Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Star of the Family

I was recently with a bunch of folks from my old neighborhood and, as we reminisced about times past, I was struck by something.

These folks may not have been able to immediately recall my parents or my grandparents.   They probably would have thought long and hard about the names attached.   But they sure did remember one name.

Tuffy.   My dog.
This prompts another recall of this member of our family seen in this beat-up photo.   Unfortunately, we never caught the similar pose where she sat up like this, held a beer bottle in her paws, and proceeded to get the last drops of Schaeffer through the nozzle.

Tuffy was the only dog I ever had. And, likely, will be.   I have vacillated about getting another pet like this.   Now, with my new apartment, I can't.  So be it. Any new dog wouldn't be a chubby little beagle named Tuffy, which I got for my ninth birthday. 

Oddly enough, the deliberation for a dog in our household started many months before. First off, there were the worries that Grandma downstairs wanted nothing to do with some "cayoodle." And, right up until that February day, the breed of choice was supposed to be a Schnauzer. That was my mother's vote and, of course, her ballot ruled in our democracy. I didn't really care. I just wanted a dog all to myself.

So, given Schnauzergate, you can imagine my surprise (and my mother's probably disdain) when I came home from school on my birthday to find this beagle sitting in a box in the kitchen. My father was part-timing as an oil delivery guy and one of his clients was a pet shop. The owner engineered a slick deal. We got this full-bred beagle for twenty-five bucks. At that price, even my mother didn't have a hind leg to stand on in an argument.

The christening of the dog was left up to me and she wound up with a new name on a weekly basis. Nothing stuck well until I hit on "Tuffy." Now, one of my neighborhood chums had told me (perhaps as a goof) that the way you get a dog to remember her name is by constantly whispering it into the dog's ear. Which I did repeatedly for a month, much to Tuffy's ultimate annoyance. By the time I was done, Tuffy would not only remember her name but also the entire CBS prime time lineup.

Of course, "my sister" and I were inseparable that first year. Tuffy slept in a blanketed box in the kitchen and she was chained to the radiator. In the morning, my mother would let Tuffy off her leash and she would race down to my bedroom and hop on my bed and then immediately hop off. That was how I woke up for school until I graduated from high school.

Of course, our first separation was painful, more so for Tuffy than me. The time had come for her to be, ahem, fixed. She would be overnighted at the vet and I tearfully said goodbye to her as I left for school in the morning. In my young mind, one too many medical dramas on TV had convinced me that most surgeries were not successful. Later that day at school, I started to feel sick myself and wound up napping at the nurse's office. One call to home revealed that my symptoms were paralleling what my dog was going through. I never did get to go home early that day. Mothers and school nurses somehow had amazing networks of collusion.

Tuffy and I would walk the neighborhood for hours on the weekend. Once I put her in the refrigerator, as if she would tell me whether the light goes out or not. Whatever I cooked up for Tuffy, she never flinched. Not only a good dog, but a great sport. And then there were days where all we needed was a rubber ball or a knotted-up old sock for fun.

As I got older and had a wider scope of a life, Tuffy was less in mine. And, oddly enough, with me busy and my folks at work, the tightest bond that formed in our household was between my grandmother and Tuffy. Of course, the major force of attraction was food. My grandmother cooked it. Tuffy ate it. Indeed, even if the door to my grandmother's part of the house was closed, Tuffy could use her paws to open it like clockwork. At 430PM when Grandma was chowing down on her supper. And then Tuffy got to lick the plates.

In a way, Tuffy wound up being the replacement for my grandfather in Grandma's world. Actually, Tuffy was the last thing he saw before he died. When his health was failing, he would simply sit in his favorite living room chair. When his breathing would become labored, you could hear him exhale two rooms away. I was not there for this, but my grandmother did relay this story to me. Tuffy was sitting next to Grandpa and would cock her head to hear every one of his rales. My grandmother noticed this.

"Pop, Tuffy is listening to you breathe."

My grandfather strained to lean forward and look at Tuffy. He smiled. Then he sat back and closed his eyes for the last time. Of course, when the paramedics came, Tuffy was beside herself and I was entrusted to keep her in the locked bathroom upstairs until they left. I remember holding her very tight that afternoon. Not so much for the paramedics. For me.

Later on, Grandma talked regularly to the beagle as her new daily companion, frequently in German. And they matched up their schedules together. When my grandmother was watching her afternoon soap operas, Tuffy was lying in the living room. When it was summertime and my grandmother was watching the neighborhood from the yard or the porch, Tuffy was lying alongside her chair. Only at night did Tuffy retire to the second floor---her original home.

Amazingly, Tuffy was around for 17 years. By the end, her back legs were failing. And there was a tumor on her jaw. Both my dad and my grandmother were convinced that the vet could do something. But, I was wise at the age of 26.

"It's time."

I made the decision no one else could muster. And, rightfully so, because even then, after many years of being together and apart, Tuffy was my dog.

And, from my recent conversations with old friends, the most memorable member of our household.

Dinner last night:  Bratwurst sandwich at the Sundance Cinema.

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