This past Sunday morning I brought Alex and Julia down to my parents’ house for a visit. My sister and her kids were there, too. Part of the reason for the gathering was so my sister could trim my kids’ hair. But that’s not what this post is about.
I’ll get to the point in a little while….
We always had at least one dog in the family when Meredith and I were growing up. In fact, I’m not really the first-born. That honor belonged to Bonnie, a Standard Poodle, on the smaller side of Standard. She arrived 3 years before I did. I remember her as gray, dark gray, with white around the mouth as she got older. She was a pistol. She was feisty and opinionated and she wasn’t all that thrilled when I showed up. She mostly ignored me or at least avoided me, as I understand it. By the time my sister was born, two years after me, Bonnie had relaxed and was more tolerant of her furless two-legged baby sisters.
When Bonnie was around 8 years old, our number increased again. Thistle came home wrapped in my Dad’s jacket – a birthday gift for my mother from her parents, I think. I remember we were at my grandparents’ house – my parents and my mom’s father had gone to the breeder’s house so Mom could pick out a puppy. Another Standard. Mere and I waited impatiently by the windows in the living room, hoping a new puppy would come home with the humans. Thistle didn’t get named for a couple of days, actually. Mom couldn’t decide on the name. I remember one night in our house – Mom was at a ceramics class or something like that, and the rest of us were gathered in the dining room, watching the puppy frolic and chew on things, and trying to come up with a name. I remember writing the list as we went through the alphabet. I’m not sure how far we got…I don’t even remember if we thought of Thistle or if my mother did. But that was the name.
Thistle tortured Bonnie like all needle-toothed younger sisters torture their older siblings. When she matured, Thistle was taller than Bonnie and had a showy kind of swagger in her gait. They were both intelligent, spirited animals – very different in personality – they didn’t always get along – much like any other sisters.
Time passed, of course, and Bonnie lived to an impressive 15 years.
Our next dog was a birthday gift for me. Stormy was a gorgeous Doberman, so named because the night we brought her home a tremendous thunderstorm shook the house and everyone ended up in my bedroom at some point during the night to wait out the worst of it. Her full official name became "An August Night Storm." She slept with me until she grew too big to share my twin bed. To carry on the tradition, Stormy nipped at Thistle’s long ears with her sharp teeth, and they got along at times and didn’t get along at other times.
Taking care of the dogs was my job, I think. (Mere? Did we take turns?) I fed them their dinner after we humans were finished eating. I’d mix some of the leftovers in with their kibble. I would scoop the kibble from a big 50 pound bag into the two dog bowls. Thistle’s was red; Stormy’s was blue. The two dogs would sit near me as I mixed string beans and bits of chicken and warm water in with the dry food. I’d put Thistle’s bowl down first, in her spot near the stove. Then I’d get Stormy’s bowl. She would stand up on her hind feet, like a trained circus animal, and hop backwards as I carried her bowl around to the other side of the dishwasher. Her eyes never left the bowl. She’d down her food in about three gulps – no chewing – and then wait at the edge of the dishwasher for Thistle to finish. Then the two dogs would trade places and lick each other’s bowl, and then they’d cross back around to give their own bowls one final sweep of the tongue, just to make sure nothing was overlooked.
The other main job in taking care of the dogs was cleaning up the large piles of poop in and near the driveway. We didn’t let the dogs out on their own unless we were taking them into the back yard and were able to watch them. Our house was on a corner of Main Street, and we had seen plenty of animals crawl into our front yard to die after being struck by traffic. When the dogs needed to "go out," we’d let them out – one at a time – on a chain that was hooked on the rail of the back steps. That changed eventually – when Stormy was full grown, she actually pulled the stairs off of the house. Really. I took a picture. I’ll try to find it if you need proof.
Anyway – the driveway was out behind the house, and so when the dogs went outside, their poop radius mostly covered the driveway, with a little bit of the side yard that ran along beside it. Navigating the land mines in the driveway or in that side part of the yard was always an adventure. Dog poop gets in the nooks and crannies of the soles of your sneakers and is pretty hard to get out, even with a stick. Scraping your foot on the grass gets the surface stuff off pretty well, but nothing really works on the nooks and crannies except a strong spray of water from the hose and a lot of patience, or time for the poop to dry out and shrink enough to be pried out with the stick that wouldn’t work when it was fresh.
I know – fun topic, huh? Not the typical bill of fare on this blog. But I’ve got a story to tell, and the poop is a part of it.
Fast forward a whole bunch of years. First Thistle and then Stormy went on to those big back yards in the sky. They’re probably trading dinner bowl licks even now…
When my nephew Calvin was a baby or a little toddler, my parents got another dog. Our current canine sister is another black Standard Poodle. Her name is Rosie Lea.
She’s kind of a change-of-life baby. Much younger than the rest of the litter, she is the princess: pampered and doted upon. We used to groom and bathe the other dogs – my father clipped their toenails…but Rosie? She goes to the groomer’s once a month and comes home freshly coiffed and adorned with a seasonally appropriate bandana around her neck and a couple of matching bows clipped to her fluffy ears. This month, of course, she’s got shamrocks around her neck. When we were kids, we were not permitted to wear green or celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – our maternal grandfather was half Scottish, and my mother felt that anything even remotely Irish would be met with disapproval. It’s probably why green is my favorite color now…But – Rosie wears green with abandon. She can. She’s the princess.
When Thistle and Stormy were alive, they were absolutely NOT supposed to get up on the furniture. Stormy would get up on this one rust-colored chair in the living room and fall asleep. She was incapable of deceit – when we would come home, she’d slither off the chair and slink out to greet us – ears back and teeth bared in a pathetic grin of shame…her little stub of a tail wagging back and forth like a windshield wiper making the jump to hyperspace. Rosie, on the other hand, sits wherever she damn well pleases. And feels no guilt, no shame. She is not a dog – she is not even a person. She is the princess.
Stormy and Thistle ate some kind of basic kibble that we bought in bulk from the pet shop across the street. Scraps from the table, mixed into the food, were a treat. Rosie dines on one of the big name designer dog foods out there that comes in small bags and is so expensive my parents have been forced to take out a second mortgage on the house. Every week or so, my mother cooks a chicken or some tenderloin and shreds that up to add to Rosie’s food. Rosie, unlike her predecessors, does not vacuum the food down her throat. She picks. A bowl of food will last hours as she delicately nibbles at a choice morsel or two before hopping up onto the couch and clicking through the channels to see if there’s anything good on Animal Planet. The water she drinks is imported. Of course. She’s, you know, the princess.
Well, back to the beginning. We were at the palace this weekend. Rosie was outside strolling around the grounds. Julia was getting tired of being in the house with the rest of us, so Dad offered to bring her outside. I followed, with my camera.
First they inspected the rhododendrons. No buds on the lower branches – the deer snack on them after school. Julia’s had enough of budless branches, so she’s off in search of other adventures.
It’s funny – this picture. I looked at it a few minutes before I started this post. Big wave of nostalgia crashed over me. When I was Julia’s age, my Dad’s father used to take me for walks and little trips around town. He’d bring me to feed horses at a couple of different local farms…or we’d go fishing off the docks in Galilee. He’d also buy me candy – lemon drops – and Twinkies – much to my mother’s consternation. My paternal grandparents moved to Arizona for the better climate shortly before I turned four. But I remember those little jaunts with Grandpa. This picture brings me full circle. Funny how life does that sometimes.
Anyway. The back yard at this house (which my parents moved into the same year Julia was born) has a huge back yard. Dad bought a riding lawn mower for it, and he gives the kids bumpy rides around the house in a little trailer hooked to the back of his John Deere.
As I mentioned earlier, Rosie was already outside. Just about the only thing she has in commmon with the previous canines is the fact that she has to go outside on a chain. Hers, however, is sterling silver. The maid polishes it every Saturday.
There’s Julia and my father going over to say hello to Rosie. She’s hanging around by the bird feeders next to the flower garden. She likes to sing arias with the song sparrows on late spring evenings. On Tuesdays she has art lessons. Currently she’s working in oils.
While Dad and I discuss thinning out the overgrown flower beds, Julia heads back to Rosie, who has meandered away a bit. Gardening is tiresome. All that dirt.
Looking up from the iris leaves poking up from the ground, I shout out some words of caution to Julia as she tramps across the yard.
"Watch out for the poop!"
It’s been a couple days since the local prisoners on work release have come by to clean up the back yard, so there are land mines about every square foot in any direction. You need to be pretty damn good at hopscotch to navigate without a mishap.
Look! There’s some now! Julia points with one hand and prepares to point to the next batch with her other. It’s everywhere. Rosie just stares at Julia, looking stylish in her St. Patty’s Day neckerchief.
Funny thing about Rosie, though. None of this poop is hers. Nope. She doesn’t poop, apparently. I’ve asked my mom about this, and it’s true. Rosie didn’t do any of this. No – it was the OTHER dogs. The OTHER dogs in the neighborhood who come into the back yard for the express purpose of pooping on Rosie’s perfectly manicured lawn. (Okay, the manicurist has had the winter off.) But anyway – all this poop came from OTHER dogs. I don’t know what Rosie does – it’s a big secret. Mom just smiles mysteriously and won’t say more. But it must be true. After all, Rosie’s a princess.
And no, Julia’s not showing off her dainty ankle here – she’s checking for poop in the nooks and crannies. You can’t teach ’em too young, I figure.
One last look at the back yard before she goes back into the house. She’s never seen so much poop in her life. Poop done by OTHER dogs. Not by Rosie.
She’s a princess, after all.