This past summer, while John, almost 16, ventured more than 5,000 miles east to visit the Holy Land, Constance and I flew 2,000 miles west to see my cousin Vicki in Colorado. (How do you people breathe in that high-altitude state? It’s all breathtakingly beautiful, but at more than 10,000 feet up in the town of Leadville, I thought I was going to keel over.)
Vicki, a writer herself who mentored me into this profession, professes not to be a dog person. She regularly calls or texts me to complain about: the neighbor who brought a second dog into her condo unit even though the by-rules allow only one; another neighbor whose dog won’t stop barking; dog owners who won’t pick up after their pets; and so on. She even has a cat, Moose, as if to prove her dog-hating point, and says things like (I’m quoting verbatim here), “the fewer dogs there are, the happier I would be.”
But I don’t entirely bite the bait, er, kibble. I see how she pets our border collie-mix, Franklin, when she comes to our house, how he shyly sidles up to her and good-naturedly waits for attention that she’s only too happy to give him. And she, in turn, good-naturedly forbears chiding me for petting pretty much every single dog we happen to walk by. I see, too, when we reminisce, how much she enjoys talking about Salty, the fox terrier/beagle mix with a pink stomach and freckles that her family had when we were growing up.
I loved visiting Salty and my cousins and Aunt Mary and Uncle Vic at their house just up the hill from the lake. But mostly Salty. In fact, while my elder brothers gamely went boating and swimming with Vicki’s brother, David — the lot of them ranging from ages 8 to 14 — I, age 4, preferred hanging out with the dog and throwing sticks for him, running around the yard with him, and generally scratching a dog-yearning itch I couldn’t otherwise satisfy because we lived in a New York City apartment building that didn’t allow pets.
I didn’t know it back then, but Vicki told me on this trip just how irascible Salty was. Peeing on a little girl’s snowsuit was probably the least of his infractions. Unneutered, he often ran down to the lake on wooing excursions, one time impregnating a purebred cocker spaniel. The owner of the prized bitch really gave it to Aunt Mary, so much so that when Uncle Vic came home from work, Vicki, still very young at that point, ran up to him and cried out, “Daddy, they’re going to remove Salty’s tentacles!”
Salty may have been incorrigible to the neighbors, but for me he was the dog who solidified the promise to myself that someday, when I grew up, I, too would live in a place that allowed dogs, and would get one (or two). The childhood promises we make for ourselves — and then keep — are the sweetest.
Hope your summer reminiscences were good, too,