With the exception of my four years in the service, I've always had a dog. My first one lived to be a little over 15 years old. Prince was black with white down the middle of his face, white paws and a white-tipped tail — half water spaniel and half everything else.
He passed away when I was in boot camp. In all my letters home, I asked my father how Prince was doing. He never answered me. When I graduated and came home on a 30-day leave, I was told that Prince had passed.
All my new-found Marine Corps toughness flew out the window. I cried like a baby. Prince meant so much to me. He'd been my best friend from the time I was 5. He was living proof to me that God does, indeed, answer prayers.
From the 1950s, when I was very young, up until high school, Prince and I were inseparable. Somehow, he knew when school let out and would be waiting for me at the front door. When he spotted me, he'd start jumping up and down and tinkling a little bit.
When I got my driver's license, I'd put Prince in the front passenger's seat. He'd ride along with me with his head out the window and try to eat the air.
My mother went to Peabody College and studied to become a teacher. Mom met my father, and they got hitched right after she graduated. Mom stashed away her diploma and started having kids — four in a row in less than five years.
A little over a year after they were married, Mom had me. Then three more babies, all of us a year and a month apart. Penny was born just after me. She died before her first birthday. That was a tough time for my parents, especially Mom.
We were Mormons back then. Their slogan could have been, "The more the merrier." I'm convinced that Mormons are in a contest with the Catholics to see who can make the most babies. I'm pretty sure the Catholics are still leading. I didn't read that anywhere. Just a hunch.
Mom was extremely religious. She read the Good Book to me every night. Naturally, there were a lot of words that I didn't understand. I can't say that I remember many of the stories either, other than Jonah living in the belly of a whale and the Sermon on the Mount. But I do recollect Mom summarizing the meaning of the content.
She told me that miracles happen every day. That they were reminders to the cognizant, those paying attention, that the Almighty was with us and answering our prayers.
She told me, "God answers prayers if they come from a good heart," and, "He can see your goodness, even if no one else can."
There was a drunken time in my life when I hoped that the Almighty wouldn't just throw up his hands and snuff the small flicker of goodness that still burned deep down inside me.
For a time, we lived in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in a very small white house — way under a thousand square feet — with a green, asphalt-shingled roof, matching green shutters and a 2-foot-high rock wall running across the front lawn. There were three little bedrooms, living room, one bath and the kitchen.
Dad was morning man for WLBJ and managed the local Moose Lodge at night. He was rarely home. Unhappy with Dad's schedule, sometimes Mom would bundle me up, pin a note to my coat lapel that stated, "You take care of him for a while," and have a taxi deliver me to the radio station. Mom was having a tough go of it.
Dad sat me on his lap behind the microphone and showed me how to slip-cue records and thread tapes of commercials. He took calls in between records. A morning-radio control room is busy. Often, Dad would give me copy to read over the air.
Other than in his last 10 years, that time at the radio station was when I was closest to him. He showed me love the best way he was capable, by teaching me radio.
I wanted a dog more than anything. Mom suggested that I pray for one. She said that if God meant for me to have a dog, it would happen. She told me to be patient and, no matter what, never give up on God.
It didn't take much to convince me that God was very busy. I figured he had to be at least a hundred times busier than Santa Claus. As I write this, I realize that Mom telling me that leaving it up to God as to whether a dog was to be in my future pretty much got her off the hook.
I began praying up a storm. Every night I prayed on my knees by my bedside. I prayed while I was riding my bike. I prayed all the time. Sometimes out loud and even more under my breath.
By winter, just a week or so before Christmas, I'd been praying for my present from God for a good three months. When you're a kid, three months feels like three years — or 30. I was beginning to think that the Almighty wasn't going to answer my countless prayers.
Mom and Dad were sitting at the table in the kitchen having one of their many discussions about life. They talked about the same things over and over. In between their two marriages and two divorces and countless separations, they had talks. As a kid, I observed that that's what adults do just before they throw in the towel and go their separate ways.
I'd already been put to bed. After another one of my rather lengthy prayers for a dog, I got up and walked into the kitchen. I announced that this was going to be the last time I asked God for a dog, and if I didn't receive a prompt answer, I was done with praying.
Mom and Dad said something. I can't remember exactly what, but it had to do with keeping the faith, stuff Mom had said to me so many times before.
I think it was a Southern thing back then that no matter the weather, the bedroom window was always open just a little bit for fresh air. That's when you weren't worried about some idiot trying to break in. It was a time when many left their front doors unlocked and their car keys in the ignition.
Not long after Mom tucked me back in, kissed my cheek and closed my bedroom door, I heard what sounded like a bird chirping just outside my window. It didn't stop. I began imagining a little bird may have fallen and couldn't find his mother. It had to be freezing out there. Maybe I could save its life and secretly raise him in my closet. I put on my shoes and quietly opened the front door.
There was no little bird under my window. The chirping was coming from the other side of the front rock wall. As I got a little closer, the chirping began to sound more like whining. I stepped up on the wall and looked down.
There, in the snow, spotlighted by the moon, was a little black dot with a tail — the cutest puppy I'd ever seen. He looked up at me and howled. I scooped him up, looked toward heaven, thanked God and hustled back in the house.
Prince and his siblings had broken out of a screen porch and escaped from a man who was going to take them to the dog pound the following morning. The other pups were found spread throughout the neighborhood. Prince made it all the way across the bypass and into my neighborhood.
When I presented my "gift from God" to my parents, they both began to weep and hugged one another and me. Turns out Mom had just gotten through telling Dad that the Lord would send them a sign if they were to stay together.
Their marriage lasted just two years more. Prince lasted all my childhood, right up to the day I enlisted. He was my present from God. Living proof that prayers get answered and miracles do happen. I think about Prince often. He was a good dog.
If you're about to give up, remember this story.
Bill Stamps' new book, "Miz Lena," is available in softcover and Kindle editions on Amazon. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through Facebook.