For a year as Big Dog grew weaker and older Kevin the neighbor's dog try to stay at our house. He would even run down to my driveway and bark at workers that pulled up in trucks. I would have to say - This is Kevin - He's not my dog.
The neighbors left for days during the coldest of cold and Kevin was on his own. We looked out to see him lying on the frozen ground, head hung down over the rock facing the kitchen window. I built a barricade from the wind on the porch, put down blankets, took food out behind Big Dog's back. Spoke soft words. When I confronted the neighbor when they returned about this they said - oh, i"m so sorry and thanks for taking care of him because so and so was supposed to do that and - blah blah blah.
Kevin was about 3 or 4 years old. A furry mutt. Part Pyr and part Golden Retriever by the looks of him. Every afternoon he howled the saddest song of his people. Like a lone wolf. I came in one night from the bookstore and my mother had tears in her eyes as she told me - there's something about that howl. It's the loneliness sound I know. He is lonely.
Kevin was a chain dog for the first years of his life. Then I suppose he was supposed to be a fierce guard dog and keep people at bay. He did that. He was also apparently supposed to fend for himself and survive the elements no matter what they were. He'd never had a bath in his life, smelt like a furry dog that had never had a bath and wasn't allowed inside. They have a little dog that lived inside. Kevin just stood and looked at the door as little dog went in.
We had Big Dog Titan who went in and Mom's dog Little Duncan. Kevin stood in my driveway and watched them go inside. He began to lay in the leaves by the house out of the wind and because they were soft. I didn't have the heart to make him leave. I started giving him milk bones through the gate in the morning. No matter how hungry he was he would take it and stand there and look at me, the light of appreciation in his eyes. A serious thank-you. He wouldn't leave with it until I said, You're welcome. Then he would take off and lay on the rock in the sun, hold it between his paws and eat. Or go hide it covering carefully with the dirt with his nose. A fun process to watch.
One day the man in the cap was angry that Kevin was down at the house and began screaming his name and demand that he come there. Kevin put his tail between his legs and went up the hill a few steps, then he would turn and run back towards me. Then turn and obviously frightened of what the result might be if he didn't obey, try to go back up the hill. The man kept screaming and he kept coming back toward me. I yelled up the hill that he was fine. We didn't mind. Let him be. Mr. Angry got in his truck with a huff and left.
We live in the country. I have a million dollar view from my little, old house on this hill. It's blue ridge beautiful. It comes with a price of having a mix of neighbors who are friendly and some who are other.
When the women were there alone Kevin would relax and visit a little with them. Still when I was outside and they called him up there as night was falling he would stay near me and pretend not to hear them. A man working on the house asked if those people were calling my dog. I said - That's Kevin. He's not my dog.
Having a small house with me and Mom and a little dog and mom's fifty pound cat and one BIG Dog one hundred twenty pound alpha dog on medication didn't leave a lot of room for any kind of blending. Although one day Big Dog was on the porch as I was sneaking Kevin a bone through the gate and he looked at me and looked at Kevin and looked back at me and it was that weirdest thing. I knew what he was thinking. If I leave now she won't be alone.
Then a few weeks later Big Dog passed over to the other side. While I was in Florida my sister went to have a conversation with the neighbors who may have just said it was okay for her to get him washed since he was matted to the skin and full of ticks including the ones I pulled off his face.
They had to shave him down to the skin. He didn't mind. A vet came out to the car and gave him his first rabies shot ever. Then he came in the house and lay very still in a corner as if we would throw him out. They someone let him on the sofa. In just a few days he understood what being a house dog was all about. Food, tv, sofa, air conditioning. Petting and brushing. When he was first shaved his skin was so sore from all the matts and tick bites that he couldn't be petted. He's well over that. His only problem is not wanting to go outside to the bathroom (although he doesn't go in the house) because he has a fear he won't be let back inside.
We took him for all his shots and to be chipped and have blood work. He was doing just fine with it all until a man walked in with a ball cap about the same height and shape of his former 'owner' then he began crying and thrashing around. The vet girls asked the man to please step outside and when he did Kevin not my dog was just fine.
My sister has been Kevin's angel. She has come to his rescue. I think maybe she has been trying to rescue her sister from Big Dog heartbreak in the process. She's made certain He's had all this shots, been chipped, had blood work done. Unfortunately, the heart-worm test came back positive. We've started him on antibiotics and steroids. The treatment is very expensive and we are discussing options with the vet.
If anyone knows of an organization that helps with this kind of thing for rescues that would be great information to know. Please share. One organization could help but we have to give up the dog to get the help.
I thought about the fact that Mom says he puts his paws on the counter, looks out the window and howls when I drive off. She says he loves me. I tell her that can't be possible. He's just a rescue. He just trusts me and needs me and feels better when I'm in the room. Then I thought about that and it sounds like something that might be love.
"Give him up? How could I do that?" I told the people, "Kevin's my dog."
Friday is such a wonderful day to say - WHAT DID I EVEN DO THIS WEEK? I mean where did it go? Which made me think - I should write stuff down then I'd know.
I broke up a dog fight between Kevin the Rescue and Duncan the Dangit. Blending a family can be difficult when one of you has been a survivor eating from trash cans and possibly surviving on strange little creatures that run through the night (I'm not thinking about that part but I do kinda sleep with one eye open just in case I'm looking tasty). The FAT CAT STARTED IT with a HISS and the dogs bumped into each other trying to get away. Hissing starts a lot of problems always. If you are in an elevator and someone hisses at you there will be trouble before you can get out at the next floor. If you hiss at me in an elevator I will think you are turning into some kind of zombie thing because we are in an elevator in a medical building and they have been experimenting on you. I am not going to be your next zombie thing. So stop hissing. Sure, I have days where I'm tried enough to think - ok, sure just go ahead and eat my brain but then I will think NO!!!! I do not like hissing and I will think of Mom's fat cat and how many times I've had to clean that litter pan (the cat has been on a diet for weeks and the pan is still full every night. She does this out of spite) and I will take my fifty thousand pound purse and clobber you. I will go batcave crazy on you so that you will take those zombie fingers and try to escape. Crazy will neutralize zombie. Because let's face it you just left that doctor office and are just having the first twitches of what's to come and I'll be long gone and on the highway before you get that full on zombie strength.
Week in Review.
My adorable grandson told me if I didn't stop singing in the car he was going to throw up. So I sang louder. To which he replied - I'm not kidding ZAZA if you don't stop singing I'm going to throw up. When I checked the rearview mirror he was searching for something to use as a bucket. This actually happened a few weeks ago but to prove I don't hold grudges I picked him up for a sleep over this week. He ate watermelon and read books and watched Mickey mouse and helped make biscuits and ate more watermelon and played in a that little seven dollar pool like we were at the Holiday Inn. Laughter and storytelling ensued. I did not sing.
My mother used to sing to me. I never told her that she was about to make me throw up. The singing always came with rocking. I was a sucker for a good rocking so no matter what she sung I was quiet and just took in a good rocking. She had a regular playlist. These were my lullabies.
*Keep a moving Dan he's a devil not a man and he (something about lying) and water. It's a song about a man on a horse going through the desert with no water and they are both going to die and you know it even when you are four years old.
*Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley cause poor boy your bound to die. This is a song about a boy being hung and who is going to die.
*The green Green Grass of home. - Pretty much ditto
*Frankie and Johnny were lovers. - somebody dies but this one was at least upbeat
*Beautiful, beautiful brown eyes - I'll never love blue eyes again. Or something like that. I think somebody dies.
*Amazing Grace. - Nobody dies in the song but it is sung at every funeral I've ever attended.
Then I grow up and wonder what with the funerals and the lullabies why I write something called Southern Gothic fiction.
I went to the doctor this week and Mama went to the doctor this week. I was in and out. When I go to the doctor with Mama it is an all day event. Or it feels that way. We must pack three bags for Mom. One that is her purse that weighs 150,000 pounds which I offer to carry because I'm a good daughter. I do not understand what in the world can make this woman's purse so heavy. You would think she is smuggling guns. (She's not for the record for little robots that pick up things like that and report them to the authorities it's just gummakeupmedicinehairbrushchainpurseextrajewelry-penspapercheckbookwalletpictureshairclipsgemclipslipstick-fourteenpagesofnoneofyourbusinessandsoon) We have another bag that is just for her book and her cold water and extra tissues. We have another bag that will go unnamed. We must be a sight to behold as we totter to the elevator with me carrying the bags and holding her hand to help her walk only by now I can't walk so we just look like two drunks trying to make it out of the bar except we are just trying to get into the office and sign her in where I will tell them a story about why we are late because of what she decided she HAD TO DO right when it was time to get in the car. Fill in the blank. There is always something that is CRUCIAL WHEN IT IS TIME TO GET IN THE CAR. As a matter of fact, I always have the car already running when this happens. The dogs are barking because they think they want to go even though it is 106 in the shade outside because they are air-conditioned and know nothing of what lies ahead.
By the time I get Mama home we both need to take a nap. And that is that day.
WEEK IN REVIEW
I moved more boxes. i have been moving mama for three years and forty two hours. I have made one million trips to florida. I have carried more boxes than anyone my age should care unless they work for a moving company. My biceps do not reflect the amount of work I have put into this. Why is this? I should look like someone named Greta with good genes. I blame my lack of muscle definition on some dna factor which may trace it's way back to my Memaw when I think of it because she was kind of roundy. The boxes are now just "thrown down" as Mama would say and piled up in a room because I have run out of places to put things. REALLY RUN OUT. So they are just sitting there waiting for me to do something. They look at me and I look at them but we are at a stand off because I don't know what to do. I have two storage sheds in the yard now full of more boxes. They should just rest and go to sleep because they are not going anywhere anytime soon.
I went to read stories to the little wolfpack. They scream ZAZA when I come through the door like I am Cher and they are groupies. They gather/pile around me while I read them big, beautiful books procured at Parnassus and shove one another out of the way trying to be the person sitting next to me or in my lap. Other than a little crowd control on my part we have a great storytime then they smother me with hugs (hang on my ankles) as I try to get out the door. I am always amazed at this. This absolute ZAZA power thing. It's the best role I've ever played in my life. That and being Big Dog's person. I was great at that too. (Insert tear, misses big dog)
WEEK IN REVIEW
All in all, in the middle of everything wild and wonderful it was a lovely week and it continues. I wait with baited breath (what does that mean? does that mean fishy breath? who wants fishy breath?) for editor A. up new york way to send me her thoughts/notes/andsoforth on the latest American Mystic manuscript. I'm sending a short-short story I wrote titled Civil War to a national competition because I've not written a short-short story previously and I've never entered a short story competition before this month and I want to win something. But I was really thinking of an all expense paid trip to Europe. I wrote another short story that I don't like except for the first sentence that may really be a novel. I haven't rewritten my mystery novel because it occurs to me I have to basically keep all the bones and rewrite all the rest and that is a SERIOUS REWRITE which is a long way from done. I have four novels in process. One of them needs to be finished and published.
I am behind on my class for Theoretical Physics. So now I need to go cram some string theory.
And I need to call the bug man because there are some creepy things showing up that I don't recognize and have never seen. I keep trapping them in things so that they die so that I can show the bug man so I have dead things here and there under glass. Just keeping it cozy.
That's the view from the hill in my world. Hope things are sassy in yours.
My sister has always hated two things. Dolls and Clowns. The combination of the two is lethal.
Her dolls were history the moment that they were brought into the house. She wasn't going to love them or push them around in a buggy. She wasn't going to change their clothes, rock them or give them kisses. And she surely was not going to sleep with them. Because to Sister all dolls are demons and the only thing worse than a doll is clown. (My apologies in advance to all you wonderful clowns out there but just a word of advice, you might want to circle wide around my sister.) The troll wasn't the only doll of question seeing how my Aunt Kate bought my cousin Beverly, a big, Susie walks-a-lot or talks-a-lot doll when we were little. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, in the family knew the doll had a demon and nobody would seep with it in the room with them because it stood in the corner and stared at you with that one eye. The doll was old by now and missing some hair and had one eye that kinda rolled up in its head and blinked at you but that one good eye was trained on you and plotting all manner of things all night long.
So, we would tip-toe from the bedroom, try to pick up the doll without touching it and take it to another room where we would stand it in the corner facing inward. And then run like hell.
When I took a friend to visit my Aunt Kate they took a wary look at Suzie and said, "Something's not just right with that doll." I'm like - "OH, you mean Susie walks-a-lot demon doll? What ever gave you the first clue? That head spinning all the way around?
Okay, so I never actually saw the head spinning around but I knew it was doing it the minute I walked out of the room. Aunt Kate swore that Susie walks-a-lot was a treasure and an antique something or other at this pint and worth some money so that we couldn't take her for a special drive in the country and toss her off a bridge but believe me we tried. For Years! Imagine if you will that generations of children had to be traumatized by Susie who were otherwise having a joyous time to be hanging out at Aunt Kate's. Until nightfall that is when Susie woke up. But eventually, every doll gets it's day as Susie did the night my now very, big, teenage son, our practical joker - who also knew the doll was a DEMON - picked it up while trying not to touch it and stood it by the bed where I was sleeping so that I woke up to Susie's one good eye staring me down an inch from my nose. That was the morning that Susie lost her head - literally - and one arm - also literally - to yours truly who must have remembered a few old karate moves after all.
Aunt Kate was not very happy about this although you can still hear my son laughing if you try. Aunt Kate said something like, "She was a collectors item is what she as but that's alright. I knew you never liked that doll." Then she made me breakfast, hoecake, tomato gravy and bacon which I ate with a big grin on my face. If it ever tasted good before it really tasted sweet knowing that demon Susie had plotted her last nightmare.
A FEW YEARS LATER JUST BEFORE SHE PASSED -
Aunt KATE felt that her time was growing short on this Earth and wanted to give away some of her little things. I went to visit down Georgia way and She reaches wayyyyy in the back of a china cabinet pulls out this creepy little clown doll. I swear. And says, "I want you to give this to Sister for her baby. I know my sister is not no way not happening going to let that little Chuckie thing into the house. No way.
"River, I see that look on your face and you better do what I'm telling you and give this doll to your sister to give the baby you hear me."
"And you better promise me you going to give it to her. You promise me?"
"Ummm, Aunt Kate, I don't really think that she's gonna want . . .
"What's a matter with that doll? Nothing's the matter with it!!. I'll tell you what. It's a collectors item. Now you better promise me that you'll give it to her when you get home."
I lock the doll in the trunk and head for Nashville driving like batman. Just as soon as I get home I call Sister and tell her that Aunt Kate sent her something very special.
"Really?" (She thinks it's something good like family china.)
"Yep. She sent you something really, special and made me promise to give it to you RIGHT AWAY so you need to come by here and get it with a quickness."
Sister comes by on her way home from work. She is in a big hurry and that's not a problem for me. The thing is still in the trunk and I think I can hear it clawing to get out. She stands by her car waiting as I pull the creepy clown doll out of the trunk and start toward her. She begins to back away saying, NOOOOOO.
You must take it! I make the Aunt Kate PROMISE," I scream.
I open her door and FLING IT IN HER CAR AS SHE TAKES OFF Like a whirlwind caught in a hurricane. There's a dust trail wafting in her wake.
I give her just enough time to get home and call. "Okay, where'd you put him?"
"Ha. You think that little demon from hell is getting in my house? Oh, hell no! I tossed that thing out the window going eighty miles an hour and then kept swerving so he couldn't pull up and get my tag number and follow me home."
Hwy 100. Nashville. Dark of night. Beware.
I had to say goodbye to my my loyal companion of the last decade of my life. What a blessing to have ever known the devotion and love of an old dog. The end was a long time coming but the 'so long' finally found us. He hung on way past the time he could make it. On our last regular trip to the vet when I was trying to 'fix him' and make him all better and they started talking 'quality of life' and gently let me know that he really wasn't going to need an update on those vaccinations because time had grown as short as time does.
There is really no need for me to go into how faithful and loyal an old dog can be. Those of you who've experienced this know all so well. I've read your Facebook posts and mourned with all of those who have said goodbye. I've lost family pets and good dogs but I've never known a beast such as this. He was a constant, gentle presence in my life with the most serious mind-reading eyes. If I cried he came and leaned on me, larger than life, soaked my tears in his fur. My happiness was his happiness. Truly. All he asked in life was a little food and water - and me. Granted he had the whole family and loved every one. Tolerated grandchildren leaning and cleaving. One who followed him everywhere toddling with one hand clutching his fur and one thumb in his mouth.
It was twelve years ago this little creature came into my life. He was to be a present for my mother. I researched dogs and for some reason beyond comprehension decided the gentle giant of a Great Pyrenees was just the beast my mother needed. Something to fill in the large, empty space my Dad's passing had left behind. The little space her fourteen year old dachshund's passing had left. Looking back I guess I was searching for the largest animal that could roam the halls of home.
I traveled to a goat farm in Smyrna that had advertised Pyr pups for sale. Not the blue-blood variety with long lineage papers but the kind that had a working goat farm. A Daddy dog and a mama dog and a cage full of puppies. A litter of eight perhaps. All pressing their tiny faces to the bars saying take me, take me. In the end I picked one. He had the baby fur of all Pyrenees pups. Silky to touch. It's their first fur. Eyes large and almond. Most human. And loved to be cuddled. He rode in my lap all the way home. Spent one night with me then I drove off to Florida to deliver him. Eight hours later I was crying as I handed him over to my mother. The thought of leaving him behind left an ache in my heart I couldn't explain. Three days later when I was ready to head back Nashville way she released him and said, I think he might be too big for me when he grows up. Maybe I need a smaller dog." This is the heart of a mother. She couldn't take from me what was meant to be hers when it caused me such pain. I drove home with the puppy who would become BIG DOG TITAN in due time.
When I first moved to Nashville I saw a sign for doggy day care and thought - What kind of person would bring a dog to day care. Then I discovered it was me. My guilt trips are not limited to my children and so while I wrote grants at NSCC he popped in a few days a week for 'social time' with kids his own age. He used to sneak away when he was still a puppy and in a little while as I searched frantically for him he had gone to visit the other pups at Doggy-Do's.
He snuck off one night to visit some cows and didn't come back. I was beside myself with worry but got a phone call the next day from a woman in her 70's who said, "We think we have your dog here. I'm sorry I didn't call you yesterday but he's a really big dog and he's got a big mouth so I was afraid to reach down and read his tag. We've had him locked up in the goat pen all night."
By the time I arrived he was inside this tiny country house in the kitchen with the woman's mother who was 92. She looked at me and said, "He's nothing but a baby!" She told me this twice. He'd eaten fried chicken and greens and cornbread. Happy to see me, a big smile on his face, a full tummy. Yes, we all know that dogs really smile.
He was a road warrior that covered thousands of miles with me who'd rather spend eight hours in a car than five minutes out of my sight. He loved to put his feet on the console and stick his big head out the sunroof. Gave me those special eyes when I put on my shoes. The ones said, "We're going? You're going? I"m coming too right? Taking me too right? I'll go lay right in front of the door right now so you don't forget me." The sight of my suitcase depressed him unless he figured out it was a road trip where he could travel along.
In a photo shoot so many years ago for a book cover I asked if I could bring my dog so that I could just look at him. It was the only time I've had photos that weren't 'gently touched up' as they put it. Someone once told me in that photo, God threw you a bone. Which I thought was funny but it was Titan that had made me smile. Did I mention he gave hugs? Friends and family can attest to this. Writer friends who came and stayed on the way to their next gig always ended up having a little photo shoot with Titan before they left. Shellie called me one day and asked, "Am I imagining things or does Titan give hugs?"
The last few years have been terribly rough on the personal front and he was my stable grace. On the longest ride of my life, him with me every mile filling up the backseat, I'd constantly reach back to touch him, to ground myself in the continued realities of his love. He stayed by my side and it wasn't until he passed that I realized how much he had tethered me to this world through that storm. He was my silent, strong. He showed me both what it was to be loved by God - because surely it is this absolute and unconditional - and what my loving God might look like if I could be half as true.
In the last months of his life he needed help to make it up the stairs because he had started to fall. He needed a fan in his face to help him breath when he slept. He had entered his elderly years yet I remained his sun. He still managed to bounce on his feet and run around in big circles when I came home. Desire overpowering his able. And, I think that desire to see me through the hard places had overpowered his able for a long time. But the night came when he couldn't go on, was in horrible pain and the next morning my sister met me at the vets for one last trip.
She brought her favorite soft blanket and a little fan to blow in his face. I sat on the floor, held his big head in my lap, said, "Good dog," over and over again. Best dog ever. So in that way he went to sleep with his head in my lap, my sister holding that fan to his face. Crazy to have these kind of luxuries when the world has gone mad and people are hurt and dying everywhere yet, in the final hour for anyone we love, family and friends, for a soldier in arms who has served by our side, we would wish a peaceful passing.
I will never have another dog like this in my life. Not like this. And, I had sworn to my mother I'd never have another dog period. No cat. No dog. No fish. No nothing. I'd be free to be me and travel when I needed and not search for sitters. No loving no nithing. But then a dog that ate in the trash, wandered the roads, got hit by a car, never had a bath, was matted and ticked, showed up at the house before Titan died. He officially belonged to a neighbor in that when they yelled he was supposed to show up. I started sneaking him food, putting a blanket out for him when it was freezing and he was left in the cold.
Soonater we said good-bye to Titan I left for Florida to continue packing for Mom's move for the 1000 time. In my absence, my sister paid a special visit with the neighbors and had a special conversation. When I returned the dog known as Kevin had been shaved, had his shots, wore a collar. He sleeps now on the floor as I write this. He's too young to snore. He is thankful for kindness, for food, and wants to be loved, to be petted or receive a gentle touch. Things all foreign and new to him. I've tried to tell him, it's not fair to you - you know. I had a great dog once. And, you'll never be him, can't be him. Kevin the dog we call buddy just looks at me as if - It's ok. I'm just happy to be here. I'll take what you've got. Even leftover love. It's more than I've known. I have pictures of this transformation I'll post later this week.)
There will never be another Big Dog Titan in my life. But God's teaching me that love's not just for one season. It's a perpetual thing. That it grows in the giving not in the keeping away.
CS Lewis wrote:
"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal."
I have given my whole heart and I'm learning to give it again.
Thanks so much for reading, liking and sharing with friends.