Thursday, October 13, 2011

Doggone

The summer I was nine years old, my father tragically died in an accident. The enormous blow almost crushed my mother, my little brother and me. That old saying "what does not kill you only makes you stronger" is certainly true of grief. When you lose immediate family, you eventually heal, but you are never the same. The convalescence of the soul is a long journey.

Tragedy moves people you hardly know to help in whatever way they can. They have no idea how their small gesture or gift might grace a broken heart with exactly what it needs. Soon after the funeral, a woman I had never met before was visiting my mother when I got home from school. She had come to pay her respects and apparently to ask my mother's permission to give our family the gift of a dog.

The following Saturday, the first Dachshund I had ever laid eyes on arrived at our house. I was horrified to learn there were dogs that ugly in the world! I had never seen anything as hideous as that poor dog with its useless, dwarfed legs and its long, droopy ears. I do not remember exactly all the details, but I think I was acutely disappointed, expecting a real dog, like a German Shepherd or a Collie. The dogs I knew were greyhounds and large, mixed breed farm dogs. They all had normally sized legs and reasonable ears, not stumpy gnome legs and ugly skin flaps for ears. I hated that dumb, ugly dog on sight and wanted nothing to do with it.

My mother named the poor beast "Beanie", the dumbest name for a dog I had ever heard. It just seemed to be a bad idea in all ways: ugly dog, stupid name, dumb lady for giving us a worthless puppy. She had even said that puppy was the last one in the litter. No one else had wanted that deformed dog, either. The disappointment hardly registered in my broken heart, though.

Of course, Beanie, as an agent of the dog nation was on a mission from heaven. He knew I hated him but that was no reason for him to not love me. Each night at bedtime Beanie went to sleep on my little brother's bed. My brother was only seven and he took no aesthetic exception to Beanie's name or appearance. The tender little-boy heart only registered "puppy" and that was supremely alright with dog and boy.

As usual, I could not go to sleep, lying in the dark with my thoughts and sorrow. As soon as everyone else was soundly asleep, I would hear Beanie jump from my brother's bed. Under cover of darkness, he would trot into my room on his worthless, ugly legs and try to jump on my bed, which was far too high. I did not care how many times he tried each night, I was not going to let such a misshapen, ugly animal sleep on my bed. I turned my back and let him wear himself out trying to jump up. I eventually fell asleep to the sound of the poor little dog trying with all his might to jump onto my bed.

This went on for many nights. I do not remember now how long it took before Beanie's determination finally paid off. One night my heart softened toward the little dog without legs and I bailed out to gather him up and place him on the bed. I do not remember specifically but I believe I had no more trouble falling asleep after that. And I had no trouble loving ol' Beanie with all my heart.

Beanie's name was always unfortunate. He deserved a far more noble name. I accepted his short legs and I found out his floppy ears were soft as silk. He was part of our family for many years. Whatever his earthly mission, he was most determined to see it through. He was run over by a truck but miraculously escaped serious harm. He also survived being run over by a car. When I was in high school, one of the older boys in town rode both of his motorcycle wheels over poor Beanie right before my horrified eyes. He was still alive but I did not believe he could possibly survive.

By then Beanie was an overweight, middle-aged, standard Dachshund and he was too heavy for me to carry home. I was almost hysterical with grief. It was one of the town's eccentric families, looked down upon, their kids picked on in school, that helped me. The mother hugged me comfortingly, and then kindly lifted the dying dog into their car and brought us both home to my mother. No one gave Beanie a chance to survive. My mother called the vet but he felt it was a lost cause: keep the dog still and warm. Wait and see.

Amazingly, miraculously, Beanie recovered. He laid all night long as if in a coma, but the next day, he became conscious and eventually made a full recovery, though he never could run more than a short distance again. His only goal in life was to follow my brothers and me wherever we went. He played softball, and kick the can with us, went fishing, and downtown for a candy bar. He followed us to the swimming pool and patiently waited outside the gate, all day if necessary. He followed me whenever I rode my horse, but after the accident he could not keep up, so he waited beside the pasture gate for me to return.

My baby brother, who was 18 months old when my father died, was Beanie's last project. He was my little brother's dog after all the rest of us had flown the nest. Beanie slept on that bed every night and laid on the floor watching cartoons and Batman. Beanie and my brother won a prize in the town's annual parade for their costume as a guy walking his dog backwards, the only award Beanie was ever given. When my little brother was away at college, the sad decision to have Beanie euthanized finally had to be made by my mother and stepfather.

Beanie successfully completed his earthly mission, with an unfailing heart and a humble spirit. I hope he was infinitely rewarded for his pure love and devotion to my brothers and me. He was a doggone good dog, that ol' Beanie.

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