Category Archives: Peter Hardy

American Thanksgiving . . . meh

Me with my daughter Sabrina and my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving

Me dandling daughter Sabrina with my grandparents at a long ago Thanksgiving

I’ve never been keen on American Thanksgiving. In the first place, it’s way too close to Christmas. The memory of my grossly distended belly and the self-loathing that invariably attends that phenomenon have scarcely begun to fade before there it is again: The Holiday Meal, in the case of my family, the exact same meal we ate a month earlier, including the dressing which we always had to call rice because my brother Peter refused, for some reason, to eat anything called dressing.

Then there’s the 2 p.m. timing of the meal. It’s Thanksgiving dinner, for God’s sake, not Thanksgiving lunch!   If Thanksgiving dinner happened at a decent hour – any time after 6 p.m., for example – the torment of having to remain awake while cruelly stuffed might be mitigated by an early bedtime. But, no. This insistence on an “early dinner” blows a black hole in the middle of your day — everything is sucked into it; nothing can escape its relentless gravitational pull, and you are left to lie there, beached and disconsolate, a helpless, unwitting witness to the televised spectacle of giant men in tight pants sustaining the kind of traumatic brain injuries that lead to dementia, debilitating neurological diseases and suicide. By which I mean football.

Great Dane Lovey admires the turkey

Great Dane Lovey scrutinizes the turkey

My family is surprisingly functional – which is not to say that we don’t have our fair share of little traumas, pretty much all of which can be characterized, as per my daughter Alice, as, “first world problems”. However, not even we were not immune to the kind of dysfunction that seems to go along with quivering tubes of cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie that looks like baby pooh. Case in point: one Thanksgiving when we were children, my mother, frustrated at my brother who was being all winge-y, shook him. Now my parents were not into corporeal punishment; Mom far preferred a good shaming larded with barely veiled threats that she was on the verge of disowning us, as conveyed by such statements as, “No child of mine would ever do (that thing you just did).” All this to say that Mom probably didn’t shake Peter very hard, but, on that one occasion, shake him she did, and, every year thereafter, Peter would kick off Thanksgiving dinner by dolefully recollecting, “And then there was that Thanksgiving Mom shook me. . . ,” sending the poor woman into fresh paroxysms of guilt.

Sometimes we had Thanksgiving Dinner at my paternal grandparents in Hillsborough, North Carolina. My Aunt Elaine and Uncle Clyde would come down from Winston-Salem and Aunt Elaine, who was something of a gourmet cook at a time when that was regarded with some suspicion in the South, would bring along a little something for the family to savor. One year she presented the assembled, bleary crew with tomato aspic, confounding us all. “What is this?” “Do you eat it?”   This reminds me of a conversation we had with my husband’s Auntie Gloria in which she described the eating habits of her daughter-in-law. “She eats strange things,” Gloria confided in us. “Like vegetables.”

Between her alcoholism and her morphine addiction, my grandmother had succeeded in pickling herself by the time my memories of her congealed into some kind of coherence. Noni contributed but one dish to the Thanksgiving feast – her signature dish, a sweet potato,marshmallow casserole awash in a sea of bourbon. At fifteen minute intervals throughout the dinner preparations, Noni would lurch to her feet, weave her way to the kitchen, baste the sweet potatoes, baste herself and return to the living room to stew in her own juice.

My father carves as my mother looks on

My father carves as my mother smiles for the camera

In the meanwhile my grandfather, by dint of steady  drinking, would wax from sentimental to downright maudlin before deciding to check on the mail.  I would accompany him to the mailbox at the end of the long driveway, both of us knowing full well that there was no mail on Thanksgiving but that we needed the air.

So, all in all, I’m thankful for Canadian Thanksgiving, which takes place in the second week of October.  Canadian Thanksgiving celebrates the harvest rather than that time before we exterminated them that Native Americans saved our bacon.  It doesn’t result in a four-day holiday and, therefore, a loyalty test wherein persons are forced to travel vast distances in inclement weather to prove that they love their families of origin. And finally, being on a Monday, Canadian Thanksgiving isn’t followed by Black Friday, about which don’t get me started.  And then there’s the fact that my ex chose Canadian Thanksgiving 1989 to come out of the closet — scarcely festive at the time, but, in the great scheme of things, something for which I am truly grateful.

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Enjoying ill health

Me, Mom and Peter

Me, Mom and Peter

My mother took a dim view of people who, in her words, “enjoyed ill health,” which meant that, any time I sought to be absent from school due to illness, she would ask me two questions:

1) “Do you have a fever?”

2) “Are you projectile vomiting?”

If the answer to both these two questions was, “No,” then, as far as my mother was concerned, I was good to go. For some reason diarrhea did not make the cut of maladies deemed note-worthy, presumably because diarrhea, though loathsome, tends to take place in bathrooms, whereas vomiting is more likely to be spontaneous, resulting in messes mothers would be expected to clean up.  (When it came to vomit, Mom greatly preferred dogs to children, since dogs, given a sufficient interlude, are inclined to return to their vomit, with generally happy results.)

Aspermont StarThe No Fever/No Vomit/No Note rule did not apply to my brother Peter, whom my mother deemed ‘puny,’ by which she meant not ‘small’ so much as ‘sickly.’ You will not find this meaning of the word ‘puny’ in your dictionary; I checked. It appears to derive entirely from The Puny List, which appeared in the weekly newspaper of Aspermont, the widening in the road with a post office that was my grandfather Zant’s West Texas hometown. This column assiduously listed all those people in the newspaper’s catchment area who were “feeling puny,” i.e., suffering from maladies ranging from mysterious female trouble to shingles, whose put-upon families might benefit from the quiet conveyance of a covered dish or pie.  Because Peter was disposed to chronic respiratory infections, he was “puny.” As was established in my last blog post – Pretty Feet — I was “chunky,”and thereby better evolutionarily equipped to fend off germs.

I did not get sick often but, when I did, I made sure to pull out all the stops, for example, when I managed to extend a bout of the three day measles into two weeks by cunningly getting them not on the outside of my body, but on the lining of my stomach. My piece de resistance, however, my crowning triumph, was the contraction, at age 30, of Guillain-Barré Syndrome – a catastrophic disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system, resulting, in extreme cases, in complete paralysis.  Mine was an extreme case:  at its nadir, I could blink and that was about it. I may not have had a fever and I certainly was not vomiting, but, boy, was I sick. I did recover, except for the occasional tick, twitch and tremor, but only after a lengthy stint in the ICU, followed by weeks on the Neurological Ward, followed by a month in Rehab where I had to learn to walk again.  It’s like I always say: go big or go home.

The only photo you'll ever see of me in short shorts.  Post GBS I weighed in at 99 pounds.  Me and daughter Sabrina enjoying one of the only guilt free ice cream treats of our lives.

The only photo you’ll ever see of me in short shorts. Post GBS I weighed in at 99 pounds.  Here my daughter Sabrina and I enjoy one of the only guilt free ice cream treats of our lives.

As I have with so much else that was my mother’s, I have internalized her suspicion that, when I claim to be sick, I am, in fact, malingering.  Unless I am running a fever or vomiting (or, post GBS, paralyzed), I find it exceedingly hard to tell whether I am actually sick or just trying to put one over on myself. This leads to me soldiering on in ways that are inimical to public health and probably, on occasion, detrimental to my own.  My yoga teachers are always exhorting me to listen to my body, but I find it very difficult to hear the poor old thing over the accusatory remonstrations of my super ego.  Because I know deep down, just as Mom always did, that I am a shirker by disposition, that I will go to great lengths to get out of practically everything, and that, when it comes right down to it, there’s every chance that I’m just faking it.

For  The Puny Column, a short story based on the Puny List,  click here.  It appeared in the journal Exile, 27, 1 in 2003.

“Little ****”

Touli

Touli

When Tenney, the second of my parents’ two Great Danes, bought the farm, my parents decided that it would be best, given their advanced age, to go with a more compact version of The Family Dog. Accordingly, they reverted back to their first choice of dog breed  and saddled themselves with the worst dog ever – a black cocker spaniel named Skatoula, Touli for short. They had just returned from Greece and “Skatoula,”my father was fond of telling people, is the Greek word for “Little Shit.” Which about sums Touli up.

Maybe because my parents were old and didn’t move around much, Touli got it into his head that people should just stay where they were. If anyone stood up and headed, say, for the bathroom, Touli would lunge for his or her ankles, snarling and snapping. And he meant business; my parents were forever nursing some Touli-related injury that inevitably became infected thanks to the apparently toxic nature of his drool. My grand dog Albert gets anxious if anyone strays from the pack and Harry, our old collie, was forever herding the children, but corgis and collies are herders; that’s their job. Cocker spaniels are gun dogs and soft-mouthed retrievers; Touli had no business herding people and he knew it. For him it wasn’t about the flock; it was about the power.

Cerebrus

Cerebrus

When it comes to clothes, my husband eschews flamboyance. The only thing that trumps his aversion to standing out sartorially is family feeling. That is why he one day donned a pair of fluorescent lime green swimming trunks in preparation for a dip in the pool – his sisters had given them to him as a birthday present. This was when we discovered that Touli was an undercover officer in the Fashion Police. He took one look at Ken’s trunks and his head exploded. It was like a horror movie. Before our eyes Touli metamorphosed into the Cerberus of classical mythology, the multi-headed dog who guards the entrance of the underworld to prevent the dead from escaping and the living from entering. The only way to appease the hell hound he had turned into was for Ken to retreat to the bedroom and replace the green trunks with a more subdued pair. Only then was he allowed to pass. (Touli later had the same reaction to a set of golf clubs. Which I sort of understand.)

 

In order to procure treats, Touli would snatch a high value target – Mom’s glasses, the remote, and, on three separate occasions, one of my father’s hearing aids — and dive under the bed with it. Any attempt to regain the purloined object manually would result in savaged fingers and yet another suppurating wound for my parents. Instead, they would raid the supply of dog biscuits and cry, “Meat cookie! Meat cookie!” until Touli would slink out from under the bed, grr-ing, and a grim exchange of prisoners would take place. Two of Dad’s hearing aids did not survive the ordeal and had to replaced at great expense.

During meals, Touli would stand beside my mother’s chair and bark at her. He would pause in his barking every few minutes to give her a little nip – this by way of impressing upon her the fact that she’d better feed him or else. He did this all meal long, without interruption. (In our house dogs do not do this. Our first golden, Buddy, would sit silently by as we ate, looking stricken and drooling, but never making so much as a peep. As for Nellie, she’s proactive without being too pushy. First she steals the napkin from my lap exactly twice, then she lies down directly on my feet, just to remind me that she is there and would like to be considered for the prized gig of pre-rinse cycle.) One night my husband had finally had enough of trying to talk over Touli’s incessant, insistent barking. He seized his muzzle, looked him straight in the eye and shouted, “SHUT UP!” Touli stared at him, incredulous. Clearly no one had ever yelled at him before. His mouth opened and closed as if to bark; no sound emerged. I don’t know who was more shocked – the dog or my parents. “Your Mom and Dad looked at me,” Ken remembers, “and I realized I’d crossed a red line.”

My brother Peter once saw a different side of Touli – desolation in a dog suit. “Mom and Dad had gone out and there was just me at home,” he told me. “Touli sat by the window and howled. Then he collapsed on the door sill and lay there in a heap, looking completely abject, as though he couldn’t believe they had left him and he had no idea how he was going to cope going forward.” Peter then keeled over on the couch and lay there on his side in imitation of Touli, whimpering softly and shivering, looking frightened and pathetic.

Mom made me promise to take Touli if anything happened to her and Dad. I reluctantly agreed. Fortunately, that day never came. Touli contracted a rare canine virus at the young age of seven and slipped away in a matter of a couple of days – days over the course of which my parents forked out over $3,000 in an attempt to save his miserable ass.

Big Mac

Big Mac

Touli had one trick. “Find Big Mac,” Dad would say and Touli, charged with purpose, would bustle off, returning some time later  with a squeaky rubber hamburger. My parents saw this as a sign of Touli’s intelligence. I didn’t have the heart to point out that there are border collies who can recognize and retrieve hundreds of different objects – one famous one can identify over a thousand. When we were packing up Dad’s apartment, I found Big Mac and gave it to Nellie. She played with it for a while, then ate it, squeaker and all.

And that was that.

Everything but okra

My brother Peter and me, looking pious.  Peter was the picky eater; I, the omnivore.

My brother Peter and me, looking suspiciously  pious. Peter was the picky eater; I, the omnivore.

“You know, I’ve never considered myself  a picky eater, but I’m starting to think I just might be.” This is what I said  to my long-suffering husband when we had finally, after hours of trolling, located a restaurant on whose menu I was able to identify something I could eat for lunch.

“Really?” He asked, sweaty and exhausted. “A picky eater? You?”

You’d have thought  I would have recognized this annoying fact about myself earlier; I am, after all, sixty two years old. But, no. “I’m an omnivore.”  That’s what I have always told people. “I like everything but okra.” And it’s true. I do like everything but okra. And who really likes okra? I mean, really?

My brother Peter was the picky eater in our household. He was vigilant about not letting the juice from his peas contaminate the rest of his meal and refused categorically to eat anything called ‘dressing’. For years we had to tell him that the dressing Mom made for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner was, in fact, rice. Actually, it was rice, but it was rice that the rest of us called ‘dressing.’ (Therein lies a conundrum, but not one I’m prepared to explore in this blog post.)

As for me, I would eat anything and frequently did. In volume. One of my most cherished childhood memories  was eating an entire bag of Pecan Sandies while lying on a floating raft in the middle of a lake. Another time I consumed all the leftover tuna noodle casserole at a birthday party while other children played Pin the Tail on the Donkey, a game I never found to be in the least engaging. There was that halcyon moment I made off like a bandit when the candy machine at the Green Room of the Tanglewood Barn Theater disgorged its entire contents into a large paper bag I just happened to have about my twelve year old person. (My post Risky Business details that particular heist.) I ate anything and in volume until puberty, when I graduated from being ‘chunky’ — Sears-catalog speak for ‘fat girl’ (fat boys were ‘husky’) – to being  teenage and an indisputable lard ass.

In short order vanity trumped appetite with the  result — pathetic — that I have spent the last half century of my life liking everything but okra . . . and eating very little of what the world dishes up.  I do not eat potato chips. I do not eat French fries. I do not eat donuts. A pancake hasn’t crossed these lips for decades. Neither has a piece of fried chicken . . . or a piece of fried anything, for that matter. As for ice cream, which may be my favorite thing in the entire world, I go years between cones. There are so many things that I don’t eat (that in my head I’m not allowed to eat) that I can make for a difficult lunch companion. “Well, what can you eat?” my aspiring fellow diner will finally demand. To which the answer is most frequently, “Not that.”

But somehow I never thought of myself as a picky eater.  The kid brother of the my son’s high school girlfriend, the one who ate only Eggos — and I mean everhe was a picky eater (and probably a dead one by now, it being so hard to survive on a diet of toaster waffles).  I, on the other hand, am a controlled eater, a clean eater, a mindful eater. After all, I like everything except okra. I like it. (The ‘everything’ part, that is, not the ‘okra’ part — I want to be clear about this.) Surely there’s a distinction between someone with very particular and narrow likes and dislikes and someone who likes everything, but whose mindset is mired in consequence?

But, no.

It really doesn’t matter why you are a picky eater.  Whether you’re a food-loving, fat-fearing omnivore like me … or someone who clings to the food preferences of a recalcitrant four year old … or you’re a vegetarian or a vegan, you’re still a picky eater and, to some degree at least, a pain in the ass.

My first husband once suggested —  acerbically —  that the epithet on my tombstone should read, in Latin:

“She died thin.”

My forever husband prefers a line from the late Robert Palmer’s song “Simply Irresistible”:

“She’s so fine, there’s no telling where the money went.”

I can tell you where it didn’t go. It didn’t go for salt, fat and sugar.  Because I’m a picky eater.

And a pain in the ass.

 

 

I have three looks: gussied up, not gussied up and OMG.  My friend Catharine says that I should include ‘Gone to the dogs’ but I argue that that’s just a subset of OMG.  I used to have many looks: most of them pleasing.  .  . .  But now I have only the three.

The Ladies of the Book Club c. 1987. Left, Linda Nicholas, Back, Mary Malone, Bottom, Nancy Bjerring and Right, me

The Ladies of the Book Club c. 1987. Left, Linda Nicholas, Back, Mary Malone, Bottom, Nancy Bjerring and Right, me

My brother Peter once exclaimed at how my mother and I could go from plain to pretty in a matter of minutes with a little judicious hair and makeup.  For years the women in my now nearly thirty-year old book club were able to “come up well” . . . until we couldn’t.  We had a group photo done of us in those glory days.  We have not repeated the exercise.  Before and after. You don’t want to go there.

An old family friend used to say of women wearing housecoats and curlers in public, “It’s all right to look like that, but do you have to come out of the house?”  Every night I don a denim bag I brought used off of eBay, put my hair in pink foam rollers and my feet in Wellies and take the dogs out for their last pee, praying that we don’t run into anymore.   If I do not curl my hair, I look like a woman who kidnaps children from shopping malls.   No, really.  And blow drying isn’t an option.  I can’t bear to look at myself in the mirror long enough to successfully pull it off.

At CREA PAC c.1993

At CREA PAC c.1993

Last year at the Canadian Real Estate Association’s Political Action Day in Ottawa I opened up a new publication outlining CREA’s lobbying successes over the years.  There was a candid black and white photo of me taken twenty two years ago.  I went around the conference showing everybody the photo and saying, “See! This was me!”  To my alarm and distress, most people looked incredulous and asked, “Really?” or, “Wow! You’re kidding!”  Needless to say, a downward spiral quickly ensued. I knew it was pathetic to persist in my quest to find somebody, anybody who would respond to my showing them the ancient photo by saying, “You haven’t changed a bit,” but, alas, I could not help myself.

Right now I am reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals and watching Ken Burns’ Civil War for the third time, trying to wrap my mind around what tore my native country asunder during that conflict.  This is my idea of a good time.  I am a history nerd, a political junkie and a tree hugging, left leaning radical Obamist.  Documentaries are my guilty pleasure, a pleasure in which I indulge perhaps to excess.  I subscribe to serious podcasts and listen to them religiously.  I sit on the Steering Committee for the London Homeless Coalition, for Pete’s sake.  From all of which you might deduce that I am a fairly serious person, but you would be wrong.  You would be wrong because, at the age of 61, I’m still expending blood and treasure – that is to say, my dwindling stock of time – on pretty.

Ruth Skinner Zant. OK, but she didn't last.

Ruth Skinner Zant. OK, but she didn’t last.

Once, while visiting my then ninety-five year old grandfather, I gestured to a photo of my grandmother taken in her early twenties; she had predeceased him by a dozen years.  “Grandmother was awfully pretty,” I said to spark a lagging conversation.  To which Granddaddy replied, “She was OK, but she didn’t last.”

I guess none of us do.

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.  And then they didn’t.

Bare ruined choirs

My parents: Captain Star and Vampirina

Mom and Peter and me.  Our matching dresses are red.

Mom and Peter and me. Our matching dresses are red.

I am the child of celebrities. Going back to the fifties, when my father played Captain Star on a local children’s television show and my mother, a.k.a., Vampirina, rose out of a coffin to host late night horror movies.  To get to the gig, off she would scuttle off in the dead of night just as Dad was coming home from rehearsals; they would pass like ships in the night. He was teaching Drama at Texas Western at the time and she was gnawing on her knuckles as a largely stay-at-home Mom in a new subdivision of tract housing separated on one side from El Paso by ten miles of cactus strewn, rattlesnake riddled dessert and, on the other, from Mexico by the same.

One day she heard  breaking news from the local radio station that a mysterious space ship had landed on the highway separating El Paso from our subdivision and that the army had been sent out to investigate.  Mother, being Mother, kicked into survival mode. She filled a thermos with water, stuffed a bag with sandwiches and  tied Peter, me and Ughy to her waist with ropes; she was ready to set out across the dessert towards Mexico with two toddlers and a cocker spaniel in tow.   Then she tuned back in to get an update and found . . . nada.  Back to regular programming.  Never a mention.  Never an explanation.   A complete news blackout.   Fort Bliss, a major Cold War military center, was close by; possibly the alleged “space ship” had been a top secret test gone awry.  The weird thing was . . . Mom was apparently the only person who ever heard this story.  No one else has ever corroborated it. Yet she swore all her life that it was true and I believe her.  Mom didn’t lie; she did, however, exaggerate for effect.

Demographics ensured that my brother Peter and I, being somewhere between two and five years old at the time, were far more impressed by Dad as Spaceman, than by Mom as Living Dead.  Captain Star was typical of the kind of locally produced kids’ programming of the time –  hosted by a colorful host with an exotic persona such as cowboy, jungle explorer or, in Dad’s case, spaceman, whose job it was to DJ cartoons and, in the breaks, engage with a live studio audience of adorable kids, who, as Art Linkletter was fond of pointing, “say the darnedest things!” Case in point, my brother, who, when allowed to participate in the studio audience, blew Dad’s cover by replying to the question, “And who are you, Little Boy?” with, “You know who I am!  You’re my Daddy!”  Apparently, Spacemen, like monks, were not supposed to have children.  Peter was banned from the set.

I, being older, and a far more accomplished liar, adroitly handled the subterfuge, as a result of which I was allowed to come on the show a number of times.  Honesty might well have been the best policy, but the stakes were high. The show was sponsored by a local bakery.  There was cake and I was willing to do anything to get some. In later years, my family would continue to be impressed by the sheer brio with which I could and frequently did prevaricate.  “Lightning is going to strike you dead!” my mother would cry reproachfully, but it was reproach tinged with admiration.  I would like to point out here that I only lie to weasel out of things I don’t want to do — white lies, intended to avoid hurt feelings. “Now you’re going to have to figure out some other excuse for why you have to leave early,” my friend Linda Nicholas told me when my dog Buddy died.  Dammit, I realized.  She’s onto me.

Another thing Captain Star did was to call apparently random  numbers and ask whoever picked up the phone a question like, “Who discovered America?”  Then, if that person couldn’t answer, he’d ask the studio audience the same question.  What he actually did was call his hung-over friends, who, it being nine o’clock on a Saturday morning, would roundly curse him.  At which he would smile and nod and  say, “I’m  sorry, Bobby, but ‘oak’ is not the right answer.  I guess I’ll just have to ask the Boys and Girls what kind of tree George Washington chopped down.”

We don’t actually have a photo of Captain Star.  I can’t think why not.  I can tell you, however, that he wore black tights, a black turtleneck, a Papier Mâché space helmet and a cape.  The cape, which Mom had fashioned, was black and featured appliqued sequins and stars of silver lamé.   It hung in our hall closet when not in use, next to the raincoats and the windbreakers.   Captain Star was a tad portly.  Dad had been skinny all his life, but living in close proximity to cheap Mexican rum for an extended period had resulted in him acquiring a notable pot belly. His fans didn’t seem to mind.  A four year old boy once appeared on our doorstep with a toy car to bestow upon his hero and Dad was regularly mobbed at the local swimming pool with cries of, “It’s him!  Captain Star!” while he sat, slouched and distended,  nursing a hangover in the shallow end, a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

Vampirina

Vampirina

Vampirina had her fans too, although not among the toddler set.  The apogee of her fame came when she was featured on the cover of the local TV Guide, together with a story about this nice, pretty Mom who, amusingly enough,  moonlighted as a horror show host.  What they didn’t write about . . . what they couldn’t have known was the woman who was ready to strike out across the desert to avoid alien abduction.  That woman’s day was to come.

Crocapuppy

My brother Peter and Frances

My brother Peter and Frances

My family had a rule: the time between dogs should be as short as humanly possible.  No sooner had Ughy, our beloved seventeen year old cocker spaniel, shuffled off this mortal coil than his replacement was locked down. And by “no sooner” I mean that same day.  I’m not sure whether the new puppy was on Mom and Dad’s radar or whether, immediately upon  Ughy’s demise, they rushed out into the street, crying, “A puppy!  Dear God!  Let there be a puppy!” I rather suspect the latter, given how ill advised the choice of Fancy, a.k.a, Frances, a.k.a. Crocapuppy, turned out to be.

To say that Frances was overbred would be an understatement. Frances was the product of incest. A lot of incest.   She was a parti-colored cocker spaniel, meaning that her coat was two colors, buff and white.  The breeders were aiming for a completely white cocker spaniel, so kept mating the lightest male in a litter to the lightest female, which, as often as not, turned out to be his mother.  And this had been going on for generations before Frances wobbled balefully onto the scene.

Whenever you bent down to pet Frances, she was so overcome with excitement that she promptly fell to the ground, rolled onto her back and  proceeded to pee all over her stomach, resulting in chronic and piteous eczema of her nether regions.  This unfortunate propensity, however, was the only evidence of submissive behavior that Frances served up over the course of her life.  The rest of the time, she was just an ornery old mess.

Frances was a hoarder. Her specialty was socks.  She would filch them from our respective dirty clothes hampers and add them to an ever-growing heap in the little hall that separated the dining room from Dad’s study.  There she would guard them until, as my mother used to say,   dark circles would start to form under her eyes and someone would have to go in and save her from herself, not to mention the socks.

Pinkies

Pinkies

This was all made more complicated by the fact that Mom and I used to give Frances our hand-me-down pinkies. Pinkies were those fuzzy pink slippers popular in the sixties and Mother and I both wore them.  Frances would sashay around the house, exuding innocence, the pinkie of the moment clamped between her jaws.  No sooner had she had lulled us into complacency, however, than she would raid the dirty clothes hampers of the house, cramming the purloined socks down in the depths of the pinkie, and make a beeline for the Hall of Socks.  For years after her death, my brother Peter and I would catch ourselves hesitating on the threshold of that narrow passageway, the image of an obsessed and furious  Crocapuppy  lodged in our memory like a tooth. Eventually all of Frances’s pinkies went to the dark side and we would have to wrest the offending slipper from her and bury it in the back yard.   Which was OK.  There were always more pinkies where that came from.

Like any respectable dog, Frances was voracious. She was also bold.  One night my parents were hosting a cast party for a production of The Boys in the Band, which centers around a birthday party. In keeping with the birthday theme, someone had contributed to the feast a large sheet cake complete with many small candles.  Since this was a drinking party, however, the cake had few takers . . . until Frances jumped up on a dining room chair, then onto the table itself, and proceeded to hoover the entire cake down, candles and all, before anyone could rouse him or herself to action.  Then she proceeded to throw up the entire cake, complete with intact candles, while madly sprinting around the entire house.

Frances had many enemies, most of whom were dogs eerily resembling herself who hid out in mirrors and in the panes of glass in French doors. These she would attack with vigor on a regular basis, hurling herself repeatedly against them.   Our house had two double sets of French doors and two single French doors.  They kept her pretty busy.

Lovey

Lovey

Her arch enemy, however, her very nemesis arrived on the scene the day my mother and father unexpectedly brought home a Great Dane puppy named Lovey.   Mom had a notion that, because Frances was a female and Lovey was a puppy, she might feel motherly towards the interloper.  In this she was sadly mistaken. Frances loathed Lovey from the moment she laid eyes upon him.  And it didn’t matter that she was a lowly and rather overweight cocker spaniel and he grew up to stand 6’5” on his hind legs.   First impressions count, especially with dogs; Lovey was terrified of Frances her entire life.      Whenever he wanted to go upstairs, Frances would lie on the lower landing and look baleful.  (There was no dog that could do baleful like Frances.)  Lovey would hesitate, dancing on the spot, his claws clicking against the floor, then tentatively take a step or two towards the stairs.  Frances’s lips would quiver and then slowly draw back to reveal her teeth.  She would growl. Lovey would retreat in confusion.  This would go on until Mom would cry out, “Frances!  For Heaven’s sake! Let Lovey go upstairs!” At which point Frances would grudgingly rise and insolently trundle downstairs, giving Lovey a look in passing that clearly meant, “I’ll deal with you later.”

My brother and I felt sorry for Frances.  She had not been enough dog for my parents and so they had supplanted her with Lovey.  When I went looking for photos of Frances for this post, there were precious few.  Of course, once Peter and I were teenagers, there were precious few of us either.  There were, however, dozens and dozens of photos of Lovey – Lovey with his ears taped, Lovey lying on his back in inadvertently lewd  postures, Lovey sprawled upon my parents bed, which he shared with them,  Lovey standing with his front paws on Dad’s shoulders.  If strangers were to look at my parents’ photo albums, they might be forgiven for thinking that this couple had two adorable children who, just before puberty, were tragically killed in a car accident along with their cocker spaniel, after which point the couple got a Great Dane puppy upon whom, going forward, they focused all their attention and affection.  Peter and I agreed that, if Mom and Dad were going to neglect Frances, we ought to try and brush her more and take her out for walks.

But, of course, we were teenagers so that never happened.

Frances died when I was away in graduate school. Dad woke one morning to find that she had gone in her sleep.   I don’t know where she was in the house when she died.  In my mind, it was not in my parents’ bedroom, but in some more remote part of the house, alone, perhaps in the Hall of Socks.  She did not live nearly as long as the venerable Ughy had – eleven to his seventeen years — but neither was she as loved as he was.

RIP, Crocapuppy.