love of water.

I didn’t know him that well. We only met once. But his buddy told me all about him. It seemed to me that Sterling Miller never had a closer, better friend than Bear. They loved each other. Miller rolling down highways, Bear sitting in the passenger seat watching America go by. He went more than a million miles with Miller. When Bear died earlier this year, Miller struggled.

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He’d found Bear in the dog pound when he was driving through Laramie, Wyo. “It was strange, really odd,” says Miller. “Something told me to go to the pound. I’d had a dog as a kid, but he’d died when I was six. But I’d never thought of a dog to come with me in the truck.” He and Bear “chose each other,” says Miller, and so began eight years of real closeness. “He filled the emptiness. I hated the solitariness, and sometimes you can’t help but feel the loneliness. He was so loving, so kind, and we would really communicate.”

Miller, 53, a trucker since the mid-1990s, would talk as he drove about where they were going and which of Bear’s bone-supplying chefs they’d see this trip. He’d play Bear’s favorite soft music, (“He didn’t like it loud and brash”), throw balls and take him to lakes, rivers and oceans for swims. They’d sleep on the bunk together and share truckstop showers.

Bear died in Florida, his head lying on Miller’s chest. He’d been ailing, and on the day he died he simply sat on the white sand and watched the ocean, the only time Miller ever saw him not race into the water. “Amazing dog. Oh God, I was a mess when he died,” Miller says.

Miller makes friends quickly, but he’s a trucker and spends most of his life alone. Miller is also a rarity, a trucker with the ability to play world-class golf. This fall he’ll play in four Champions Tour (for the over 50s) events with some real superstars of the game. He’d planned to take Bear to each course and show him around, as he always did when he played golf. He’d planned to roll up to the clubhouses in his Kenworth W900 with the 132-inch Double Eagle sleeper with Bear beside him. Now he’ll go alone. And alone is not always a good place to be, especially if you’re lonely.

I hope he gets another dog. From a pound. Bear would love that.

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