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

Walking Jack

I am a small person and I walk small dogs. When my little puff balls and I take to the road, we are stopped at every turn by smiling people making smart remarks like “Watch it! Here come the guard dogs!” or “Just who is walking whom?”

Little children love my tiny trotters and their eager fingers poke at Donald’s eyes or grab Amy’s curved tail as if my pets were in a display case at Toys-R-Us instead of taking the air with me on the other end of a leash. I walk along the boardwalk in constant jeopardy of causing unintentional injury when one of my darlings gets frightened and snaps at an admirer. As it is, Dorothy will bark at any animal that comes near me as if she were 100 pounds of muscle instead to 8 pounds of fur and flab.

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of baby-sitting a very different kind of dog. Jack is a strapping, black wolfhound, taller than I and twice my weight. He is an imposing presence and needs his exercise even more than my little ones. So it was that I took him with me when I walked with the others to the beach. Jack is very mild and well behaved and never ever barks. We all trotted along my customary route like a trained cotillion in perfect step. The only thing missing was the music.

Walking with a wolfhound is a very different experience from sailing down the path with tiny animals that look like playthings. Not one person made any kind of remark as we walked by and several crossed to the other side of the road.

This experience made me realize how many pre-conceived notions we have about the relationship of size to temperament and how very wrong we are not just with animals but with people. I do not want to discuss how many total strangers have patted me on my head, or even, when in a party mood, pinched my bottom. They think of me as a wrinkled version of a Barbie Doll with no brains, expensive taste and an elaborate wardrobe. I have to admit I have accumulated quite a closet-full of vintage attire in my 74 years, but I like to think I know enough to brake at a red light and comprehend the book I am reading. At my age, my extravagances are in the realm of hearing aids, diapers and Medicare supplements.

My mother was a red head even shorter than I. She was adorable: Tiny feet, cute little shape, manicured nails and snapping blue eyes. The minute you saw her, you wanted to hug her….But beware the fool who touched my mother without her permission. Hell knows no fury like my mother after a hard day at the beauty shop or the dress salon. My father never dared to treat HER like his toy poodle. Her personality was far more akin to Hitler on a rampage than Betty Boop wanting to be loved. No tradesman risked cheating my mother; they were too afraid of her acid tongue and her vitriolic attitude. She was like a charming tchotchke with sharp teeth.

On the other hand, my father was a big, husky man who never raised his voice, and walked away from every conflict. He was philosophical in the face of disaster and when a tradesman bested him, he would shrug and say, ”Oh well, it’s only money.”

My miniscule mother, on the other hand would call the Better Business Bureau, report the man to the police, write a letter to an editor and send out warnings to all her friends never to patronize the villain again.

When I was a child, I idolized Carol May Reinstein. She was half my size and had the demeanor of a princess on parade. I would beg my mother to go visit her. I made my way across Islington Street (looking both ways and biting my lip for fear I would be mowed down by Mrs. Berlin in her electric car) to Carol May’s house at the end of the street. I’d ring the bell and Carol May would emerge in all her splendor. “Hold out your hand!” she’d say and slapped me as hard as she could.

Now that I am older, I realize that Carol May is very much like my little Dorothy. Dorothy is a solid cluster of fur with a pink tongue who knows full well that she can control the world with her precious visage. My mother and Carol May knew that too and used their size as a weapon to control their world. Big, blustery people have no need to intimidate people because their very visage is intimidating.

I miss Jack. I know perfectly well that had a rabid pit bull or drunken Hell’s Angel attacked me, he would have instantly sat down and begged for a biscuit. Yet, I have to admit, for someone who has always felt insignificant, it was very rewarding to trot down the street with an animal so large he made others pause. A patrol car saw us out on the beach the other night and actually turned around and went the other way. No one messes with big guys. Maybe that’s why they don’t HAVE to bite.

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