This week, since next week is Spring Break for my kids and I’ll have almost no writing time, all my focus has been on my book. Hence the blog neglect. But I did wanted to post something light and fun. I came up with an idea of a dog story from my memory, because strangely–the more my children ask for a dog–as friends get dogs, and families with dogs arrive on my street–the more conscious I become of being a person without a dog. After all, you either are a dog person or you aren’t.
Well, once upon a time, I was a dog person. As a kid I loved them and routinely demanded one despite our apartment building’s prohibition against them. I’d let the biggest, sloppiest dog jump up on me; I’d shriek with giggles when it knocked me down and smothered me with dog kisses. So you can imagine my delight, the summer I was ten, when my family stayed in a house just down the road from a farm where there lived seven lively, full grown dogs.
Our first day there, after we’d unpacked and my mother had begun inspecting the kitchen, my father and I were sitting in the living room, reading. Suddenly, the front door swung open and Blue the Hound came plowing in. Didn’t stop to sniff or scratch: just streaked through the house and blasted out the back door. My dad—a diehard dog person if ever there was one—looked at me and I looked at him and we burst out laughing. It was clear that the dogs ran the place.
About a hundred yards from the house was a decent-sized lake, used by everyone with a house in the area, unofficially presided over by a German Shepherd known as Munch. Munch loved to swim, loved to be with people swimming. Most of all, he loved having people throw things into the lake for him to retrieve. Tennis balls, Frisbees, sticks, oars–anything. Munch would hurl himself into the water with a euphoric wo! and swim like a maniac out to whatever you’d thrown. He’d grab it in his teeth, swim back to shore with just as much gusto, drop it at your feet and pant with anticipation, ready to go again. It could go on for hours if you let it.
Most people got tired of throwing things for Munch after a while, even a dog-lover like my dad. After seven or eight rounds, he’d say something like: “OK, Munch, that’s all she wrote,” and go sit on a deck chair in the sun. In this, I could relate to Munch. Adults were always ready to move on when you still wanted to play. But Munch was a happy-go-lucky guy who never personalized the fatigue of adults; he’d just shove the play thing over to the next person and wait for him or her to spring to action.
Though I was always ready to play, Munch usually chose me last for practical reasons. Munch’s favorite retrieval object was a canoe paddle with half the handle broken off. Had it been whole, it would have been about as long as I was tall, so I just didn’t have the power to throw it more than a couple of feet. Munch could make it twice as far in one bound. He liked me, so he’d humor me and make a deal of running the yard or so into the water. But he’d try to bring the paddle to someone else next time if he possibly could.
Nevertheless, I loved Munch. His face was sweet, pretty for a German Shepherd, with the warmest brown eyes and widest smile. He was considered the lesser of the two Shepherds, Denver being the larger and more majestic–pale gold and black where Munch’s coat was ruddier, muddier. Denver was dignified, with better training, while Munch was wilder and more humble: never too proud to go through someone’s garbage if he suspected the remains of a sandwich. When the two dogs wrestled, it was always Munch who started it, though he was way outmatched. Denver seemed to enjoy himself well enough but he always had this tolerant air– Haven’t you had enough yet? On the rare occasions that Denver wouldn’t wrestle, Munch would handle it the same way he did with people at the lake. He’d try the next dog, and the next, until he found one who was ready to go.
There was this one day, when my mother and I had arrived at the lake to discover a smashed-up Jeep, right there in the grass between the road and the sandy bank. Our house was far enough off the road that we’d heard no accident the night before; no one from the farm had stopped by to report any disaster. There was no one hurt inside, no broken glass on the road, no tell-tale skid marks: just this crumpled mass of metal and rubber, off to the side where it was in no one’s way. Whatever had happened had clearly been taken care of except for the remains of the car. A mystery, but nothing we felt we needed to pursue, so we moved ahead onto the beach and spread out our towels.
It was already very warm that morning, though it was still too early for most of the vacationers to be out. There was no one there but Munch, lying on his belly near the water’s edge, fondly gnawing his canoe paddle. He lifted his head and gave us a brief dog-grin, slapping the sand happily with his tail. Apparently, the Jeep was already old news to him; he’d probably finished sniffing and inspecting it long before our arrival and had moved on.
Munch let us swim and enjoy ourselves for a little while. He knew how to bide his time, knew better than to look desperate right away. When he finally approached us, we could see him hesitate for a second. Do I bring it to the kid who likes me but can’t throw? Or do I risk annoying the lady—who could do without me but whose arm isn’t half bad? There was a slight air of apology in the glance Munch gave me as he dropped the paddle at my mother’s feet.
“Aw, Munch,” she said, “We just sat down.” But she was smiling; he really was a sweet animal.
Mom got to her feet, picked up the paddle (using only her thumb and middle finger at first, careful to avoid the dog-drool), and followed Munch to the water’s edge. I was impressed with the distance Mom got that day. She knew: the further she managed to throw, the fewer times she’d have to do it. At last, she told Munch, no more; she was going back to her towel and book. So I took a turn. The stakes were higher than usual. Aware that I was Munch’s last hope, I put all I had into my throws. By the time my arm got tired, Munch was getting bored anyway. I was good for a laugh or two, but he craved a challenge.
I got into the water while Munch stood on the beach, deliberating. No one else had arrived and there was no question that my mother—now thoroughly engrossed in her book—was done with him. Munch turned toward the road. He looked one direction, then the other, and finally fixed his gaze on the jeep. His tail began to wag lightly. We saw hope register in his muscles as he trotted over to the grass where the mangled vehicle sat. Munch dropped the paddle before the car, backed up the respectful distance he gave all his prospective playmates, and sat, full of anticipation.
We laughed; what was he expecting—someone to emerge from the rubble and throw the paddle? Or did he believe that the jeep itself might rise to the challenge? After few minutes, he got up, shoved the paddle a few inches closer—like he often did with people who weren’t immediately responsive—and sat again, tail thumping.
Fifteen minutes later, when my mother closed her book and joined me for one last dip, Munch hadn’t budged. Nor had he half an hour after that, when we packed up our things and prepared to go back to the house for lunch. Munch barely glanced our way as we passed him. By that time, he’d rested his head on his paws though his eyes were still watchful. Munch was in it for the long haul.