My paternal grandfather loved dogs. He used to show English Bull dogs at The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The only memento I have of him, other than a few family photos, is the Westminster trophy he won for one of his dogs, Lady Carabantis, in the early 1900’s.
Grandfather died of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever before I was born, and although fate kept us from never knowing one another, what he did leave me was his love for all creatures great and small. I have always loved animals and I believe this genetically came directly from him. This trusting affection for animals I have had my whole life and I only have one memory where perhaps this gift got me into trouble. Just once did it come back to bite me, literally.
When we first moved to Ohio, I was just under six, and I decided it would be fun to give the next door neighbor’s big fuzzy St. Bernard a great big hug, well, just because. Before I knew it he had my head in his mouth and his canine lower insisor clamped down catching my left upper lip through to my gum. The other jaw incisor pierced my right temple.
I was shocked, I guess, because I didn’t feel a thing when I pulled away. Just warm blood trickling from my temple and coming into my mouth.
My stunned cries brought my mother running and the fear I saw looking at her when she saw me, scared me more than just what had happened.
I don’t remember much more than that during the long ride to Steubenville. Only Mother holding my lip together for fear that I would wind up with a hair lip or something disfiguring like that.
But in the end even this event did not make me afraid of dogs, nor stop my wanting one of my own.
Reeds Mill, Ohio 1947
His name was Tippy. He was my first dog. A yellow-haired dog with a white tip at the end of his tail. He just wandered out of the woods one day behind our house in Reeds Mill in Ohio, his long tail wagging with glee as he honed in on my peanut butter sandwich on the picnic table on the back porch. We knew he looked mighty hungry and since he had no collar, Daddy assumed he also had no owner and, miracles of all miracles, he allowed me to keep him.
That summer Tippy and I would adventurously roam through the woods, twigs snapping beneath my sandals as I searched for jack-in-the pulpits to put in my playhouse. Tippy would stick his nose way inside the white flower’s hood and always managed to come away with most of the yellow pollen on his nose. He would shake his head wildly from side to side, ears snapping against his tight jowls, trying to rid himself of the foreign invaders inside his nostrils.
Down the hill next to our house was Reeds Mill Creek where in the summer I would use a huge rock as a diving board and cannon ball into the icy water. Tippy would be right behind me with his long tail in canoe paddle position and tongue hanging aside.
Jump after jump he would loyally pretend he was having great fun. But after awhile, he usually gave up his guise and remained atop the rock, sunning and licking himself dry.
“He must have run away,” Mother said while stirring stew over the gas stove, her fine auburn hair frizzing from the steam swirling and rising around her. She didn’t look my way. Tippy had been gone for two days and that had never happened since he came to us.
“Why would he do such a thing?” I scuffed the open toe of my sandal along a crack in the linoleum floor.
“He’s my best friend and wouldn’t do that.”
Fighting hard to keep back my tears I dug harder into the worn floor covering lifting a small corner. My six-year old heart was breaking because I knew Tippy would not leave me. He and I were the best of friends.
I suspected some adult mischief was afoot, but I was too afraid to ask. Too afraid to hear adults and lies about dogs and things like that.
That night Daddy went out into the woods to look for Tippy. He eventually found him lying under an oak tree not too far from the house. He had been bitten by a copperhead snake in the very same woods we had often fearlessly played together. How my poor Tippy must have suffered. The poison from the snake that struck his testicles had done its terrible job. He was trying to come home. He was.
Daddy carried his limp yellow body to the edge of the woods where he buried him just off of the path to the back porch. I can still hear the rhythm and sharp scraping of the metal shovel eating through the dense forest floor opening a space for my Tippy to rest.
In the morning I made a wooden cross with “Tippy” written on it with a black crayon and I easily pushed it down into the soft mound of earth at the top of his grave. My tears splashed onto the small mound of loose forest dirt.
I vowed on that day. That terrible day of loosing my first very best friend that if I ever got another pet I would never have an outside dog again. He would live right inside the house with me, and that no one except me would care for him. Ever.
So, when I was seven I was already exposed to death and the heartache that comes from losing some living thing I loved. How could I know then that life through the coming years would bring to me the loss of many things, but at that moment, in my memory, Tippy’s death was the beginning of my childlike Utopia turning.
Copyright Sandra Hart 2014. All rights reserved.