Double Dog

There was only one dog, but there are two stories. At least two.  Probably more.

I tried, but it's not my cup of tea.

I tried, but it’s not my cup of tea.

The first story goes like this:

My dad started circling ads in the For Sale section of the Dallas Morning News featuring puppies for sale in small towns like Granbury and Red Oak.  As the doubting child, I thought it was as likely that we’d end up with a pet unicorn as some AKC pure bred.  Then one afternoon there it was: an adorable cocker spaniel with impossibly long ears and a dopey expression that was endearing and unchanging.

We had a puppy.  Overnight, we’d become a puppy family, an idea that infused my every fantasy with promise.  I was a person in a family that has a puppy!

We named him Buckwheat because we loved The Little Rascals.  I was surprised at how much he shat and pissed in the house.  In the kitchen.  It smelled really bad. I was indifferent when my mom moved his quarters to the garage, whereupon he chewed through the garage door, which allowed him ingress and egress to the backyard whenever he wanted.

Mom spent the most time with Buckwheat.  I have a faint memory of her throwing him a slobbery tennis ball and scratching his head before she served him his food.   When our next door neighbors, two aging “sisters” who anointed themselves the neighborhood pet police, berated my mom over the fence for how she was taking care of Buckwheat, the whole having a dog experience soured for Mom.    I came home from mass a few Sundays later, and my dad announced that he’d given Buckwheat away to the air conditioner repairman.

That night, as the cool air chilled my room, I stuffed my feet under the sheets and sobbed as if someone had given my dog away.  Because someone had.  When my dad heard me, he sat on my bed and rubbed my head.  I have no memory of what he said to me, but my guess it was entirely appropriate under the circumstances.  By then, he had almost a decade of fathering a complete drama queen to draw upon.

Later, I would tell the story of how “my parents gave my dog away while I was at church” when it suited me.  It suited me when I wanted someone to feel sorry for me or understand why I was the way I was.  Buckwheat was my narrative symbol of how adults betray children while they are at mass.  It was a story that implicated my parents, the Catholic Church, and central A/C– like The DaVinci Code, but with more heart.

It was a good story.

But there’s this other story.  Same dog, same drama queen, same nasty neighbors who actually were sisters, not lovers.  That story is about how my parents offered us an experience that I didn’t embrace for dozens of reasons, including the fact that I didn’t particularly like dogs and couldn’t deal with the realities of a real dog that had excretory needs and hair that shed like snow.  In that story, I admit that I never once went out of my way to play with Buckwheat. I don’t remember talking about him at school, drawing a picture of him with a Husky pencil or pining for him when I went to visit my Grandma.

I liked the idea of being part of a family that had a dog because it seemed wholesome and picturesque and functional, all of which were my deep, inarticulable longings.

But I didn’t like dogs.

And the A/C guy was gaga over Buckwheat.  He lived on a couple of acres outside of Fort Worth with a son who had been begging for a second dog, having already proven his canine devotion with a middle-aged golden retriever.

Now that I’m a mom, I either tell the second story or both, but never the first one.  And the answer to the question about whether I am a “dog person” is a long story.


47 thoughts on “Double Dog

  1. I am left speechless by the way you’ve told each story here and by how you much you revealed about yourself and your parents and the supporting characters in so few words. Very well done, Christie. Well done.

    • I am a fish person. And I feel so sad I can’t embrace furry friends. I don’t wish them harm, but the licking my crotch and shedding and clawing my stuff and the unwavering loyalty– all of it makes me twitchy. And uncomfortable. Milan Kundera once said something like people who don’t like pets are bad people. Seems harsh but that’s how I feel about people who don’t like Willie Nelson so whatevs.

      On Tue, Sep 17, 2013 at 10:35 AM, Outlaw Mama

      • Different strokes for different folks. Fish certainly have their appeal, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

        When I was courting (and then later married) my wife, I found my in-laws had nine cats. The story was that the mom of the brood made her way into their separate garage structure and had a litter. The kids (including my wife) relentlessly begged to keep them all. So those cats mostly lived in a bathroom, and UGH… it stank of cat urine. Now, I didn’t detest cats in particular, but that mostly turned me off to liking cats. When the last of them died off– my in-laws got two more! The explanation was one was supposed to be my MIL’s cat (she is a cat person through and through), but the cat picked FIL instead. The second owns my SIL who still lives at home.

        Then my parents wanted a pet, and they got a cat, and since my father is at home on disability, again, the cat picked my father, instead of my mother, who wanted the cat in the first place. The cat is nice and sociable enough that he has some room in my heart, and my wife’s experience was enough that when my parents go on vacation, they trust us to look after that cat.

  2. i’ll bet if my son could explain why he made us get him a bearded dragon but even though he pays zero attention to it, does not want him to be given away. perfectly told and so so honest and true

  3. This post has me thinking about a story from my childhood about giving away one of our pets. It involved a pet goat. We lived in a city, and we had a goat. The goat, Billy, just hung out in the backyard with the dog. Eventually, that goat got horns and he was charging at people, so my dad gave him to a farm.
    A few years ago, I told this story to my brother-in-law, and he said, “Are you stupid?” Your dad killed that goat. He didn’t give it to a farm.”
    So, I asked my dad about it. “Dad, remember Billy? Did you really give him to a farm, or did you GIVE HIM TO A FARM?”
    And he said, “Sonia, I really gave him a farm. I swear.”

  4. This is so good! You know, I never had a dog growing up but turns out I’m such a dog person that I have two now. But I’m SO over the puppy. Puppies are hard. It’s better now, at 4.5mo but I can’t wait until she’s 1. I’m more of a dog person than a puppy person.

  5. One more story that’s on-topic about dogs, particularly yours:

    In the mid 1980’s, after we were over the shock of Dad accidentally running over our Cream Persian/tabby mix that was loveable but dumb as a box of rocks, we got a dog. A family had a Cockapoo that had a litter of puppies from a rakish neighbor dog they figured was mostly Scottish terrier, and they were selling those puppies. We picked the quiet runt.

    We lived in a California split at the time and he stayed in the utility room next to my downstairs bedroom. I spent a lot of time with that dog, working on his paper training, walking him, and training him to do tricks. Age took his toll on him and I came home to visit one evening (by this time, I was married, as mentioned above) to find him missing, with little explanation. I wondered aloud what the urn on the bookshelf was, and was told it was his cremated remains. Only a week ago did my father tell me that they had taken him to the vet, and the vet said it was time to mercifully put him down. I understand now, but for years… I was pretty angry.

  6. I had a lot of pets as a child. For me, they were excellent playmates. I never liked dogs that much, though, until 10 years ago when I was given one. Now I love their loyalty and unique personalities.

  7. There are plenty of double-dog stories that only reveal the B side when we have enough perspective to see it. You told it so well in so little space. While you were at Mass…had they no shame?? My cousins’ dog went away while they were at GRANDMA’s! Took them days to notice but really? Violate the sanctity of Grandma’s?

  8. This is one of my all time favorite posts of yours. Beautiful writing, great story-telling – both poignant and funny. I love the DaVinci Code sentence.


  9. “I liked the idea of being part of a family that had a dog because it seemed wholesome and picturesque and functional, all of which were my deep, inarticulable longings.”

    Wow, something about this line just leaves me breathless. This is an incredible piece. One of my favorites of yours, ever.

  10. So so good. I’m tempted to go on an on about the issue of dogs, but I won’t because to do so would not do justice to the writing, so I’ll skip that. This is the kind of essay that inspires me to write.

  11. I can appreciate it when someone admits that they’re not a dog-person (or want kids for that matter). It’s the people who act like they want the dog and never take care of them that make me sad. I’m just the opposite – I’m a total dog person and so is my son. We have golden retrievers and if you can’t handle the hair, the many walks and the energy, I tell people to NOT get a dog. Good for you for being so honest!

  12. As kids, a lot of times we just get caught up in our own stuff. I never paid attention to our family dog and was pegged as a non dog person and here I am today – a total pugaholic. So you never know. The structure of the two story perspective was awesome Christie and the story itself is so touching. Your mom and dad did right by Buckweat (great name btw).

  13. Pingback: yeah write #127 weekly writing challenge winners: jury prize, editor picks, crowd favorite + top row five + prizes! | yeah writeyeah write

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