Wednesday, July 7, 2010
Dogs from My Past
Meet Coffeecake. He was a redheaded dachshund beloved my mother. Lore has it that he was the runt of his litter, small enough to fit into my tiny mother's raincoat pocket in 1962 or so. He was a well established princeling by the time I came along several years later. Spoiled by my mother, Coffeecake hated my father. Not surprisingly, my father hated him back. (A WWII veteran who was the son of a WWI vet, my father had a thing about bossy Germans, including, or especially, those in his own mother's family.) I wasn't so keen on him either, but it seemed terribly important that I get him to like me. At best, he tolerated me. He climbed over me when I lay on the floor reading comics. He appeared in every birthday photo, usually with his "wurst" end facing the camera.
I used to toss him dry Cheerios from my bowl, as I stood in front of the television in the den, bouncing my knees to the music on the Jack LaLanne show. That seemed like a way to bond, until the time that I crawled under the sofa after him to proffer a piece of cereal. He bit me on the nose. He also bit my mother's friend, Marlene, on Christmas Day. In his defense, she had had several whiskey sours and was trying to smooch on him. I'd have bitten Marlene, too. She smelled like cats. He also bit my grandmother while she was babysitting me. The ambulance came. In all the drama, nobody remembered where I was. I watched everything from the kitchen doorway. This little episode did little to thaw the Cold-War-like relations between my grandmother and her only daughter-in-law. They didn't reach detente until well after the Berlin Wall came down.
Obviously, Coffeecake, despite his delicious name, was not a likable or sweet dog. In his later years, he was fat and ugly. Unfixed and covered in warts, he trotted around the house leaving behind an unmistakeable musky odor. One form of torture my brother and I perfected was to force each other's face into the dog's pillow, a green-tassled sofa cushion that was waxy and pungent from years of use. Ultimately, like many of my unpleasant relatives, he lived a very long time. He was fifteen or sixteen when he died while napping on a summer afternoon in the late 1970s. I remember only feeling sad for a matter of minutes. We had another dog, Sam, who was a big lug of a Labrador. My brother and I liked him much better than Coffeecake, even though he bit us, too. In both cases, we got yelled at for bothering the dog. No mollycoddlying for us. It's a wonder we survived.