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Texas Caviar

You don’t have to be from the big state of Texas to appreciate the big taste of this healthy, easy-to-prepare dish!

Shawnelle Eliasen's healthy and delicious Texas Caviar

The doc made it sound easy. Just walk. Walk every day. Easy for him to say. I couldn’t even make it to the end of our driveway to pick up the darn mail. A quarter mile there and back. I got winded just shuffling around the house. Our mailbox might as well have been in China.

Just walk. Right.

Even more pathetic, I was all of 39 years old. I had my own engineering consulting company with employees nationwide. I was always traveling for work or taking care of Cherokee Acres, our 40-acre horse ranch here in Texas. For kicks, my wife, Stephanie, and I would take our horses on trails throughout the West. I was still in the prime of my life, for crying out loud!

Here’s what happened: Stephanie and I had been in Colorado Springs with friends when I’d woken up the middle of the night with discomfort in my chest. Stephanie and I drove to the ER, and I ended up with a quadruple bypass. My 10-day vacation turned into a 10-day hospital stay. My souvenir—a scar from my chest to my belly.

I took time off work because I couldn’t travel and traveling was half my job. I couldn’t get anything done on the ranch either. Climbing into and out of bed hurt like crazy; I slept on the couch because I could roll off it easily. My days were even worse. You couldn’t ask me to lift anything. I couldn’t remember ever feeling so weak. I was miserable.

Stephanie stayed around the house for the first few days after we got home, but eventually one morning, she said, “Hon, they want me back at work now. Try to get in some steps today.”

She kissed me and was out the door. Maybe I’ll make it past the fridge today, I thought.

Minutes later, I heard a key rattle in the lock. Stephanie came rushing back in, carrying something in her arms. A yellow Labrador puppy. What the heck?

“Where did you get that?” I asked.

“In our mailbox,” Stephanie said. “Can you believe it?”

“No! Our mailbox?”

“I checked the mail before I turned out of the driveway, and there he was! Curled up inside like a little yellow fur ball. Isn’t he just the cutest little thing?”

The puppy was all scraggly, with big, goofy feet and pleading eyes. What on earth was Steph thinking? Wasn’t I enough of a burden? Did we really need a puppy too?

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We’re no strangers to strays. Once, after a hurricane, a Saint Bernard showed up. Took us days to locate his owners. You always hear stories of people abandoning unwanted pets along the highway. But in a mailbox? Who puts a puppy in a mailbox? Crazy people, that’s who. Crazy people with crazy dogs.

Stephanie was late to work. I was already in a bad mood. I couldn’t take care of myself, and now I had to babysit this flea-bitten puppy all day? “We’ve got to find a place to take him,” I complained as Steph rushed out the door. “He’s going to the pound tomorrow.”

I leaned back in my recliner and wagged my finger at him. “Don’t you give me any trouble today, you hear?” He cocked his head the way puppies do, broke into a grin and waddled over to me. I’m not going to get all soft and gushy over this pup, no matter how cute he is!

Wherever I went, the pup would dutifully follow. Maybe I’ll chance a little walk. I tentatively opened the door to the yard. The pup skipped ahead, then looked back. Come on, he seemed to say. I took a deep breath, then a few steps, the pup right at my side. He walked a little funny too. Maybe that’s why he was so interested in me.

I didn’t take the pup to the pound the next day. Instead, we walked. This time, toward the mailbox. But I had to turn back. “Next time, we’ll get there,” I gasped. It was a promise.

We named him Cheyenne, in homage to Stephanie’s Native American heritage. Before long, I was walking to the mailbox with Cheyenne every day. Pretty soon, I was strong enough to work the ranch again. Cheyenne enjoyed running with the horses. We had both gotten strong.

Cheyenne was my buddy for 12 years. He joined Stephanie and me on our trail rides. My favorite photo is of Cheyenne on the Oregon Trail, sharing a water bucket with one of our horses.

Who puts a puppy in a mailbox? Maybe someone not so crazy after all. Cheyenne was exactly what the doctor ordered.

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