In 2002, while Granny and Grampa (the Old Yankee Man) were in Florida, Grampa’s dog died.
Sunny was a ‘pound dog’. A collie/shepherd/who-knows-what-else mix.
JoHn and I had chosen her, with Granny’s ‘okay’, from the Humane Society, shortly after they lost JoHn’s childhood ShepHerd, Misty (who had become Grampa’s dog when JoHn went to college).
When Granny and Grampa were getting ready to move out of their first and only family home, and in with us, a young Korean family showed up at Granny’s and Grampa’s door.
The children asked if they could buy Sunny. She had been visiting them, waiting for the kids to get off the bus, and staying for “lunch” every day for several years.
That was 1993, and Sunny was one of the last of the beloved neighborhood dogs.
Old Yankee Men are living and breathing dichotomies. They can be crusty and opinionated and even fiery, and also unfathomably charming and gentle and sweet. I have witnessed all of this first hand, with a surprising number of Old Yankee Men, and know it to be true.
Grampa gently told them that no, Sunny was not for sale. He explained that she had an important job, taking care of him.
The children, who had been accompanied by their parents, nodded. This made sense to them. They knew Grampa as ‘Mr. Dingle’, not only their neighbor, he was also their mail man.
And he was old.
Of course he needed a dog to take care of him.
They all, including the parents, hugged Sunny and cried into her big soft, golden ruff. And then they said goodbye.
Eight years after our big move to Dunstable, Granny and Grampa were leaving for Florida one fall, knowing Sunny might need to have surgery while they were gone. She had a benign, but growing tumor. I remember Grampa roughly patting her on the head before he left. Telling her she was a good dog.
She was also an old dog by then.
Surgery would be a risk.
By February we couldn’t wait any more, and we called Grampa to tell him the vet said the size of the tumor, and the impact on her quality of life, were too much. We had to try to take it out.
She survived the removal of the tumor, but her big heart stopped before she ever woke up.
And we called Grampa again, to tell him.
He was quiet.
He managed to choke out, “Okay.”
I cried in honor of Sunny’s life and death.
I cried for Grampa’s heart.
I called down to Florida a few times in the weeks remaining until they got home (they were always home by April 15th – Tax Day – because Grampa would only mail his taxes in from home (Don’t get me started.))
Granny said he was quiet, and sad. She also told me that he was very clear, he did not want to come back to a new dog. Don’t get him one. Don’t we dare.
When they returned to Dunstable, other family members visited. They welcomed Granny and Grampa back, and It seemed like everyone had something to say about Sunny. They said they were sorry, some told funny stories, and then, inevitably I suppose, they asked when he was getting a new dog.
I know, logically, that it never happened, but I swear I could see him wincing in the onslaught of intended comfort.
When he insisted he was all done with dogs, they poo poo’d. Said it was too early to make that decision. Said he might change his mind. And I would watch him get quiet.
And dig in.
Grampa walked over to our kitchen one night, a few weeks later. I was puttering. JoHn had the kids in the tub upstairs.
He sat down.
I have learned not to make a big deal out of these types of visits. Not to over solicit, or offer too much.
But I knew why he was here.
“You miss her.” I offered.
His head dropped.
His big, already gnarled, hand swiped at an eye.
He took a big breath.
“I’m too God Damn old.” He said. “I’ll be planted before a new damn dog dies.”
My eyes stung, and my breath caught in my chest.
My connection to this old, crusty man is so strong. We see each other, warts and all. And love each other anyway. He has been an inadvertent role model for unconditional family love.
I wiped my own eyes, while he stared at the floor.
After a minute, I smiled, just a little.
And made a ‘humph’ sound, loud enough for him to hear.
I remember him looking up, confused.
I have always called Grampa on being… Grampa.
It’s kind of our thing.
“I’m pretty sure we have, let’s see, one-two-three-four-seven.” I said. “We have seven animals in this house right now.”
He continued to look at me, confused.
“I’m pretty sure if you die, we can absorb another dog.” I added a nod to my smile. Maybe my eyebrows went up. Maybe I shrugged. I can’t remember.
He nodded, slowly.
“I can’t take another damn dog.” He said.
Now we were talking.
“I get that.” I said.
And that was that.
And that was enough.
The death of another damn dog would be too much to bear. He was opting out.
He slid his chair back, the way he does, with all his weight on it and scratching the frack out of my floor. He got up slowly, and walked hunch-ing-ly away, back through the family room and the door to his apartment.
Grampa hasn’t closed a door gently since…
After that, I waited.
He was too stubborn to change his mind. That wasn’t going to happen.
And though, for a few years, he allowed our dogs, Smudge and Ripley, to accompany him down cellar and out in the back yard when he worked, he hardly ever invited them into his apartment. And when he did, it was to give them a Milk Bone from his stash under the sink (the one he assured us he didn’t have, if we asked about any unexplained weight gain), and then he’d kick them out with a loud, “Go on! Go on!” as if they were pains in his ass, and had snuck in without him knowing.
And then, one day…
A pain in the ass in a ten-month old, fuzzy yellow body.
Wiggly, and obstinate.
Loud, obnoxious, and underfoot.
He was all about food, any food, any time.
And wet, wet kisses often scented with poop.
We would laughingly complain about him constantly.
And offered him as a free parting gift to pretty much anyone who visited.
When would he calm down?
How did he get that loaf of bread off the high shelf, again?
Shouldn’t he have died from all that chocolate?!
And about a year after we got Fred, I realized that Grampa was secretly letting Fred into his apartment, without the other dogs.
I would call the dogs, and Monty, Ripley, and Smudge would show up right away.
I’d call Fred again, hear some banging and scuffling, and a slam. And then Fred would be trotting down the hall toward me, from the direction of Granny’s and Grampa’s apartment.
I confirmed my suspicion over time, Fred’s widening Milk Bone-fueled girth a good clue.
Contrarian that he was, Grampa was sucking up to the dog we were complaining about.
Kind of like when he calls Tom Brady ‘Golden Boy’ and then bets on the Giants.
This would be perfect Old Yankee Man logic.
Right under our noses,
Grampa was stealing our damn dog.
Oh, he has plausible deniability. An Old Yankee Man does not change his mind (that’s in the Old Yankee Man handbook). He was not ever going to have another dog.
Old Yankee Men are crafty… and their rules often come with fine print.
What he really meant, he would tell you, is that he was never going to own another damn dog.
So we feed Fred, and we take him to the vet, and we say he is Sam’s dog.
And Grampa gives him far too many snacks, hangs out with him during the day, takes him into the apartment when we go out (and the ShepHerds are in their crates), and complains loudly when Fred drools on his pant leg (“God Damn Dog! Lookit! It looks like I pissed my pants! Now what am I gonna do?!”)
He also talks to him, and spoils him, and loves to tell people stories about him. Most begin with, “So you think the dog’s dumb right? But…” and then he tells you what amazing thing Fred has done that day, or week, or month (or ever).
Lately, Fred’s blindness and Grampa’s issues with movement and age have made both their worlds a little smaller, and each a little more reliant on others.
Grampa is paying very close attention to what Fred can and can’t do now that he is blind.
And Fred has learned to stand still and allow Grampa to lean on him when he is getting up, into his walker. He also has learned to walk carefully beside the walker, and never in front of it.
I often hang for an extra few seconds, when I bring Fred into the apartment. Just to watch Grampa greet him, and then complain about him being too pushy for a snack. Old Yankee Men need to complain, can’t help it. They’re born with the Grumbly Gene.
Some have said that, when you are ready for a certain dog, that dog shows up.
Who knew it would be a kinetic pain in the ass yellow lab…
But then again, Grampa is a beloved pain in the ass himself.
The Old Yankee man has his final dog.
Nice play, old man.
Good boy, Fred.
Thanks for readin’.
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