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Thoughts While Walking the Dog
Memories of a Jewish Childhood
By Lynn Ruth Miller


Cheer up!  The worst is yet to come!
Philander Johnson 
There has been a lot of talk these days about selecting the appropriate pet for your environment and your personality.  This makes great deal of sense to those who have never adopted an animal, but in reality, no matter how careful the pet shopper may be, all too often, the tiny wimp he rescued develops into a schizophrenic gorilla. Human judgment is too easily flawed by impulse and romantic expectations!

My family repeatedly chose what looked like The Perfect Furry Pal only to find themselves dealing with a savage animal who shared personality traits with a starving mountain lion.

I began begging for a puppy when I was two years old.  My sister joined her pleas to mine eight years later when she herself was two.  She had an attraction to animals so pungent that dozens of rabid strays panted at her heels when she toddled from the safety of our backyard.   My parents tried to fulfill our burning desires many unsuccessful times.  The fluffy Scotties, adorable mutts and precious beagles we nurtured tended to wander into the wilds the moment they reached their majority.

After an endless procession of nomadic dogs, my father finally decided to take the power of choice from the feminine side of his family, and select the Pet of His Dreams.   He happened upon an illustration of a slender, athletic man in a tartan at Scotland’s Inverness Golf Course swinging his club, with an alert, wire-haired terrier at his heels.  The spiffy little fellow wore a jacket that matched the gentleman’s kilt.  It was a spectacular sight and my father immediately envisioned a dog just like that at his side acting as his caddy.  It would fetch golf balls for him and give him the companionship he needed as he groped his way over the links at 4 in the morning for the first game of the day.  He waved the magazine picture in front of my mother.  “Meet our next dog!” he said.

“We’ll discuss this later, I. R.,” said my mother.  “I am cooking dinner.”

In those days men labored under the misconception that they ruled their roost and my father immediately called the American Kennel society, found an appropriate breeder and purchased his furry caddy for $150.00.  The puppy weighed three pounds on arrival and had the attitude of a 200-pound Pit Bull with gallstones.  His name was Junior.

After the business transaction was completed, the dog waddled into our kitchen wet my father’s shoe, snarled at my sister and licked my mother’s foot.  My mother was charmed.  She picked him up and he rested his head on her shoulder.  “How sweet!” she said. 

My father reached over to pet him and Junior snarled as if he smelled fresh meat.  “I think you scared him, honey,” said my mother.  “Give him time.  He’ll get over it.”

Five years later, the dog had made our house off limits for deliveries, mail and any guests who attempted to cross our threshold.  My father’s ankles were permanently scarred and because Junior bit my sister every time she fed him, she developed an irrational fear of anything canine. The moment she spied anything that barked, she would scream so loudly that she brought the Fire Department to our door with axes and stretchers at the ready at least once a month.  

I was fifteen years old by that time and my interest had strayed from dogs to boys, but my sister still longed for a safe and controllable animal friend.  She launched a determined campaign to convince my parents to get her a pet of her own.

Once again, my parents tried their best to find the appropriate companion that would love my sister and escape Junior’s fangs.  They discussed this with my sister’s psychiatrist and decided to buy her a hamster. It seemed the perfect choice.  We could keep the tiny rodent elevated off the floor and Marsha could take her out of her cage for a cuddle whenever she pleased.   We named her Lizzie. 

In those days, hamsters were most unusual pets and to the uninitiated, Lizzie looked like an overfed rat.  People brave enough to get past Junior reacted with predictable alarm when they saw Lizzie running faster than light on her wheel. My mother decided that her hospitality rating was at a definite risk and decided the only way to save it was to move Lizzie’s cage into our guest bathroom.  “We can warn anyone who goes in there about Lizzie,” my mother explained to my angry little sister. “And you can have her all to yourself when you shut the door. Junior isn’t tall enough to turn door knobs.”

For a week or so, this seemed the perfect solution.  Marsha ran into the bathroom to caress her beige rodent every day after school while Junior charged against the closed door. Unfortunately, at the end of that first week, my mother invited the entire family over for Friday night dinner.  Now these were the days when women wore very complicated, boned underwear secured with all manner of lethal hooks, bands and straps.  My father’s older brother had married a conservative product of finishing school who stood less than five feet in her highest heels and was almost that wide around her middle.  She was an excellent eater and since my mother was a magnificent cook, she became my mother’s favorite guest.  As inevitably happens after a heavy meal, my Aunt Molly decided to relieve herself before she dug into my mother’s angel food parfait pie. 

The rest of us were so involved in demolishing the brisket, tsimmis and potato pancakes that preceded dessert that we didn’t notice our tubby little relative disappear down the hall.  In moments, we heard a shriek so loud that my father dropped his fork and grabbed the fire extinguisher by the kitchen door.  “WHERE’S THE FIRE?” he shouted.

Junior immediately jumped up from his roost under the table and ripped Daddy’s blue serge trousers while the rest of us stood paralyzed awaiting we knew not what.  My aunt galloped into the dining room, her dress stuck in the hook on her girdle and her stockings drooping around her ankles.  Her face was pale as a pillowslip and her dentures had slipped from their moorings.  “IDA!” she cried.  “THERE ITH A RAT IN THE CAN!”

I looked at my mother.  “I thought you didn’t believe in using canned goods,” I said.  “You said tin is toxic.”

My mother ignored me and tried to untangle my aunt's dress from her foundation.  It had slipped around her knees and the poor woman could move neither forward or backward.  My uncle, determined to save his wife from a stroke jumped into the fray.  “You don't make sense, Molly,” he said.  “Ida keeps a very clean house.”

And that was when my father caught on. “That wasn’t a rat, Molly,” he said.  “That was Lizzie.”

But Aunt Molly didn’t hear a word he said.  She had crumbled into a mountainous heap on the dining room floor her dress spread about her like the petals of a navy blue flower as her dentures rolled across the rug like a pair of pink and white dice. 

My uncle removed my aunt to the living room couch.  My sister, sensing disaster, ran into the guest bathroom to save her pet and hide it in her bedroom.  My mother who believed food was the best antidote to any disaster, smiled at the rest of us and announced, ”Well!  Nothing like a bit of excitement to work up an appetite!  Who is ready for dessert?”  

You can only predict things after they happen
Eugene Ionesco

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