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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Blackie

My father set down the cardboard box he'd been carrying on the living room floor. My little brother, mom and I sat down on the rug, curious. "It's for you," said Dad to me and to Glenn. I could see black moving inside the box; between the folded flaps it looked to me like a raven. A raven! My father has brought me a raven.

I don't know how I knew the word raven at five years old, but I did. I was a only little disappointed when the box was opened and inside it was not a raven or any kind of bird, but a black puppy.

Blackie! Blackie must have been like all puppies, squirming and licking, and peeing. We children must have squealed with delight. I can't remember anything more about Blackie's puppyhood at all, except a vague understanding that it was not a good thing to have a dog in the house. My mother.

And it is good for the kids to have a dog. My dad.

Blackie had been part of a litter of some people my dad knew who lived "in the country." I don't remember knowing these people myself. But I knew my mom did not approve of these country people and their fecund dogs.

Blackie quickly moved outside to beyond the beyond. At the back of the long back yard. My dad built him a dog house with a flat roof and there he stayed for many years, tethered by a chain to a stake in the ground, a patch of dirt, with a water and food bowl.

Every night at 6 it was my job to take out the can of Rival dog food, and upend it into Blackie's bowl.

I don't remember it, but sometimes we must have taken Blackie out for walks, because after my mother died, I found a photograph of us with Blackie on a leash.

Once in a while, maybe twice a year, Blackie got to run free in the neighborhood. The general belief of everyone, including us kids, was that Blackie was a ferocious animal and could not be trusted on his own. Not like Chipper, the Cocker spaniel from across the street who would regularly come over to our yard and play with our black and white cat, Lary. They would run around and around the yard and end up curled together snoozing in the sun. Blackie lunged at the end of his chain, but surely he would bite the other animals, not to mention the children. And then there were fleas and gersm of all sorts associated with sleeping in the out of doors.

On those rare occasions Blackie was let loose, he would run at full tilt not just around the yard, which in itself was very large, stretching all the way to the woods that bordered the elementary school with Karl's Market and the Beer Store in between, but around and around the whole neighborhood, through all the yards, across the street, around and around, while I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Watch out. Blackie's looses. Watch out."

Eventually Blackie would tire and return to where my father and I waited for him. It's a miracle, I'd think, that he didn't run away. Thinking back, of course I understand why he didn't, wouldn't ever run away, even though he was left outside in all kinds of weather, his only shelter a wooden dog house set on bare earth. I think of Blackie at night when I can't sleep, my own two dogs snug in their beds beside us, and feel ashamed of the way we treated Blackie, how could  my mom have made a dog live like that? My mom, who later in life, became a dog lover, the biggest dog lover ever, when she could no loner live alone, who, because of heart disease and osteoporosis and diabetes, went to live with my sister and her husband and their who adored my sister's dogs, who lived in the house with them, who spent time on the furniture and were treated like beloved children. Did she too, feel ashamed of the way we treated Blackie? Was she ashamed, embarrassed by what could only have been fear, fear of the animal, fear of germs, teeth, and dark, doggy smells?

The cats came inside every night and when they didn't, I stayed up worrying. Tiger, my first cat fell down the old well in our basement behind some large piece of furniture pushed up against the opening to keep children from falling in. At least I assumed he fell in. In the morning he was back, and I was astonished that he survived. (I now think he was never in the well to begin with, or at any rate, he didn't "fall in"; if he was down there, he found his own way down, and found his own way back up again.)

But Blackie out in the winter snow and summer heat, year in and year out, eating a can of Rival dog food a day, never playing with other dogs, never seeing a vet, never chasing a ball, or a squirrel, it makes me profoundly sad. Who were these people, who would do that to a dog?

When Blackie came back from his run, he'd sit in the grass between my father and me, his tongue hanging out, a goofy grin on his mouth.These were Blackie's happiest moments.

Once Blackie was hailed as hero when a would-be burglar at Karl's Market was frightened off by his fierce night time bark.All this time we lived in a rented house, then my parents bought their own place with a smaller back yard but an upstairs. And we moved there with Blackie. His house was now out behind the garage. I was hitting teenagerhood and when I needed someone to talk to I'd go out there and sit on top of Blackie's doghouse with him. He seemed to understand.

But i was spending more time with girlfriends and obsessing about boys, and being generally irresponsible. One day, Blckie disappeared. When I asked my father what happened to him, he said there were too many complaints in this more populated neighborhood about his nighttime barking, so he had taken him to a farm. A farm? The same farm where he was born I thought. At least he'll have fewer people to complain about his barking. Maybe they'll even let him run around the barnyard, chase cats and sleep in the hay.

It wasn't until I was all grown up and beginning to feel guilty about Blackie's constrained life with us that it dawned on me what taking the dog to the farm usually means. I only hope in this case, it was the literal truth, and I try to think of Blackie running with other dogs and smiling his happy smile when he cuddled up with his new owners on the farm.




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