Short Stories by a Longwinded Guy No. 99

DOG YEARS

Our first dog was a purebred Cocker Spaniel whose first owner, an old Jewish immigrant, couldn’t navigate the registration form. She filled in her own name where the dog’s should go. Officially, our dog’s name was Sylvia Lillian. Unofficially, it was Gabrielle. Gabby joined the family when I was eight. She was a perfect young lady - obedient,  chipper, and with gorgeous red hair. I was 20 when she died, a tired, gray and beloved family elder. Dad took it hard. For two years, walking through the woods made him sad.

So we adopted a mutt named Charlie. Dad hated her. Charlie was only five months old, and we were her third owner, fourth including her birth home. This was a major clue we overlooked. The dog was crazy. It perpetually ran away, regularly ate valuables, occasionally nipped a finger, and once bit a neighbor on the butt. But just like Mom never put my little brother (“The Tiger”) up for adoption, the new dog was ours for keeps. 

Dad was an avid, sloppy, and Depression-Era-frugal home repair guy - the kind that straightened used nails and reused them. He was so cheap that even though he wanted an enclosed backyard for Gabby - then Charlie - he waited 15 years for all three neighbors to put up their own fences to surround our backyard. A month after the third neighbor added their fence, Dad put up two short spans of picket fence abutting our house and enclosing the perimeter.

Mom was proud. It was Dad's first-ever attractive home improvement project. Charlie escaped. Dad added boards below the gate. Charlie escaped. Dad added chickenwire above, then a metal grid above and below. Somehow Charlie got out. More boards. By summer’s end, Dad’s pretty little picket fence looked like an Appalachian junkyard. It never held Charlie.

Eventually, Charlie got old - around the same time as Dad. She stopped running away, stopped pulling on her leash, stopped chewing on things and people, and started sleeping next to the family easy chair. Dad mellowed and grew to love Good Ole Charlie as much as he hated the young one. They ended up spending a number of happy years together. Dad even started walking in the woods with Charlie, like he did with Gabby.  Out of the 210 dog years that blessed our family, most of them were wonderful, all of them were worth it.

Live long, People. Eventually things turn out fine.

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