Thursday, November 24, 2011

Maxie's Second Thanksgiving

Whoa, it must be the holiday season or something - I'm feeling WAY too nostalgic. I was updating the "Turkey and Grave" post recently and memories from an earlier Thanksgiving kept popping into my head. It's a persistent bugger that won't let me sleep - well, for a while, at least.

Well, like they say, "When the Spirit moves you..."

Yeah, okay, okay, I'm moving.

I'm sixteen years old (how do I look?). No, on second thought, don't answer that.

What I mean is that the 'story' takes place when I'm sixteen years old. It happens in a land not too distant from here but many lifetimes ago when measured in 'dog years'. And this story is about a dog. No, not exactly 'a' dog, but rather, 'THE' dog. The dog by which all other dogs will be measured against, by me - for all time.

For my almost sixteen years I wanted a dog to call my own. For a number of reasons, most noticeably really bad asthma, allergies, and, gosh golly, just a whole bunch of stuff which made it hard to breathe, my folks told me "No!" for almost 15.63 years. "If you get a dog it'll have to stay outside and if it has to stay outside... Why bother having a dog?" Man, I HATE logic when it doesn't 'break' my way.

Then something wonderful happened. I grew out of 'sickly kid' mode which dogged me when I was younger. I grew taller, lost about 20 pounds, I hardly wheezed at all, and I began looking (and acting) like a 'normal' kid. Okay, maybe 'normal' is a stretch, but I wasn't quite as 'abnormal' as I had been several years earlier. I grew up and out of... being sick.

Ah, 'medically-un-assisted' breathing - an idea whose time had come! I was never going to be on the basketball team, but at least I could hold down a job at the Diner and make some money by working after school. Yeah, things were looking down-right rosey for the kid here. It was my Junior Year of High School and life (in spite of Jimmy Carter) for me, at least, was pretty good.

Then my Dad came home from the Fire House one fall night. He huddled with my Mom in the kitchen and there was 'muttering' going on. Not BAD muttering (you know THAT when you hear it), but it was a quiet debate about something which was either going to breached or not. My Mom kept peeking at me over Dad's shoulder as they spoke in hushed voices. With some sort of decision being made, they walked into the dining room where I was half-heartedly pretending to be doing my homework.

"Michael?" my Mom asked.

"Did I do something wrong?" I asked. Might as well qualify the storm to come prior to it actually washing you away in the Tsunami, I say.

"No, nothing wrong. There isn't, is there?" Mom asked this while she smiled slightly and looked down at her hands.

"Nope, all good in my world, what's up?" I said.

"Your Father and I were speaking about something that we wanted to talk to you about. Nothing for sure, but we wanted to run something by you."

"Sure, shoot." I said.

"One of the men Dad went to school with has a dog. The dog is a pure-bred Golden Retriever who 'got into trouble' with the neighbor's Black Labrador. Molly, the Mom, has nine puppies that they're trying to find homes for. And we were wondering..." Mom's voice broke off as I jumped up from the table.

"Can we go see them now? Tonight? Where are they? How old are they? Can I pick a boy or a girl? I'm going to name my dog "Max" - it's an EXCELLENT dog's name!" I was out of my chair and gave up any pretense of doing homework now. Plenty of time for homework later in life, my folks were talking 'dogs' and I was ready to listen!

"Well, since it's seven o'clock and Dad hasn't spoken with Mr. Goldsmith yet, we'll need to call him to see if he has any puppies left. And, since he's giving them away for FREE, they might be all gone." My Mom had used my Dad's favorite word in the prior sentence: "FREE" this was a HUGELY powerful word in my house.

"Free?" I asked. "Is there something wrong with the dogs? Too many eyes, an extra (or missing) leg, or some other medical defect that warrants them giving them away for nothing?" Some of the joy left me at this point.

"No, the puppies are healthy, but since his AKC-Registered dog had puppies with a non-registered dog, he can't sell them, and apparently he can't breed her any longer." Mom said.

"So, if you have puppies without being 'married' to the right dog - you're an outcast in the AKC-dog society?" I asked.

"Yes, apparently so." Mom replied.

"Cool! When can we get our dog?" I asked.

"Your Dad's working on it. He'll call Al and see when we can go over to check out the puppies, assuming that there are some left." My Mom said. "But don't get too fired up, they may be all gone when your Dad calls, they are FREE after all." Man, now I wished Mom would stop using that word - FREE stuff around my neighborhood doesn't last long at all, and I want my manly (okay, 'boyly') "MAX" dog.

The abbreviated story is that we went to meet Molly and my 'Max' (who, due to a lack of 'boy dogs' turned out to be 'Maxie') - yeah, she was CUTE. The un-official name given to her by my Dad was: 'Obscene Maxine'. This modified name was given to her for her ability to lay on her back, to play with a toy with her front paws all the while her 'privates' were exposed to Heaven. She was currently too young to bring home so she stayed with her Mom for a few more weeks. It was KILLING me to know that there was a dog in the world with my name on her collar - but I couldn't bring her home yet.

Maxie was worth the wait. She was a beautiful dog with long, soft black fur and a single white 'check mark' on her chest. She was smart, she was lean, and as it turns out, she was a long-legged running machine.

Maxie's Second Thanksgiving, 1.9 years later
Having a Mother who's a Golden Retriever and a Father who's a Black Labrador is a mixed 'thing' for a dog. First, as a dog born of a Golden, you are blessed with good looks, good manners, and a brain a 'little' too big for a normal dog's head. Second, being fathered by a Black Lab you are a sporting dog. You like to keep 'busy'. As it is used here, 'Busy' means that you chase blowing leaves in the back yard, you bark at anything which might appear suspicious behind the hedge, AND you are always alert for your next big break (as in 'Jail Break').

Maxie's 'world' consisted of our back yard and the 75-foot run which tethered her to the manly eye-bolt at the back door of the house. The rope was stout and came equipped with a sliding hook-latch which connected her 'lead' to a steel ring on her collar. Maxie's world was pretty good - but she, like the earliest explorers needed MORE.

Her opportunity came on Thanksgiving Day, 1978. A day which will live in infamy with my Dad, while only illiciting a wry smile from me.

Thanksgiving 1978 begins as any other major fall holiday at the Casa de' Kane:

7AM: Mom gets up early and wrestles the shrink wrap off the 'too-big' turkey only to find that it hasn't 'fully' defrosted during the past four days in the over-stuffed refrigerator. The sink fills up with cold water and the bird begins to 'bob' in the nearly-freezing water as she attempts to 'quick thaw' 22 pounds of turkey by shooting water into every open 'bird orifice'. Low-volume muttering and sporadic 'non-Thanksgiving' verbiage can be heard when passing by the kitchen doorway.

8AM: Dad plans the requisite trips to pick up the Grandmothers to bring them for our 'feast'. My brother and I wish that we could sleep 'later', but it's a family event, so everybody's up whether they like it, or not. The Thanksgiving Day 'Parade of Events' begins its annual ritual in my home.

9:00 AM: Unbeknownst to me, my dog plans her mischief for the day as she lays in the sun on the rug between the dining room and kitchen. More on this at 11:15 AM.

10:15 AM: My brother and I pick up Grandmother #1 and bring her home for Thanksgiving.

11:00 AM: My Dad and I pick up Grandmother #2 and bring her home for Thanksgiving.

11:15 AM: The un-thinkable happens...

Two-year old Maxie-Dog stands at the back door whining thinly. This universal warning indicates that Maxie needs 'OUT' - like, NOW, please...

Happening during the natural chaos of a major holiday, Dad is the first to see that Maxie needs to be let out. He dutifully opens the back door with one hand as he holds onto her collar with the other, leans out over the back porch to pick up her lead, holds the door open with his knee and prepares to clip her 'rope' onto her collar AND...

Maxie sees a bunny. (This is NOT the actual bunny - but, isn't he CUTE?)

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Maxie hates the bunnies (or perhaps she LOVES them very much). I don't know which scenario is true for sure because she never catches a bunny. But she really wants to chase them - just 'because they're there'. Some nights while dreaming next to my bed, her paws pump furiously and she howls in her sleep (either in joy or sorrow) at the prospect of catching (or losing) Peter de Cottontail.

Due to her hasty 'EXIT', the latch held by my Dad clips onto Maxie's rabies tag hoop instead of the regular solid metal loop on her collar (this, it turns out, is a 'bad thing'). She runs full-throttle after the white-tailed interloper in her yard. She gets to the end of her lead, sees the bunny ignoring her (bunnies will do this to dogs assuming that the dog will NEVER get past the end of their run) and continues to run past the point where she 'normally' stops. The rabies tag gives an audible 'S-Q-U-I-N-K!' as it shears off her collar, the rabies tag becomes airborne, the rope falls harmlessly to the ground like an over-extended deceased snake, and the black fur-covered missile is after the cute wittle 'Wabbit'.

The bunny looks up in time to see that something is very wrong. The dog which 'should be' out of rope by now is getting nearer. BunnyFace turns and bolts for the hedge which runs along the back yard property line. Undeterred by the upcoming bit of topiary 'border', both the Bunny and Maxie crash into (and through) the hedge by going 'low and fast' down where the leaves are sparse. Now freed of any by geographic boundaries, my dog, my friend, my fuzzy buddy, is giving 'thanks' for her freedom as she continues to lunge forward and run 'all crazy' after the bunny.

Oops, I should have told you something earlier. My home (the place I sit and finish this post on the Saturday following Thanksgiving) backs up to a bit of 'green' (check this out)...

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The small 'Letter A' over there on the right (in red) is my home. Our home backs up to a 'farm'. Once Maxie left the yard, she had all this fabulous green area to explore, and presumably, to find MORE 'bunnies' in.

The yellow line in the following photo roughly approximates Maxie's route from this long-ago Thanksgiving morning:

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My clearest memory of the morning? Watching my favorite family member running, head just above the waving rye grass, at full gallop back and forth through the open field. She KNEW she was being 'bad' but she was SO happy about it, I couldn't be mad at her. You could see the JOY on her face as she ran (several times) away from, and then back by, the rear of the house. She was doing what she was meant to do... Being a dog.

My second clearest memory? My Dad standing at the edge of the property throwing his hands up and down repeatedly yelling to the dog and then turning to me and saying, "That ________ (bad word) dog! That ________ (another bad word) no good, un-trained, miserable dog is RUINING my __________ - __________Thanksgiving! Why can't she be a GOOD dog instead of being a __________, __________, __________ (several bad words) miserably ungrateful dog like she is!?!?"

My third clearest memory? About fifteen minutes after the adventure began, my fur-covered-mischief-machine returned home. She was winded, she was dirty, but beneath it all, she was GLOWING and happily exhausted. She had pulled a scam on her Papa (and me) which prior to, and after this bit of mischief, she never quite equalled again.

So how does the story end? Happily, of course, because Maxie came BACK (of her own accord). I did mention that she was an excellent dog, right?

I adopted Maxie when I was in high school. Then I went to college, and lastly, I moved to Florida. By then, Maxie had become my Dad's dog (Mom was there too, but Maxie was always 'Daddy's little girl'). He took her for walks, he gave her ice cream and apple slices from paper plates while snacking in the living room, and in the end, he helped her get up when she could no longer do it on her own. 

She was almost fifteen when my Dad called me to tell me that she was in a lot of pain and couldn't get around by herself any longer.  He was the one who took her for her final ride in the car and last voyage in this sun.  He stayed with her while she drifted off to a better place, a place without pain, without hurt, without fast-moving bunnies. 

I like to think that where she is now she has a 'better-than-average' chance of catching one of those rabbits.  If she caught it?  She'd do what she did with that baby bird she found once when she was three - she'd lay down with it sheltered between her front paws and look at it for a while.  Keeping it safe until someone she trusted came to care for it.  The thrill for Maxie was always in the 'discovery' of things, not in the 'chewing' of them. 

Maxie had a good life. She was always loved. And what she received, she gave back unconditionally.

Our lives were better because she was there.

While visiting last Thanksgiving I came across a photo. It's not too clear because it's a photo of a photo, but to me, it's pretty much 'perfect'.

The original photo was taken when Maxie was about nine years old. My Dad, well, he was a 'little bit younger' (in people-years) too.
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Maxie was my, and my Dad's, best friend. I've adopted other dogs since Maxie, each one good (and yes, sometimes bad) in their own way. But like they say, 'You never forget your first love.'

Maxie wasn't REALLY 'perfect'. But she WAS 'perfect' to me (and to my Dad).

Looking for the 'Perfect' Holiday Gift this Christmas? I'll bet that there are 'perfect dogs' at the local
ASPCA office near you right now who are in need of a good home.

How do I know this?

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Because 50% of the dogs in this photo were 'rescued'.

AND 100% of the dogs in this photo bring joy (some days more than others) to my family on a daily basis.

Open your heart. Open your home.

Seriously, how many TVs and game systems does your family need?

Save a furry life this year. Adopt a pet for whom your home will be their (and your) best Christmas (or other 'non-religious-holiday-specific') present.

And, if you're a 'Cat Person', well, I'm sure they've got those guys up for adoption too (although, I don't understand cats at all, but apparently there are folks who do...).

Come on - give your kids something to write about later in life. Otherwise, they might spend all their time writing about how 'unique' growing up with YOU was. This is why we have TWO dogs. Keeps the pressure of me (being 'unique' as I am)...

I hope your Thanksgiving was as good for you as mine was for me. Many things in life change. Some things do not.  Last year my Mom bought a non-frozen turkey for Thanksgiving but we (I) still managed to over-cook the rolls. I'll need to work on this for next year.

Happy Thanksgiving folks. 

Be nice to each other.
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