“A Dog’s Life”
"THIRD AND MAIN" was little more than two years old when a buff-colored, floppy-eared, brown-eyed cocker spaniel entered into it. The column and the pup grew together. It wasn't long before Buff stories became conversation pieces and, if the interval between Buff stories stretched out a bit, the readers wrote in asking for more.
Anyone who has lived with a dog knows that stories abound, that there is no need for "making things up." Incidents happen-especially with an alert, eager, happy bundle of fur who believes that all things exist for his curiosity and comfort, and who had no trouble bringing his human family around to that point of view.
How better to say it than the way it appeared in print on Nov. 19, 1955, when Buff took over the column:
This is Buff speaking.
Tomorrow is Third and Main's 11th anniversary, and I gave the old girl the day off today-to kind of celebrate the occasion. She's got it into her head that anniversaries are important, and you know how it is-you got to humor women if you want to get along with them.
Last year, on the 10th anniversary, it was made public who really writes this column, Now don't get me wrong, Marj types it-sure she does. But who do you suppose tracks leaves in the house, and makes up new kinds of ballgames, and experiments with her new hats, and helps break three dozen eggs, and noses around in suitcases, and gets paint in his ears, and does all those things so she'll have something to TYPE? Eh? That's right, And it keeps me hopping to think up things to do so she'll have something to write, too!
That isn't all I do to keep her in line, either. Why, she'd sleep all day if I didn't bounce up on her bed every morning bright and early and advise her of the time. Another thing-if I didn't keep after her to take walks along the lanes, she wouldn't do a thing all weekend but sit in that big chair and read,
To tell you the truth, I don't see how she drives that car without me.
Why, if it weren't for me, there wouldn't be anybody to bark at those mechanical monsters, the corn pickers, or let her know when we pass another dog-and things like that are important to a driver.
I have to let her know when it's time to get supper. And when a log falls out of the fireplace and scatters sparks, who is it that lets her know she has to get her nose out of that newspaper and poke the log back in the fire? Sure-and, besides that, I have to accompany her to the neighbors so she won't get lost, and let her know if the phone rings when she's in the shower. I tell you she keeps me so busy, I don't know whether I'm coming or going.
To top it all, now her files at the office are in a deplorable condition, I could have told you that right from the beginning. She never COULD file. So now I have to arrange my time so I can spare a few minutes now and then to get her files in order.
You doubt? I figured there'd be some wiseacre among you so I talked it over with Bob Dory and right here is indisputable truth. Photographic evidence, There I am, as big as life, getting Marj's files in order. See for yourself, You might doubt me, And I'll admit that, sometimes, Marj tries to hand you a line, But you can't dispute Dory. Why, man, HE'S got the evidence right there on his photographic plate! That'll stand up in court!
“The Best Laid Plans”
HAD MY SATURDAY all planned. Made a list of things to do. Computed a time-table. Felt as noble as all git-our because the successful completion of that schedule would have seen drawers tidied, closets cleaned, errands done and letters answered.
The best laid plans 0' mice and men ... My plans went haywire.
All because it snowed.
The schedule called for me to be up and at 'em at the first sound of the alarm. The sight of the picture postcard world outside, liberally dusted with a new powdering of snow, slowed me a little right at the start. But I was determined. I kept at the schedule long enough to get dressed-but, then, I should have guessed right then that something was going wrong. Namely, me. After all, to tidy drawers and empty closets, it isn't really necessary to wear heavy slacks, ankle-high boots, two sweaters, thick jacket, fur-lined gloves and a cap with the ear-flaps down.
Even Buff knew of my intentions before I admitted them to myself. "I'm just going outside to empty the wastebaskets in the trash barrel," I said to Buff.
"Oh, sure," he wagged. "And I'm just going along to see if the squirrels have moved into the new woodpile yet."
Well, we emptied the wastebaskets, and we checked the woodpile ... and then both of us lit out down the lane, my boots and Buff's paws making the first tracks in the soft white carpeting of snow laid down over everything.
I'm always a little sad in late fall when the autumn colors fade from
the woods, leaving the gangling naked trees bereft of their leaves. It's like seeing one of his majesty's grenadiers in his underwear. The illusion of splendor is more easily maintained when the trees wear their full complement of leaves in technicolor.
It's a dull landscape in winter ... until the snow comes. Snow softens outlines, covers nakedness, smooths over- furrows, shadows unsightliness and suggests beauty where none lay before.
Saturday's snow made a winter etching ... the blacks of tree trunks and branches, emphasized by the white of the snow. Stones piled in a fence corner with sturdy posts and a fallen log in the background looked like a planned still-life. The once dark fields full of stubble looked, under snow, as if a quilted coverlet had been thrown down with one edge sticking up against the fence.
There was just enough wind to blow the snow against the tool-shed in a pattern that picked up the outlines of the window and door and the edges of the siding.
The outside lamps by the gates wore snow toppers like the lanterns pictured in Christmas cards. The firewood, neatly corded, wore its blanket of snow a bit smugly, as if it knew that no matter how wet the winter, its logs could still make a fire burn brightly.
Buff ran lightly along in the new snow, letting his tongue scoop up a dash of it now and then. A little pyramid of snow began piling up on his nose and he tossed it aside with a bark in answer to nothing but his own good spirits.
I plodded along more slowly, letting him follow the side-trail of a rabbit's tracks while I kept to where we knew the lane had to be, under the disguise of snow. In the distance, there was the call of a train, blowing for the crossing on route 121. Buff and I ran to the top of the hill, overlooking the swimming lake, and watched the long freight roll along the tracks on the other side of the lake below. It looked like the kind of toy trains you see on tables in the toy departments now. It had loaded coal cars, some empty box-cars and even a little man at the engineer's throttle waving a little arm at the little window.
And then, all of a sudden, after the toy train had rumbled out of sight but not out of sound, the snowy cold began to penetrate the bones, and sting the eyes.
Then nothing seemed as wonderful as racing home, scuffling snow all the way, grabbing a log off the woodpile and rushing inside to build up the fire into a good blaze.
Buff settled down in front of the fire to chew the ice-balls out of his paws. I settled down to watch the flames change colors and designs.
I wonder whatever became of that Saturday schedule? Ah, well, there will be other days to tidy drawers and clean closets and run errands and answer letters. The season's first snow has to be celebrated ... if only with a walk and a nap in front of the fire!
“That Waxed Floor”
THE KITCHEN FLOOR was, for so many years, a familiar footing for the cocker spaniel who rules my household. Buff knew exactly how many steps between refrigerator and milk bowl-and how long it would take him to get from his napping place in front of the fire in the living room to his window in the back door when he heard company corning.
Then the new charcoal and pink terrazzo pattern linoleum was laid.
Buff sniffed at the "newness" and looked surprised the first time he heard his nails tapping along with his steps. But he soon accepted the new flooring with his usual aplomb.
Until he heard a noise out back.
He got a running start from the living room. Hit the new linoleum like a ton of bricks. Started to skid. I backed up against the pink refrigerator as the buff-colored streak skidded past me.
Buff didn't stop skidding until he landed with his nose pressed flat against his own window in the door.
Then slowly he turned his head and just looked at me!
I was weak from laughter. You have never seen anything as funny as the surprised look on his face-unless it was the way he looked with his nose pressed against the glass.
The more I laughed, the more Buff wagged his tail. I should never have laughed. Now he backs up for a better running start and skids the whole length of the kitchen to a perfect nose-point landing!
Ah, well-you can always replace linoleum in time, but there is only one Buff.
THE BATTLE of the Waxed Kitchen Floor versus Buff continues ...
When that dog hears an unexplained noise outside the back door, he bounds forward from wherever he is in the house and dashes pellmell across the kitchen floor to look out his own special window in the bottom of the door.
Since the kitchen became pink and the floor waxed, Buff has given pretty good imitations of Pluto in the Mickey Mouse cartoons-you know, when Pluto whirls in one spot in the air before coming down to the ground. But Buff's best performance is when he loses his footing as he hits the waxed linoleum and skids right down the floor to land with his nose squashed against his window.
The other day, Buff and I were in the front part of the house. There was a knock at the back door. From where I was, I could see it was my neighbor so I called, "Come in." He started to open the door.
Buff heard the knock, heard me call out and the door open. But he couldn't see who was coming, so off he went in a buff-colored flash.
He hit that linoleum like a ton of bricks.
My neighbor saw him coming and quickly stepped back against the open door, holding the screendoor open as he backed away. Buff slid the whole length of the kitchen floor, out the door, down two steps and made a five-point landing in the driveway-four feet and a tail.
I had to hold my mouth shut to keep from exploding. It was better than a Pluto cartoon. There seemed to be one suspended second when nothing moved, not I, not my neighbor, not Buff. Then the dog slowly turned his head and looked back at us.
"Well," said my neighbor to Buff, "don't you feel a little silly?" Buff dropped his head only the fraction of an inch, but kept his eyes on us. Then he recovered his dignity and walked delicately across to the woodpile and studied the fireplace wood as if he always left the house that way when he wanted to study the woodpile!
I thought that topped the list of waxed floor episodes. I was wrong.
There was a postscript the other night. Buff has learned to control his skids but he still dashes with reckless abandon when he hears noises outside the back door. If his pink plastic bowl filled with water happens to be in his line of march, he doesn't waver but plants one big fat foot in the middle of it and splashes water all over everything.
He did it the other night and I took him to task for it. I was drying dishes when Buff hurtled by and the water splashed all over me and the floor.
"Now that's just enough of that!" I said, sternly. There's one thing about that dog. When he is getting scolded, he will sit right down in front of you, turn those big brown eyes on your face and listen intently to every word. But I was not to be put off with such a performance this time.
I shook my finger at him and yelled. "I'm getting tired of your planting your big feet in that dish of water and splashing it all over. You don't have to wipe it up. I do. And we arc going to have No More of THAT! Do you hear me?"
He sat there and looked at me with those big brown eyes. "And don't think you can blarney me out of it either," I continued, picking up a plastic glass and wielding the dishcloth with might and main.
"The very idea," I continued to mutter angrily, "an intelligent dog like you putting your foot in a dish of water just because you're in such a hurry. And It Is Going To Stop. Do you hear me?
And right then, that plastic glass slipped out of my enthusiastic dishcloth and went end over end in the air, landing with a plop right in Buff's dish, splashing water into his face and mine.
Buff didn't move a hair. He blinked the water out of one eye and looked at me as much as to say: "Yes? What were you saying? Do go on ... '"
I can't win. He's smarter than I am.
“Buff and the Autumn Leaves”
I'M GLAD you didn't go ahead and have autumn while I was out of the Miami Valley last week. I don't like to miss as colorful a show as our own changing of the seasons. I always want to see with my own eyes the tapestry of the woodlands when the green leaves turn all shades of yellow and brown and red. The autumn foliage makes a fabric coloring I've always wanted for a tweed suit-every fall the same, yet with a new season's fashionableness.
From the train windows, to and from New York, I kept tab on the great outdoors and, for a bit there, I thought I was going to miss the best part back home because some of the woods already had begun to turn colors in Pennsylvania.
When I was putting the luggage in the car, ready to drive to Dayton to take the train, the dry leaves kept rattling down with the sound but not the freshness of rain. I had the feeling the trees would be denuded before I could get back, and it was only going to be a week.
Any other time of the year, you can go away and come back in a week and nothing, really, has changed. The dates on the newspapers, yes, and some of the headlines. Little else.
But not in autumn. One day, summer. The next, a nip in the air, wood to carry in for the fire, and a changed landscape. More sky shows through where the leaves used to hang thick. The trees have new outlines, revealing abandoned nests.
The little yellow leaves of the old locust tree tuck themselves easily among the stones in the gravel of the driveway, making a carpet that looks golden-but don't try walking on it in your bare feet. It's still gravel.
Buff likes to scuffle among the dry leaves and when he comes in the house, he brings half of the leaves in on his feathers. Sometimes there arc more leaves in my kitchen than on the back stoop. And when friends catch me sweeping leaves OUT of the back door, it gives rise to many a bright remark that I am at a loss to counteract. After all, they catch me with the goods - er, the leaves.
That's what Buff was doing the day I was getting ready to go away, chasing imaginary rabbits among the leaves. Then I started putting luggage in the car and, suddenly, Buff was nowhere around. I thought, "What a time for that dog to take French leave! He rarely leaves the yard. What possessed him to run away now when I haven't got time to look for him!" I called. No Buff.
It really was unusual. Because, even when he decides to wander out of bounds, he lets me know with a distant bark as much as to say, "In a minute, in a minute-there's something over here that I must investigate first."
This time the silence was too quiet. And then I had a thought. opened the car door again, and removed the last suitcase. There he was, way back on the floor, trying to make himself small, thinking I'd have to take him along if he stowed away.
By golly, I almost DID stay home. You can explain to people that you'll be back. But how do you get it across to a dog who just looks at you with his heart in his eyes?
I hurried home, as soon as ever I could. And one of the first things Buff and I did was to take a good, long walk along the quiet lanes, listening to the leaves rustling down, scuffling in the dry grasses, watching a rabbit bounce out of the bush ahead and leap into the comparative safety of the farmer's field next door, stopping to watch the ducks sail across the lake, running down a hill as if we were both half our ages.
When we take a walk, Buff runs four times the distance I walk. He scouts ahead, reconnoiters both sides of the road, circles back around me and goes on ahead, again.
This time, though, on our first real walk of the autumn, he started out like a cross-country runner but when we were three-fourths of the way home, he started keeping pace with. me. I wasn't exactly dancing, just putting one foot in front of the other.
Within sight of home, he got up enough energy to run ahead, through the gate, and he was resting on the back steps when I finally
We aren't as frisky as we used to be when you were a pup, eh, Buff?
DID YOU SEE that story on bedmaking? How the average time to make a bed is nine minutes and you ought to do it in three?
I read it. Read it through a couple of times. Mighty interesting. Nine minutes is the average and it's pretty slow, eh? Well, sir, take a look at a bedmaker who is so below average, maybe I ought to stop making beds at all! I never made a bed (changing sheets and all) in so little time as nine minutes in all my life. I'd have to hurry and study and practice to even approach the time of nine minutes-and I doubt if I could shave it down to three if I made beds eight hours a day for the rest of my life.
It’s all the fault of that dog, again.
When he was a puppy, Buff liked to follow me around the house and watch me as I worked. He liked the broom, and the dustcloth. He thought the vacuum cleaner was very interesting, except when it was pointed in his direction and then he pretended it was a dragon and he'd hide behind a chair until it went by and then he'd lunge at the hose.
When we made the beds, I'd do the work and he'd have the fun.
He'd pretend he was sound asleep, and I'd pretend I didn't see him. I'd strip the sheets off the bed and drop them on a heap on the floor. Pretty soon, the heap would move a little and I'd say, "I wonder where Buff is? Where HAS that dog disappeared!"
The heap would wiggle a little bit. In a minute, I'd say, again, "Where's Buff?" And that heap of sheets would wiggle a big bit.
And pretty Soon a nose and then one eye would appear under the edge of the heap and I'd say, "Why, THERE he is!" and then he'd be as happy as if he'd won the St. Bernard sweepstakes.
Yes, I guess it is kinda silly. Yes, I agree I'd save more time if I went at the problem of bedmaking in a brisk, businesslike manner. Yes, I know Buff's nearly six years old now and that pretend-stuff is for pups.
But that's the way we make beds at our house. And I don't care what the experts say! Our way is more fun.
“He Is Risen”
They were singing that anthem with all the enthusiasm of the Easter season, on radio. The voices rang, clear and confident. I can't sing, but the chorus was so exultant and joyful, I found myself joining in the refrain.
"He is risen!" I sang triumphantly, and off-key.
Buff, who had been napping, bounded awake and ran to the door.
"Nobody's coming. False alarm," I called to the dog.
He gave me that look-which means, "You said so and if you said so then why isn't it true and if it isn't true, why did you say it was?"
I always feel obliged to explain human behavior when it befuddles
Buff, who tries so hard to understand me.
"I was just singing," I explained.
That didn't do it. He still looked puzzled. "’He is risen.' See? It's just a song."
Buff ran again to the back door to see who was coming.
I thought maybe I could get the idea across better if I went to the back door. I did. And then both of us went outdoors, Buff still eager to greet whoever was coming.
"See? Nobody's coming. It's just us. I was singing. Forget it, that's a good boy."
Buff ran around the yard, sniffing at the brand new tulips, brushing by the lilac bush bursting with green buds, getting scolded by a robin because he bounded too close to a tree where a low nest had been built.
Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to criticize that dog. Just because I can't see anybody doesn't mean nobody's there. After all, I can see tulips and lilacs budding, and a robin building a nest, all signs of renewal and promise.
That dog's smarter than I am, and a lot quicker, and the sooner I learn that lesson, the better.
“Misty Morns vs A Wet Tongue”
NOBODY LIKES to sleep more than I do. Sleep's my middle name. Not that I get to sleep as much as I want. For one thing, there's no eight-hour day or 40-hour week where good stories are concerned - anybody who works in any capacity on a newspaper knows that. For another thing, there's Buff. He has definite ideas about when and how long I should sleep. And once a wide-awake cocker spaniel decides he's had all the sleep he can manage and it is now time to get up and play ball, well-that's it. Up and play ball.
Still and all, there are times when the stories slack off and Buff is willing to snooze past his getting-up time and the phone does not ring and there is no early morning appointment-and the opportunity is ripe to sleep on and on.
Do I? No.
Not only do I wake up, I get up, sometimes stumbling over a sleepy dog. And for only one reason. Because the lake looks so beautiful in the early morning.
It seems a shame to stay in bed when there is something so naturally beautiful just for the looking. The lake is there 24 hours a day, week in and week out. So why can't I look at it at a time more convenient to my schedule?
Because the lake has this particular early-morning quality only in the early morning and there is no getting around THAT logic! It is different each day in the year-and each day in the year that I am home, I awaken early just to look at it. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities and its views are without comparison. To see the wide, panoramic sweep of blue water between the Golden Gate bridge and the Oakland bridge with Alcatraz in the center IS something to write home about. To be in the Piedmont Hills and look Out for countless miles at the entire city of San Francisco, the entire Bay area, up and down the coast, with that special bridge-and-island view only a small portion of the whole, that, too, is breath-taking.
It is even worth the trouble to look out the window of a Chicago hotel and see Lake Michigan and the outline of a freighter moving slowly against the horizon.
But the only sight that gets me out of my warm bed and out to the front windows when light begins to steal over the landscape is the little man-made lake that laps at the grassy slope outside my front fence.
This time of year, there's a mist that hangs over it, not touching the water, yet seeming a part of it. Everything is so quiet. The birds that stay longer in the fall also seem to sleep later. There's a stirring here and there, maybe a tentative birdcall-but even the other birds know it is merely a clearing of the throat. The quietness is a part of the whole picture of lake and trees and shadows.
In the stillness, a crab-apple falls off the tree that shades the back door and the hard little apple rolls noisily down the tin roof and plunks on the ground.
Nothing is disturbed by the sound. The crab-apple only adds another dimension to the early-morning picture. A dry leaf loosens itself from a branch and floats downward in slow motion. During the day, a stray breeze might lift it along a pace before eventually dropping it, but not in the early morning. The dry leaf, in early morning, seems to pick its own time to fall and its own place among its fellows.
I may have fallen over a sleepy dog when I first got up, but once fallen over, Buff is right beside me as I look at the lake. He makes no sound, no movement. Even his dust-whip of a tail is still. A leaf falls -he watches it to its rest. A crab-apple bounces-his head lifts in recognition, but he is not agitated. Sometimes I think I watch him watching the lake more than I look at the lake itself.
Sometimes we stay motionless for only a minute, sometimes for five or ten minutes. There's no time limit to the spell. Sometimes, later, I go back with a cup of coffee. But it is never the same, either the lake or the mood. That early-morning quality about a new day must be taken as it is, never warmed over.
The mist, the quiet, the wonder of it-the unutterable sadness puts a lump in my throat. Sad, a little, because it is the beginning of the end of another unit of four seasons. I know the whole thing will begin again as it has begun since the beginning of time. Yet, knowing that, I sigh a little for the end of this one.
Sad, too, that there are people in this world-and 13 million of them in California!-who never see a little lake in the early morning of an October day, because they're the luckless ones with perpetual summer who only know the seasons change when the rains begin.
As responsive to my moods as Buff is, a cocker spaniel can rake only so much sighing on a misty morn. He nudges me with his nose. After a minute, he lays a heavy paw on my arm-even if I am standing and he has to climb on a chair to do it! If that doesn't break the spell, he gets his ball. lays it at my feet, and then runs a cold, wet tongue over my bare ankle.
That dispels a mist if anything will!
From a poetic misty morning to a shivering gray dawn with one flick of a dog's wet tongue ...
A SEQUEL to the "misty-morn" column of day before yesterday ...
The day that column appeared in print happened to be a day when I arose extra early, even before dawn (which is no extraordinary feat since dawn is breaking later every day now until Dec. 21, the shortest day in the year, and then it starts back the other way, but there's no time to go into THAT here ... )
Automatically, I padded out to look at the lake. Dark. Couldn't see anything. Later, when I was about ready to leave the house, I went out to look at the lake again and, this time, it had that early-morning new-ness about it. I looked about for my side-kick, but Buff wasn't at my heels, as usual. He was sound asleep, curled up in a chair in the living room.
"You get right out here and look at the lake," I told him, sternly.
He lifted his head, but didn't make one move toward uncurling himself. "Come on, now," I insisted. "It says in the paper today that you always go look at the lake with me and, by golly, you'd better come look at the lake because I'm not going to be wrong AGAIN in print."
Grumpy? You should have seen that cocker spaniel, in slow motion, get down from the chair, walk out to the porch as if he were going the last mile, turn right around, walk back to his chair and curl up in the same, tight bundle he'd achieved before.
And the look he gave me. It said, as plain as plain: "Gee-what a grouch!"
I laughed so hard I got a stitch in my side.
I KNOW there must be people who wonder, now and then, about my dog and me ...
I admit I live in a house that is built for his convenience as much as mine. I don't demand his immediate departure from my life when he ruins my hats, my sleep or my spare time, the way some folks tell me they'd do if they had a dog who stepped through their veils, slept on their beds or insisted upon playing ball in all kinds of weather.
I think those things are funny.
That's why there arc those who don't understand Buff---or me! After all, he's just a DOG, they snort.
They aren't going to understand this, either, I guess ... my mentioning that, sometimes, I think Buff knows he's smarter than I am-and goes to some lengths to prove it.
You sec, I don't really like April Fool's Day, because I'm the kind who gets caught. Oh, not on things like wallets on the sidewalk, or a message to call Mr. Lyons-and it turns out NOT to be Frank, but the number of a joker who answers all calls this day by yelling "This is the Zoo!"
But I HAVE been known to bite into candy-covered soap, and get perturbed when I'm told that "Jean can't come in today, she's got the bubonic plague" and "Marilyn's gone to Japan and won't be back until Friday" and "Erma sent word she's sick of the whole thing and won't come in at all!"
The joke always gets through to me only AFTER the girls snicker and snort because I turn green thinking of how we're going to get out our part of the paper with one-fifth of the staff, or less ...
On or about March 31 every year, I am known to start groaning in advance, anticipating all the things I'm going to bite on the next day.
I did it, this year, at home. BUT in the hearing of my dog, Buff. He and I were loafing in front of Dave Garroway's television program early yesterday, when both of us should have been getting ready for the day itself.
"This is Wednesday, April 1," announced Dave. "Oooooooh," groaned I, remembering.
Buff looked interested, as if it were the start of a new game.
"No," said I, replying to a dog. ( And THAT'S another of the things people can't understand.) "It's just that I dislike April Fool jokes."
(I talk to him, you see, because HE looks as if he is not only interested, but listening as well. Which, as many wives will testify, is not always the case when wives talk around the house!)
He continued to hang on my every word, so I explained: "I don't like April Fool jokes because I'm always the biggest one of all. I bite on anything. But I've made up my mind NOT to, today! NObody's going to fool me today. I WONT bite!"
I went back to the problem of deciding what to wear-and dismissed April 1 from my mind.
Along came Buff, bumping against my leg, trying to attract my attention. He got it. He looked like he always does when he has sneaked his ball into the house, against orders, and is trying to coax me into playing.
"Have you got that ball in the house again'" I demanded. "Now you give it to me. Right now." I held out my hand.
He obeyed. Put his chin in my hand, the way he always does when he drops the ball in my hand, on order.
THERE WAS NOTHING IN HIS MOUTH!
The dog just sat there, smiling at me, as if he couldn't have wished for a better reaction to his joke.
You can't tell ME that dog doesn't know enough to get the better of me, any day in the week!
“How Do You Tell A Dog You’re Coming Back?
NOTHINGS CHANGED, everything's the same. And yet there's a little something different about everything ...
Is it that way with you when you come home after being away for a little? You say to yourself, "Don't let anything change. Keep it all the same until I get back. I don't want to miss a thing." You say it, knowing all the time that things inevitably change. Yet there's that little part of you which hopes against hope that, once, things will remain the same so you can go away and come back to slip right into the same comfortable grooves.
Somehow, the sameness is changed, and yet the same.
The air, for one thing. That unmistakable turning into autumn. The walnut trees are going bare already, showing the clusters of green-hulled walnuts. One or two of the green balls drop at your feet, or on your head as if by design, if you shuffle through the leaves under those
The zinnias look washed out by the hot sun. The rose bush started growing a-fresh and I can see the remains of four roses that bloomed while I was gone. One big rose waited until I got back to start its petals dropping, one by one, in the first fall rain that refreshed the landscape but did not provide the greening that the spring rains give.
it's autumn, for sure, even though summer lingers. The fireplace gives out that special warmth that it seems to have when it knows it, alone, is providing the heat for the whole house in the interim days. With no competition from the sun or the fuel oil, the fire sends out a creeping warmth that gradually takes over the whole house and you can open the back door again.
The dry leaves falling on the tin roof sound like a rain shower that comes and goes with the wind in the trees.
Everything's the same, nothing's changed except the slow orderliness of the season. And Buff. I wish I knew how to get it through his furry, little cocker spaniel head that if I go away, I will come back. He knows when I leave in the morning that I will return at night. If not that night, the next. He is content for the moment, relishing his supper when good neighbors or my family put down the same bowl for him, playing ball, and sleeping curled up, at their houses.
But when the days stretch on, and the nights, then Buff seems to go into a good, old, southern DE-cline. I know his diet and habits remain the same. I know he gets tender, loving care. Yet he gets quieter, thinner, and coaxes for more patting.
It very nearly breaks my heart when I finally do return home. The other night, he waited at Union Station without knowing why he was there. I called to him. You could tell he wasn't trusting his ears, or his eyes. He had to come close and sniff before he would believe. And then he didn't bark or bounce around, but just pressed as close as he could possibly get, making little noises in his throat. I wanted to explain why I was gone so long but a dog doesn't put stock in explanations.
You either are, or you aren't, and there are no two ways about it.
Knowing that one or more nieces and nephews might be waiting for Aunt Marj when she got off the train, I packed one bag with presents handy to the top. All I'd have to do would be to unzip the bag, take out the right presents, and everything would be fine. No waiting.
I reckoned without Buff. Right there in Union Station, I unzipped the bag to reach the gifts for the youngsters. Before I could get my hand inside the suitcase, Buff was already nosing around. He KNEW there would be a ball for him-there always is when I bring a suitcase home and open it. Here was a suitcase. Open. He could smell the rubber ball so he went right down after it, with Marj trying to salvage the spillage. A robe and slippers and the cosmetic case look much more intimate when spilling out of a suitcase in a public place than they are in reality.
Not the suitcase nor the ball quite convinced Buff I was home. We had to go through all the old routine of actually "being home" as it relates to our house in the country. We played all the games as if Buff were trying to test me-did I remember the one with the ball nudged under the ottoman, did I remember the rules when the ball is dropped in my lap while I'm reading, did I remember how we play the game when the ball is hidden under the shag rug and we pretend it is lost? I remembered.
There was no peace until we went out on the porch and sat quietly, watching a leaf fall, the grape vine on the fence move, the sunshine and shade as the clouds came and went. When I sat down to look through the accumulated mail and magazines, I had to do the sitting on the davenport where Buff could lean against me, and do the reading one-handed, too, because Buff insisted upon lying with full weight on one hand.
When I stepped out of the shower and wrapped the big terrycloth robe around me, there was no walking any farther without falling over a dog. Buff would not move until I played the old, old puppy game of teasing his nose with the tip-end of the robe's belt. Everything had to be the same with him, and he had to make sure.
It took two whole days but the bags finally are unpacked. Not put away, however. Buff smells a mouse ... or whatever the spaniel equivalent is when you suspect all is not as it appears at the moment. He has stopped dogging my footsteps-but, from time to time, he breaks into his bird-watching, for instance, to take up people-watching, namely me.
Next time I leave home, I'd better get clearance from Buff or he'll know the reason why!
“Once Upon A Time…”
ONCE UPON A TIME there lived a little dog who owned a pair of people. One was a man, and he and the little dog got along famously from the start. The other was a lady and with her the little dog had trouble from the very beginning. She didn't seem to know very much and the little dog realized that while the man learned quickly, instinctively, it was going to take a lot of patience to train the lady in the way she should go.
There was the matter of serving meals on time. It took several weeks for the little dog to train the lady in the proper manner. In this, the little dog communicated his desire to the man who said to the lady: 'Why don't you give him his supper first and then when we are eating, he won't beg for food. That way it will be easier to train him to behave at mealtimes."
The little dog thought that was very clever of the man, to infer that it was he, the dog, who was going to be trained. It really didn't matter in the long run, thought the little dog. The main thing was to get meals served on time-and from then on, they were.
There was the matter of establishing the proper time to arise each morning. When the two of them, the man and the little dog, were alone in the house they managed quite well. But the lady had ideas of her own-in the beginning, that is. On a dull, rainy weekday morning, she was always saying, "Come on both of you, you'd better get up or you'll be late for work," when it was a well known fact that dull, rainy mornings were perfect for the continuance of cozy naps. And on bright, sunny Saturday mornings, when there were walks to take and interesting trails to follow and squirrels to talk with she would cover up her head and moan, "Oh, why can't I sleep just one half hour more - it's too early to get up!"
The little dog did not want to waste any more time than was necessary bringing the lady into line, so once again he communicated his wishes about early rising on happy Saturdays to the man who once again seemed to know the right thing to do.
"Go on," the man would whisper to the little dog, "go on, jump up on her bed and tell her it is time to get up. That's it-pull the covers off her head and put your cold nose in her ear."
It was simply amazing the way the man knew just exactly what methods to use to get results, the little dog agreed. The lady fell out of bed immediately and, later, she learned to snap to attention at the mere threat of a cold nose.
The little dog was pleased with the way things had settled down into a comfortable routine and he spent the next six years of his life with a perfectly-trained pair of people to do his bidding. Meals were on time. Walks were frequent and regular. Although neither the man nor the lady were very fast on their feet, they could field balls quite creditably. They managed to keep the fire going in the fireplace and although the little dog had to remind them every time a spark jumped out, at least he never had to remind them twice. There were frequent rides in the car with interesting stops, including the bakery-why did they get so excited when the little dog ate a dozen doughnuts – didn’t the man and the lady put the sack right down on the floor?
Those were good years, the little dog thought. In the winters, the snow was a cold, white playground. What fun to run pellmell through the drifts with your head down, piling up snow on your nose, the little dog remembered. In the fall, the leaves made a snappy, crackling place to play. The summers were one long, lazy, length of days punctured with noisy thundershowers. And in the spring? It was springtime the year the man sickened and died and the little dog was saddened, at first, when his pair was broken. But he, as his kind do, sensed the truth of things and he wasted no time on sorrow. The little dog lived to the fullest each moment and he tried his best to show the lady that was the way for her, too. But she was a slow learner.
Then one Christmas Eve, when the sky was clear and the air cold and the stars twinkling in such glory they fair took your breath away, the little dog insisted the lady take a walk in the quiet darkness. He didn't chase away after illusiveness as he was wont to do in the daytimes. The little dog walked sedately for one so frisky. The little dog and the lady walked up the lane to the place where the big tree was blown over, and they walked back again and then sat on the back steps in the dark, in the quiet, with the twinkling stars overhead. The little dog leaned sleepily against the lady's knee and the lady was deep in thought for a long time ...
After that, life was smooth again for the little dog. The lady played ball and went for walks and served meals on time and snapped to attention when he barked. The little dog was content, wagging his tail to signify his happiness in their shared life, wagging his tail even to the last minutes of his own earthly life. Again the lady was sad. She certainly was a slow learner. She tried to remember the right way she was supposed to go, but there were times when she felt sorry for herself because she had to go alone.
Then on another Christmas Eve, when the sky was clear and the air cold and the stars twinkling in such glory they fair took your breath away, the lady took a walk in the quiet darkness. She walked back and forth under the stars, thinking. Then she sat on the back steps, hunched against the cold, thinking.
And then it came to her-the truth of things as they are. She certainly was a slow learner. But finally she sensed the real meaning of Christmas Eve and of Christmas Day, and she felt the promise, she knew the truth. She came to know the things the little dog had known all along.
Return to "The Anniversary Marj" Home Page