+On rainy days like this one I put on my raincoat, floppy hat, gloves and boots and then hook up the harness and leash on ninety-five pounds of big black dog and walk around the block, juggling an umbrella in my free hand while trying my best not to be dragged into the ditch.  We do this about five times.  Can you tell that in our house dogs are not just part of the family, they are as precious as the people.

The first dog I had was a present for my third birthday.  She was a cocker spaniel and we named her Lilly Belle.  I am told that was my choice, but I barely remember her.  I am also told that she bit one of my grandfather’s visitors so he shot her.  He was like that, but that really is a whole other story.

My other grandparents lived on a small farm a short drive from our house in town. They were still farming in the fifties the same as their parents had in the thirties.  There was a corn field plowed with a horse, a chicken coop, a pig lot, a creek running along behind the meadow where the cows grazed and a barn.  On Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm everybody worked.  Even my six year old self, when I stayed, had to gather eggs and feed the dog.  I hated the chickens but loved the dog.  Rusty, a collie.  Rusty worked just like everybody else bringing home the cows, chasing rabbits and announcing visitors.  And, entertaining grandchildren, of which there were many.  Rusty would fetch a stick as long as you were willing to keep throwing it.  He put an end to several games of tag when Grandma came out of the house demanding that we let that poor old dog rest.  He was great for snuggling behind the couch listening in on the grown ups or warming cold feet curled up at the bottom of the bed.  He finally grew old and died not long before Grandma and Grandma got too old for the farm and had to let it go.

My family moved from a house in Kentucky across the river to Illinois to live in my maternal grandfather’s house because he was ill and needed to be cared for.  Not long after we moved in my dad thought getting a puppy would be good for us, so off we went to the pound to look for a puppy.  That didn’t work out exactly as planned.  We came home with a grown female collie.  She was a little broad across the rear, but dad said that was probably because she had been spayed.  Well, not exactly.  She had six puppies that we had to find homes for.  After that Lady was spayed and became a constant companion to my sister.  The two of them played together in the sand box and walked around the block.  They were often invited up on the porches of the widows who lived on either side of us. I even recall Michele sharing her ice cream cone with Lady.  A bite for me and a bite for you. After a few years Lady developed heart worms.  She fell into the gold fish pond and then died from heart failure.  I was twelve years old by then and understood death better than I cared to.  Lady was never coming back and that broke my heart.

When my son was three and his sister still in a cradle our next door neighbors gave him a collie pup.  Daisy was a beautiful animal of the Lassie variety.  She decided my children were her puppies and guarded them from all manner of trouble.  Daisy was more my dog than my son’s.  We took the children to the park together and she kept me company late evenings when everyone else was sleeping.  With Daisy I could cry or cuss or throw a hissy fit and she was still there for me.  I held her head and whispered good girl to her when she had to be put down.

Then there was Midnight.  When my son was about nine I came home from work one day to find him and his best friend sitting on my front porch steps with this large, black mixed breed dog.  The dog was laying down with his head on his paws and both boys were crying.  When I asked what was the matter, they tearfully stated that we were going to have to shoot Midnight.  What! Surely not. Well it seems the friend’s family had to move from their home and could not take the dog with them, so his stepfather said they would just have to shoot him.  So, Midnight came to live with us.  That dog followed my son every where.  He went to little league games, followed little boys on bicycles all over town, waited impatiently by the door whenever we made him stay home.  One day my son came home, but Midnight didn’t.  We don’t know what happened, but he left an empty place behind him.

Then there was Gunner.  Gunner, a boxer, was my husband’s dog and best friend and big baby. He was a gift from Jerry’s brother.  When Gunner came to us as a puppy he went to work with my husband and slept under his desk until he was too big.  My children’s friends were all in love with Gunner.  They bought him cheeseburgers and always greeted Gunner first when coming to our house.  He was playful and gentle.  When the grandchildren came along Gunner became their guardian and playmate.  He slept at the foot of our bed, took his bath in the shower with my husband and lay at his feet during dinner. We had him for about ten years and when he left us I wanted no part of another pet.  The ends hurt too much and they took up to much time, too much energy, too much money and too big a piece of my heart.  For a few years there was no dog.

Now, there’s Tyson.  Tyson is a lab mix who weighs in at ninety-five pounds.  He is special needs in that he has colitis and needs a special  diet.  I was determined not to like Tyson when my grandson came to live with us and hoped we could find somewhere else for him to go. But, he sat by my chair looking up with those soulful brown eyes and offering me his paw.  He is so well behaved, mostly, and he is devoted to Curtis.  And, the darn dog seems to love me.  What can I do?  My grandson has to work and I don’t, so Tyson hangs out with Jerry and me.  He is stretched out on the loveseat snoring softly as I write.  When I get up from my chair to go to bed he will follow me and sit by the bed staring at me until I tell him to come on up here.  Tomorrow  we will walk around the block, several times. We will play keep away with his chew toys and he will keep me company whatever I do.  Then after a few days my grandson will get back home and Tyson will be his dog until he has to be gone for work again.  Then Tyson will settle for granddad and me.

Chances are there will always be a dog in my world.  Damn dogs take up so much time. They drop hair all over the house.  They fart.  They have to be fed when I have other things to do and just as sure as I want to have a down day the dog needs to go to the vet or gets into something nasty and has to have a bath.  I love dogs.  I like them more than a lot of people.


Remembering Dad

Had he lived today would have been my dad’s birthday, 90 years I think, but I am not sure. He left us much too soon in the summer of 1981 and I have missed him every day since.  When I was still a child my dad’s birthday was always the first of celebrations that filled the last week of January every year.  We had cake and ice cream for dad on the 27th, then more cake and ice cream for mom on the 29th and another celebration of their wedding anniversary on the 29th.  Celebrations at our house always added friends to family and included games and stories, usually jokes told by dad that we laughed at, again.

Like many daughters I idolized my dad; believed he knew everything and could do anything.  He rarely disappointed. I remember he graciously sat between me and another girl whose dad was not around for a father/daughter dinner, he picked up her check and we drove her home. He was my example for how to treat people.  When some of his nephews got into trouble, which a couple of them did often, their mothers called on Uncle Mitch to straighten them out. He would sigh, run a hand over his head, then get in the car to go see what he could do to help.

When my children came along Dad became Grand Dad.  He loved hanging out with my kids and he was even more a hero to them than to me.  My children were absolutely certain the Grand Dad would give them anything and everything they wanted and that nothing could ever be so wrong that Grand Dad couldn’t fix it.  They were still children when he died.  It was devastating for them.  Now, years later, memories of Grand Dad are the best highlights of their childhood.

My favorite memories are of times when dad was joking around, when he was playing with his children then grand children.  He and I played together in a golf tournament once and it was a disaster.  I played horribly and Dad kept picking up the slack so that we finished just a step up from last.  But we laughed off my wiffs and slices and enjoyed our time together.  I said at the time that I would never put us through that again, but how I wish he was here to laugh at my third tee shot into the water one more time.

When my grandmother died I was not yet five years old and full of questions about why and where did she go.  Finally Dad took me outside where the moon was rising over the trees with a bright star just to the left.  Dad said that my grandmother lived behind that star and she could watch us from there, but we could not see her.  Thanks, Daddy.  I don’t believe there is a life after this one, but my five year old self needed that.


Remembering Dad