Sunday, June 2, 2013

Dog Priorities

I jerked awake  this morning aware of my mother.
Trying my best to catch a glimpse of her like the Wolf  seeking Isabo in Ladyhawke.

It wasn't to be. No matter. I do not grieve for her although  I continue to yearn for her wit and wisdom.
Lately my thoughts about her have been about dogs .
 I realize it must sound strange to link my beloved mother with dogs and yet I cannot think of my mother without a dog.  For her dogs were more than family or companionship, they made her feel safe.  My mother trusted dogs more than humans, something she made no apology for either. Growing up we had a variety of dogs. In my youth we always had medium large dogs as my mother had no great love for " little  yappy dogs".  Dad traveled frequently leaving Mom as the parent on point with a house full of kids.  Our dog(s) would be outside during the day but inside with us at night. Sometimes, when I am drifting off to sleep,  I hear the recording in my memory banks of the  click-click-click of dog toenails on hardwood floors as they patrolled from window to window while we slept. I doubt  my mother would have ever slept without a dog protector in the house.

In her later years my mother progressed to smaller dogs, ending with Chihuahuas. We are not talking about sweet faced little darlings like Boxer's  Henry. We are talking  horrid  excuse for a dog type of Chihuahua.
While my mother preferred to share her chair and her bed with "the rat",
she at least was never one to carry it with her in a purse, talking baby talk and acting like an old fool.  I try not to focus on these later dogs.

When  I reached my early teens lots of things changed for me. One of those things was I developed allergies. I would have terrible sneezing spells, sneezing as much as 50 times in a row. This sounds funny but it is not. You cannot do anything while having a massive sneeze followed by dozens more.  My throat and ribcage ached, my eyes watered and my voice turned raspy. At first this was  an occasional event but things progressed to daily then to multiple times a day and so on.

Sadly, I was found to be allergic to a few food groups and environmental things like Pines, Cats and Horses. In revealing this diagnosis to my mother and I, our family doctor finished with,
 "probably dog dander is the chief offender"
 There was the briefest of pauses before my mother said,
 " Well, what do you plan to do about this? There are as many Pines as people in the world, plenty of cats, horses and dogs too. The world will not change because Fishy has allergies so there has to be something you can offer."
" Any chance you can limit your animals to outside only?", inquired the doc.
" No."
Her answer was swift and absolute. I had a momentary fear of being adopted out to some dogless Huns with a sterilized house and a cleaning fetish. Truly, there was not even the tiniest pause in her response which sort of irked the doc who said,
 " Maybe you and Mr. should talk about this  before we make decisions."
" Mister", responded my mother, " Is not here to make a decision. I am. Since you cannot issue an order for every Pine in the state to be removed or every shellfish to be taken off local menus or euthanize every animal with dander then the obvious solution is to prevent Fishy from having a reaction to any of them. This is a very basic issue.  The world is not going to adapt to Fishy therefore your job is to help her adapt as needed. She cannot sneeze a thousand times a day."

The result was a prescription for something called "ornade spansules" which years  later became available without a prescription by the name "Contact". Along with the prescription I was encouraged to not touch my face after touching an animal or being outside until I had washed my hands. I  wore a bandanna over my nose and mouth when grooming a horse or bathing a dog or cleaning a stall.  I was not "cured" but the situation was  managed.  I stayed on that prescription for 20 years which, along with the behavior modifications, did a pretty good job of desensitizing me. I've always viewed this as divine intervention because I am sure my  mother could live happily without me there but not without a dog. Then too, she did not wish for me to "endure" a life without  a good dog.

Decades later, when my Mom was having a hand wringing  melt down about a sibling living alone without a dog I asked her how it came to be she did not feel safe without a dog. Her response astounded me.

Although it was rare at the time, my mother's parents divorced before her second birthday. The judge in the case must not have found either parent to his liking since he awarded custody  to her  paternal grandmother. So she would at least have the same surname. Some criteria!  When my mother was 4 the question of where would she start school arose. Where indeed. In those days the guidelines were you started Kindergarten if you turned five before the end of the calendar year. My mother has a Winter birthday meaning she would be one of the youngest in the school and would start school at age 4. It was decided  she should leave Granny's and live with her Dad who had moved across the country with the railroads.

In the beginning all was wonderful. Dad, daughter and dog made a happy little  family. This particular grand parent was sort of a dog whisperer in that he could train a dog to do just about anything. One of the things he taught "Brownie" to do was to walk Mama to school while she, a petite 4 year old, held  onto his collar. He also taught the dog to  return later in the day to wait at the school gate to walk her home.  Part of this training was because of his schedule.  On some "runs" he would leave home around 4am which left Mama to Brownie's guardianship.  My grandfather would leave her breakfast wrapped in a cloth on the table, have her school clothes laid out on a chair, her shoes polished. Brownie would make sure she got up and got to school  on time with  her lunchbox.

Because he disliked others knowing his business he did not rely on neighbors to look after Mama. He relied on Brownie to look after Mama in his absence. In fact my mother swore he would cuddle the dog before opening the door saying, " Now Brownie, you best take good care of our girl".

This apparently worked out pretty well until the schedule changed and my grandfather was moved to a run with one overnight a week. On the new schedule he would be there to see Mama off to school and would be back home by bedtime but, on one night of the week he would be away. In this day  and age, it would be beyond crazy to leave a 4 year old in the custody of a dog anytime, never mind overnight.

But Brownie was not just some dog.

He was a trained companion dog, guardian dog and hunting dog. 

My grandfather trained my mother as well as the dog for this schedule change. Both knew the rules. Brownie would bring her home from school and they would stay home until he came back the next morning. There was a backyard with a bit of a garden and fruit trees which they were allowed to enjoy after school for a while. Dinner would be simple; peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a piece of fruit, a glass of milk and a cookie.  Mama was taught to feed and  keep fresh water for Brownie. When she went to bed, Brownie came with her and stayed until morning.  Mom said she always felt safe.  Her Dad regaled her with stories of great protector dogs, of stories of dogs as man's best friend  through all  the ages.  She was proud to be the child of a dog.

She was taught to not mention " family matters" to teachers or neighbors. 
 Eventually they got caught.

 Bad weather  in a mountain pass had delayed the run and school authorities became suspicious about Mama's circumstances when she came to school with sardines and crackers as her lunch. They sent Mom home with a note requesting a parent conference.  There was  no reply.  Sadly, for my mother, the end result was thereafter she would be sent to boarding schools. Where there were no dogs.

I had heard much of this story growing up. At no point had I understood  how young she was or that she, at four, was left overnight in the custody of a dog. I immediately understood why my mother always had a dog, why she felt safe with a dog and was frightened when she did not have one.  I understood why our Dad accepted her need to have a dog in the house and why he often referred to our grandfather as that "crazy old man".  All her life my mother trusted dogs more than humans. All her life every woe could be lessened by a good  dog, and maybe a mug of crackers and milk. Dogs were her family every bit as much as we kids. Maybe more as the nest emptied of husband and  kids but never of dogs.

Mermaid lives alone and does not have a dog.
I think my mother is displeased with this circumstance.

Mermaid  likes big athletic dogs. Ones which could go hiking with her or keep up with a horse over a long distance. I met a lovely  Beaucheron along a hiking trail in France. I had never met one before.  She wanted to make sure I understood I was not to harm her sheep. She was very polite about this, but also very firm.  This is a  big dog at 75 -100 pounds, dining table height at the shoulder, fast, athletic, loyal, protective, likes horses and other animals. So I have been researching them. There is a breeder in Memphis.

I might have to visit there soon.


darkfoam said...

What an absolutely amazing account of your mother, fishy.
Your mother had her own nanny dog. Thanks for sharing this. When my mother was still able to just live next door to us, I let my little dog (22 lbs) stay with her. It comforted her to wake up at night and hear the dog play growling at her toys. I'm glad you did ern how to manage your allergies. And you know, your mother had a point. I'm also glad she didn't give you away! Happy doggie hunting!

darkfoam said...

em is supposed to be learn..

Aunty Belle said...

Touching, almost fanciful story. My goodness, that poor chile'. His mama shoulda horsewhipped that "father" , but the grandma wuz out to lunch herself to give that baby to her pa...mercy. What wuz that family thinkin'? Oh, sorry, I ain't mean in' to dis yore folks. But bless that Brownie dawg.

Next time ya' hie off to France, gimme a shout. I wanna see such a beast ---A. Bas Rouge fer your Mermaid? Heered they's a a princess priced dawg. Nice post, Fishy.

fishy said...

I agree, it is amazing! Had my own mother not told me herself I would be a skeptic. Of course, there are lots of stories from the time of the depression which boggle the mind now but were not all that uncommon in the day.

I guess I need to be grateful my Grandfather was a dog whisperer. He named all his dogs "Brownie"! I met one or them who was very impressive to a 9 year old Fishy.

As is true with many a Southerner, my mother spun out a story as good as any of them and better than most! I think there might have been some embellishments about encounters to and from the schoolyard but I don't remember the particulars.

The Memphis lady don't have any Beaucheron pups at the moment ...she does have some right kingly Labradors.
Ain't that the favored clan dog?

But!!!!! I am going this week to look at a rescue in a shelter a few cities away. Maybe Mom is leading the way!

chickory said...

what a great story! I think of how many children would be better off with a dog parent than the sorry excuses I see for parenthood now. Of course, if your Mama had been caught living at home alone with a dog today, she would have been taken into state custody and sold to a pit faced freak in Saudi. and your Grandaddy? what a guy. I want to read more stories about him.

That dog for Mermaid sounds like a good call. You head to Memphis you'll be passing by Chickory. You better ring me up grrrrrrrrrrrl

as for the comfort of a dog. when I was engaged to V I had just lost my college dog of 12 years. I told my soon to be husband that it was time for a new dog - we were living together in sin - and he said the dog would have to stay outside, as back then, he was a bit of a neat freak (hahahaha! not anymore)
said the dog would need to live outside. I said something like " thats too bad. I cant marry you. I gotta be laying around on the living room floor with our dog(s).

Now I have photos of him laying on the living room floor with the dogs. I saved this man's life!

loved this post, Fishy. Loved it.

chickory said...

p.s. your blog community is rife with rescued dogs" boxa, moi, chick9, and POKC (all though that be a dastardly kitteh) all adopted cast offs. Ol Trouter was a rescue and you see how good that turned out. howwwwl

moi said...

Great post, Fishy! How silly that the state thinks it knows better how children should be raised than their own relatives. Grrrrrr.

Growing up, animals of all kinds were part of the daily fabric of my life. Although most of my "pets" ended up on my or someone else's dinner table, the dogs were something else entirely. Workers, helpmeets, confidants, protectors—they held a status just a notch below that of human. Some were grumpy and distrustful and we were warned to stay away from them. They selected their own handlers. Others were able to confidently navigate that fine line between pet and employee, sweet as well as focused. My brother and I roamed hundreds of acres as a backyard and were never without a dog. Unlike your mom or Chickory, however, their intertwining with our lives stopped at the front door.

In fact, I was horrified when my first college boyfriend picked a stray off the street and insisted it live in the apartment. Like V, though, I got over that :o)

Aunty Belle said...

Huh? Cain't believe some folks on this blogarama would justify a fella leavin' a FOUR year old overnight wif' a dawg, however great the dawg. Sorry, but t'aint right. Doan even suggest y'all would do such. Ain't in favor of no social agency either.

Luv that V an' Moi had conversion experiences...heh, an Aunty too roamed fer blocks wif' the family dawg...and jes' happened I'se been escorted to school wif a dawg, and
Sr. Mary Serena let him stay...but I could see Granny standing in the driveway of our house down the hill from school.

But thas' when we wuz in Leave it to Beaver days..

New porch post. Not quite as radical a character as Fishy's Grampa, but every inch a southerner.

fishy said...

Still laughing about you "saving Val's life" from a too neat, dog free existence.

I would love to share more family history about my grandfather but the truth is he lived on the other side of this continent and we did not see him very often. I will say the things he taught me were unusual:
how to play jacks
how to use a yo-yo as a weapon
how to throw a knife
how to talk to a dog
(quietly, firmly and with respect)

Good thing, like Val, you were rescued from having a dogless home. Dogs in the yard and dogs in the house is not the same pack relationship.

Our mother let us "roam" a bit but not without a canine escort. Back in the day, I do not think our mom missed reading to us a single great dog story in the Reader's Digest. We heard way more dog stories than fairy tales, watched the grainy reruns of Lassie and loved the dog on the variety shows who knew the alphabet and could spell.

Come to think of it, there are a lot of people who are not this smart.

I think my mother would have agreed with you since she never left any of us home alone with a dog. It is also clear that 4 year old was horribly frightened by her circumstances which is why her entire life she never felt safe without a dog.

I know you are an understanding dog person because of the postings and videos you have shared of handsome clan dogs....and how you shared your grief when they was lost. A fine dog is a blessing beyond measure....but still a dog. Not a parent.

We Fishy's have had some awesome, very smart dogs but we never left Mermaid in their care. Protect her? You bet! Escort her on trike, bike and skates? Gratefully. I am not however, on my grandfather's page when it comes to parenting by canine.

I think lots of families made tough choices in the depression and war years. One of my neighbors tells about her widowed momma having to go to work in a textile mill leaving her, at age 7, to look after three younger siblings, do the laundry and cook the supper. Life was very different for that generation.

Be right over to read the Porch offering !

Jenny said...

What a lovely Fishy Memoir. I think all dogs have something to teach us; still trying to think what Mickey is offering aside from teeth. :-). Still, I can't think of living with out them. Chickie. our V story makes me heart you both.

darkfoam said...

Michal W. is hosting Haiku Monday at my blog btw.