Concluding the wonderful story written by Anne Schroeder.
Part One of MY SEASON FOR MARBLES was posted last Monday.
Part Two was yesterday and finished, thus:
Buck’s tendency to work the neighborhood was his ultimate undoing. Eventually the druggie roommate of a neighbor poisoned him for repeated raids on his dog’s feeding dish. By then he was scarred, limping from a difference of opinion with a moving car, had his ear chewed from a fight. He was a seasoned scrapper with a heart of gold. Of all the dogs we owned, he lived life on his own terms.
MY SEASON FOR MARBLES
One day my son and his dad brought home a new pup–a nine-week old, female Boxer that we named Marbles for her brindle coloring. She had a perfect circle of white around one eye and an ear that perked up when she was surprised. Steve wanted to name her Stymie.
Something I never expected happened. I experienced a resurgence of mother love. I found myself sitting in the sunshine, playing toss-the-stick. I held Marbles while I watched TV. I loved the feel of her sleek hair, the way she formed a question in her eyes. I was patient with her, like I am with a child. I gave her credit for her embarrassment when she piddled on the kitchen tile when we were gone too many hours. I watched her dig in the creek bank and was sure she would never try digging in the yard. She never did. She was surprisingly mellow for a Boxer. She never barked, never whined, never jumped on furniture or tore up pillows when we were gone.
Marbles accompanied us to the mailbox, to the creek, to the canyons. The flurry of a quail made her stop and listen, one ear cocked. Everything was a first for her, and our walks took the meandering pace of a walk with an eighteen-month-old. She was curious about dandelions. On our walks I rejoiced for the way she refocused my appreciation of life.
Marbles was only with us for six years before she died of a malignant tumor that Boxers are infamous for having. I helped Steve bury her on a ridge above our house, in the canyon she loved to walk.
I ask myself what changed with Marbles? Was it me, or something broader? I think it’s a question of timing. For some reason, men bring home puppies while women are busy with babies. Maybe it’s an attempt to capture the bond that mother and baby share. Maybe the man feels left out. Whatever the reason, a puppy has to be raised, trained, groomed and cleaned up after. So does a child. For most women, a puppy is like having twins, or another pregnancy too soon after the first.
Getting labeled as a dog hater is a double-edged sword. Life becomes an “oops, don’t let Mom find out” thing that undermines everyone. When something happens, warnings about pet responsibility come out sounding like a “gottcha.” I grew up with unquestioned values that a dog was a farm animal with responsibilities. A dog earned its keep in the same way a child did. No one questioned that a child could gather eggs, but, suddenly I’m a meany for suggesting that a dog be useful? I’m too old and too stubborn to make the change, and I find myself filled with resentment that society requires it of me.
But I learned to keep my head low and duck the bullets. I don’t offer my opinion around friends, every one of whom seems to have at least one dog. One friend has fourteen dogs and cats. We meet at cafes or on the porch. They try to forgive me my stance on buying a purebred puppy as opposed to adopting from the shelter. We have agreed to disagree, like conflicting religious views. But I know I’m in the minority. In my defense I should mention that cats crawl onto my lap. I like to pet them. They like me. But that doesn’t get me any dog points.
So now it’s time to look for a new puppy. Steve’s getting antsy, I can read the signs. He’s happier with a dog at his side and I like him to be happy. I try not to think about the stress I feel every time we check out a new puppy litter—three in the past two months. I try not to feel relief when we leave without making a selection. He’s not in a hurry; he wants a love connection, and he’ll know her when he sees her.
At long last I am trying to discard my self-image of a dog meany. I even question the term “pet owner.” Who can own another creature’s heart? This time around I am going to earn a dog’s devotion. Like a first-time mother, self-conscious and unskilled, I secretly practiced with Marbles, and she seemed to think I did all right. This time we will all share in the job of puppy parenthood. It’s not fair for me to have to clean dog snot off the French doors while someone else is tossing the Frisbee. But I’ll still take my walks alone. I tried it both ways, and I realized that my quiet time was not negotiable—mornings belonged to me. In the evenings, I share my walk with the family—and that includes the dog.
What a fabulous ending to a really charming story!