i wept at "old yeller" and "the call of the wild," and longed, briefly, to go blind so i could have a seeing-eye dog like Jimmy did in "Follow my Leader." Jimmy lost his sight in a firecracker mishap and then got a german shepherd to lead him around. that seemed immensely cool to me. instead, i was cursed with the worst of both worlds--eyesight bad enough to need thick glasses, but not so bad that i got to have a dog.
the dogs in my neighborhood weren't much like the lively, noble dogs of my books. the grindys next door had Susie, a basset hound that was so fat and so content that she literally never moved. they kept her tethered to their clothesline in the back yard, but there was really no need for restraint; that dog was not going anywhere. she lay on her side in the grass, and i used to go next door and pet her, feeling extremely daring, even though all she did was lie there and blink. i still remember the feel of her slick, short hair and her immense swollen belly.
susie was a good introduction to dogs, if you thought of dogs as, basically, overstuffed pillows that occasionally wagged their tails.
the neighbors on our other side got a dog a few years later. Fortune was part golden retriever, and he must have had a miserable existence. he spent most of his days tied up in their garage. for a few years he barked constantly, but nobody paid any attention to him, other than to occasionally holler at him to shut up, and eventually his spirit broke and he just lay there quietly. i'm not sure why the family wanted a dog, because nobody ever seemed to walk him or train him or play with him. the only trick they ever taught him was to stick his nose in people's crotches, which made them shriek, every single time.
every now and then Fortune was allowed out into the back yard, but he'd bark or make a mess or jump at someone, or maybe he'd do his nose-in-the-crotch trick and everyone would shriek, and back into the garage he'd go.
"that goddamn dog," guv used to call him. as in, "that goddamn dog is barking again."
i was secretly fascinated by Fortune--he was livelier than susie, and every time he barked i was sure he was just seconds away from killing me. the hairy brown rope that tethered him gave me confidence, though, and one day i sneaked over to their yard to see how close i could get. i peered in the door of the garage, keeping a respectful distance. fortune was lying on his side on the oil-stained floor. he thumped his tail once when he saw me and then lay still.
i wanted to make him move. i looked around for something to throw, and seized on the grass that grew tall along the garage wall. i ripped it out with both hands and flung it at him. fortune leaped to his feet, lunged at the rope and barked. i jumped back in terror and glee--would the rope hold?. i threw more grass.
but somebody was watching me through the kitchen window, and the mom called up trish and guv. when i got home, guv confronted me and asked if i had been teasing the neighbors' dog. i denied it; i didn't really think of what i had done as teasing Fortune, but more as challenging him.
guv asked me again, in his sternest voice, and i tried to explain. we were standing in the entryway to the front door--what we called the boot hall. "all i was doing was throwing grass at it," i said, and guv slapped me. "leave that dog alone," he said.
it was the only time in my life that he ever hit me, and it happened so fast i didn't even see his hand move. i'm still not sure why he did it--there must have been something else going on that put him on edge. hell, a family with 10 kids in the 1960s? i'm sure there were all kinds of things going on. i cried, not because it hurt, although it must have, but because it surprised me, and because it felt particularly unjust. i hadn't hurt the dog, and i had actually thought guv would approve of my behavior, since i knew that he hated dogs himself.
i stumbled upstairs to my room, confused and crying, but i didn't tease Fortune again.
The Education Of Women
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