Something that continues to amaze me as I accumulate the years, is how difficult it is to remember my life in any organized, chronological sequence of events. Memory I think, or at least mine, does not organize experience in a beginning-to-end progression, like traveling down a road, but more often presents its episodes like clearings in a thicket in which we are lost, or at least don’t know very well.
I started to write a memoir several years ago, and decided to organize it around the many dogs that have been my companions over the years, so that its chronology would be the life spans of various canines, each about ten or a few more years. (An exception would be a yellow lab we named Gloria, who was such a filthy, foul-smelling animal that we ran an ad and gave her away when she was only three. The last straw with her was when she pooped in the duck boat. Her chapter is called, “Gloria - a dog so foul she would have been kicked out of the pigs”.
It is an odd thing to have a dog to whom you become really attached, like a member of the family, because unlike all of your close relationships with humans, the aging process does not proceed in tandem. You first encounter the dog when it is an adorable baby, then a child, now roughly your contemporary (dog vs. human years) and, finally, an elderly creature that you make fond allowances for. It gives the dog owner a very different experience of the passage of time than the usual one, and it is hard not to get very attached and sentimental about your dog, saving a critter like Gloria . But remember this golden rule about your dog – exactly no one else loves him like you do. In fact, many people kick him when you are out of the room, often with good cause.
Our last dog, a standard poodle named Max, died last February just short of his tenth birthday. I had agreed with Fran to buy a non-hunting breed for her if she promised not to write columns about it. So naturally, her readers have been regaled regularly over the last decade, with stories of the dog-who-must-not-be-written-about. And here I am, breaking my own rule.
Max was one of the last two puppies left of a March litter born at the Avalon Standard Poodle farm in Darlington Wisconsin, about three hours from here. It was a choice between him and his white sister, a very busy creature who was considerably bigger, and constantly bossing him around. We decided on Max, aware that he was the runt of the litter.
Ha! Once out from under the sister’s paw, (whom he seemed to miss very badly for the first few days), he grew into an exceptionally tall dog, with very long legs, the proper use of which he never seemed to have much instinct, being very clumsy in close spaces. I would have to place his forelegs on the seat and lift his hind end into the car. He wouldn’t, or couldn’t, jump right in like any normal dog who likes to take a ride. This was easy to forgive, though, when you saw him transition from standing, to a trot, and into a gallop, like an exquisitely graceful, miniature horse. For some reason we never took pictures of him, which was very stupid. None of the other poodles at the Avalon Kennels were as tall as he, nor looked or moved like him. I think he was some kind of mutant, an elegant one.
Nevertheless, we opted for another black male, and brought him home Thursday, an adorable fluff ball of course, with just the beginnings of that same foxy face Max had. We decided to call him Frankie, remembering a time, years ago, when our girls decided we should give our boat a name. I informed them that it was not the usual practice to give fancy names to humble runabouts. Our son Jake said, “How about calling it Frank?”
Frankie is turning out to be a mellow and relaxed little guy, taking the initial encounter with our granddaughters last night in easy stride. However, he did not, after I put him in his kennel for the night, care one bit for my piano playing, and howled along with me until I quit. It occurred to me that the name on his pedigree would be Jean Francois, or Frankie of Avalon.