Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dog Days of My Life, Part 2

Rena, 9 year old

Let me add a brief postscript to my previous dog post, in which I told of a car running over my first puppy while the little thing still had his baby teeth. It might be a fitting way to say good-bye those dreary, late-summer dog days. (Speaking of which, a cursory internet search reveals the term originated near Munich in August of 1743 when a German shepherd watching his flocks by night with Sirius, his trusty Doberman Pinscher, discovered the constellation Canis Major. Years later, of course, the Germans honored the shepherd by naming a new breed of dog after him, now often used by law enforcement and the military.)

I believe I learned from the death of the little guy that happiness wasn't just temporary, it was cruelly temporary, that happiness was not to be trusted, that I should fear its leaving upon its arrival and I should continue fearing its leaving until it was gone and my fears realized. Having my fear realized made me happy. Temporarily.

As the Bard says through Lysander, "So quick bright things come to confusion."

Oh, and life, too. I understood that life was on loan. This lent life, as some Anglo-Saxon called it. The sparrow that flies out of the cold dark in through the window of a warm lighted room, stops for a crumb, then flies back into the darkness. Thus, at age 3, I learned to expect the worst on every occasion, to believe consolations were hollow scams, and that fear and distrust were the only proper tools for survival during my brief stay on the planet.

But wait! There were other dogs! While there are dogs, there is hope.

The next came some seven years later when my dad fulfilled his dream of owning what he believed was a Weimaraner. He had been talking about how much he liked Weimaraners for some time, and now I know all his talk was a rhetorical technique intended to persuade my mom that having one would be a wonderful thing.

Not Rena. What an actual Weimaraner looks like.

This was his usual way to impose his will: He wouldn't speak about the topic directly to my mom, but would repeatedly noise his want within her hearing range, lobbing carefully designed suggestion bombs into a space where she was busy not paying any attention to him, or at least appearing not to. After a while, he figured, just the relentless repetition would wear her down, serve as a kind of brainwashing that would have her seeing things his way without her ever articulating or quite realizing her own feelings on the matter.

He said to us while she was in the room that Weimaraners were really smart, so smart that they thought they were human, and that grand delusion was really the only problem with having one. You had to remind them, to teach them, that no matter how smart they thought they were, they were only dogs and couldn’t, for instance, eat at the table. So sure enough, one day he gleefully came home with one, a brown, skinny, wormy, floppy-eared dog, pretty much full grown, that could’ve weighed no more than 40 pounds.

While it’s obvious to me now that it was not a Weimaraner, it always was one, a purebred, as far as Daddy was concerned. He named it Rena because, he said, Rena was a German name. In Germany, he said, these dogs were called “grey ghosts,” but he didn’t explain why our grey ghost was a rusty brown.

Daddy didn’t allow dogs in the house, but one time Rena got in and jumped up on the couch, an act that was always verboten. Daddy made her get off, but instead of blowing a gasket as he usually would, he laughed and said to Mama, “Looka there! She thinks she’s human!” So even her screw-ups only made his case stronger.

(Further proof of her genius, by the way, was that she noticed herself in the mirror. "Regular dogs can't do that," my dad said.)

Daddy was pretty sure Rena would make a good hunting dog, even though he couldn’t actually afford to hunt. Just to test her hunting skills, he took her out in the woods and, with a .22 rifle with a maladjusted sight, shot a squirrel in her presence, and she immediately hauled ass back home with her tail between her legs. The next week he loaned her out to Pink Buchanan, the first person I’d ever seen with one of those big feed-sack bellies that hangs and swings over the belt. Pink was considered dang near the best bird-dog trainer in Madison County.

Pink took her out for a trial run, but brought her back shortly afterwards. “This dawg cain’t hunt,” he said as she jumped off the back of his old GMC pick-up. “She spooks the quails and she’s scared'a the gunfire. She ain’t worth shootin herself.”

She might've been worthless to hunters, but she sure loved playing with my sister Martha and me, and we quickly became attached to her. She was what we now call a Velcro dog: She just loved being around us and followed us everywhere and was always happy and smiling and wagging her tail and doing stuff that made both of us say, constantly, “Aw, lookit Rena!” 

Like so many members of canis lupus familiaris, her primary goal in life was to love and be loved in return. She didn't give a rat's butt about standing perfectly still while some human created a deafening explosion that peppered the sky with dead-quail feathers.

Then, suddenly, we moved out of the country and into Madison, 10 miles away, and shortly after that, we came home from school one day to learn that Daddy had either sold or given Rena to the grown-up son of his boss, the local bigwig J. B. Davis of J. B. Davis and Sons Shell Station and Allis-Chalmers Dealership. The son, Jimmy, seemed to be under the impression that Rena would make a helluva good hunting dog. Daddy responded to our protests by telling us to shut up our whining, that we could go over to Jimmy’s place every once in a while and visit Rena. That never happened, of course.

What did happen was this. One day when I was busy refining my Schopenhauerian philosophy of pessimism by hating being at my new school in Miss Cottingham’s fourth-grade classroom, Rena walked through the open door and up to my desk before Miss Cottingham could have a fit getting her out of the room.

I tried to intervene, but imagine a 9-year-old trying to explain to a hysterical spinster that that dog was, in a way, his dog but didn’t really live with him anymore but was at Mr. Jimmy Davis’s but had come to find him (me) in this classroom! Miss Cottingham chased the poor dog out the door, but Rena soon picked up Martha’s scent and trotted down the walk to her sixth-grade room -- Mrs. Barber's class -- which also had its door open, and in Rena went.

Soon our respective teachers held an impromptu conference with Mr. Kinsey the principal, much to the delight of our classmates, and figured out a way to make Rena go away, for the time being. When we got home, we tearfully related our story to Mama, who passed it on to Daddy. Jimmy Davis was contacted and we were pleased to learn that he didn’t want Rena anymore anyway because she wasn’t worth a crap as a hunter.

So she went back to being our dog and we were all very happy, storybook-ending happy (hurry and roll the freaking extra credits, Celine Deon crooning about dog-love in the background, before something goes wrong!) for a few weeks until Daddy once more got rid of her, this time to a place she wasn’t likely to leave. I never learned the nature or location of that place, because now even the topic of the German Rena was verboten. 

That was the saddest day of my life up to that point. And my dim worldview received a thunderclap of validation.

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