come stroll among the wildflowers

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dog Years 6

Part Six:  The Country Life with Kids and Dogs

     Duane had his doubts about moving to the country, but he took to it like gnats to bananas:  building fences, planting trees, cutting brush, tilling a garden spot.  He even got into bee keeping.  Two or three times a year, mild-mannered veterinarian disappeared into the tack room and came out as BEEMAN.  You’ve seen the outfit: white coverall, helmet with net, gauntlet gloves, smoker in hand, ready to “work the bees.”  I, on the other hand, am allergic.  I swell when stung.  He calls to me from the bee hives, “Help, I need a big bowl.  This comb is cracking and the honey is spilling.”
     I answer, “I’ll get stung.”
    “No,” he promises, “I’ll make sure to brush all of them back into the hive.”  Well he missed one.  It flew up and stung me through my shirt right on the left boob.  I threw the bowl at him and ran to the house for aloe and Benadryl.  When he came in later, I showed him my hugely lopsided chest.  “Just a minute,” he quipped, “I’ll go get another bee.”
    The bees prospered.  Time came for the hive to divide.  When this happens, the bees swarm.  They raise a second queen and half the workers escort her from the hive to fly away to find a new home.  Duane was ready for them.  He had spent weeks pounding together new frames for a new hive while the rest of us were trying to watch Magnum P I or Laugh In.  One hot, still afternoon we heard a buzzing as a cloud of bees hovered above the lawn.  I waved Duane off the mower just as the swarm took off.  “What do I do?” he shouted.
    “I think I read somewhere that a loud noise will make them settle,” I answered.  He ran into the barn and came out banging two garbage can lids like giant cymbals while running after the bees.  He chased them down the drive, across the road, and disappeared over the horizon to the west.  After about thirty minutes, I told Todd to get in the truck and go find his father.  When they came home, my out of breath hubby gasped, “I lost them at Plymouth.”  That’s six miles away.  He finally gave up on the bee project after they chased him out of the garden while he was tilling the potato patch.  He just left the tiller there chugging away until it ran out of gas.
     The kids joined 4-H and the next generation of Henrikson dogs belonged to them, not me.  Each of them had a dog as a project, training them in obedience and showmanship.  Kristi’s dog was a sweet black and tan Australian shepherd named Waltzing Matilda, “Tillie.”  She was a terrific showmanship dog, and loved all the attention involved in getting prepared for the dog show.  She would even run upstairs after her bath and bring down a bandana for Kris to tie around her neck.  That old saw of dogs being like their owners was surely true of this duo.  Kristi too loves to please and doesn’t know a stranger.
      Beth’s dog was a dignified Doberman named Raven.  She did well in obedience and was a gentle, stoic friend to anyone who wanted one but was especially devoted to Beth.  She was a smart dog, but found tricks beneath her.  She thought playing fetch was stupid.  She would bring the ball once, but if you threw it again, you were on your own.  In addition to the dog project, Todd was enchanted with rocketry.  After one of his dramatic launches, the rocket drifted beyond the woods behind our house.  Everyone looked, but no one could find the missing rocket.  The next day, Raven brought it to the house after her morning rounds.  Beth was crazy about that dog.  She had a t-shirt with “I love Dobermans” printed on the front.  That shirt never made it to a drawer.  It went from back to washer to dryer, to back and back.  When Raven died at age ten from cancer, we buried her next to Flint by the plum trees.  I was doing just fine until I looked out the next morning and saw Tillie sleeping by the grave.
     Todd wanted to adopt every orphan pup that came to the clinic.  He finally talked his dad into a border collie (she bordered on being a collie) that he named Tux.  Tux was a challenge even for patient Mr. Todd.  This was a dog of limited learning power, possibly the only stupid border collie on the planet.  She learned “sit” and thought that sitting was the correct response to any command.  And she would look up at Todd with this “ain’t I good” expression.  Todd always brushed and polished her perfectly for showmanship, because he knew his chances were not good in obedience.  At one show, the judge complimented him on the condition of Tux’s coat.  She asked if he bathed her every day.  Todd said, “No, but she swims in the lagoon pretty often.” Finally Todd retired Tux and bought a beautiful Viszla he named Anna.  She was a wonderful pet and a fine showdog, taking top prizes at the Kansas State Fair.  One litter of her puppies paid his first semester tuition at K-State. 
     Todd talked us into keeping one of those pups.  We named him Max, but he thought his name was Dammit Max.  He was the ultimate retriever, but he retrieved objects into the hayloft.  Lay down a screwdriver, hayloft.  Drop your sunglasses, hayloft.  Lean the rake against the fence, hayloft.  Once he picked up the rope on a ground-tied horse and tried to lead it up the stairs into the hayloft.  The plan was for us to keep Max until Todd was settled into his own place.  But Todd just kept going to school.  He became a veterinarian, and then did more schooling to become a veterinary radiologist.  When he had a place for Max, the dog was getting pretty old.  He took him for a weekend, and he stopped eating and developed a cough.  Ironically, a radiograph proved he had lung cancer.  We brought him home and he made a small rally, but the disease was advancing quickly.  Again we had to face that moment.  The little graveyard beside the plum thicket was getting to be quite the pet cemetery.
     Since Sarah arrived after the first rush, she inherited clothes, dogs, and horses from the first three.  They all claim she is hopelessly spoiled.  She just smiles.  Somehow she was born with this amazing sweet, refined, placid disposition.  She could have been prissy, but the others took care of that.  She complained once that the dogs had gone to the bathroom in the garage.  Beth informed her that dogs do not go to the bathroom, they shit.
    Sarah continued the tradition of dogs at the fair.  Her pup was a tiny minpin named Gabby.  He was smart and did well in the dog shows, but he was constantly getting into rows with the local wildlife.  A raccoon nearly took off his left ear.  A direct hit in the face from a harried skunk left him half blind for a week.  He was nearly disemboweled by a coyote.  After each of these incidents, Duane did a masterful job of putting him back together, but he began to look a bit Frankensteinish:  one ear sat too far up on his head and scars zagged across his little body like stitches on grandma’s crazy quilt.  He met his end when he took on a bobcat.  We buried what was left of him by the plums in the pasture. 

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