It was to be a serious trip northward. The great state of Michigan offers so much variety for travel. Even I knew that.
Mistress was packing. I knew something big was going to happen, because I saw her get our leashes. She took extra care to pack odd items that didn’t pertain to us, and she nervously counted the hours until Master returned to the home.
That was when our moment of bliss, our confirmation that we were, indeed, traveling as well, was realized. You have to understand that for beings like us, traveling is not easy, but staying behind is far worse. We are prone to incredible anxiety upon separation from our loved ones, and that anxiety causes something in our brains to stir us to the point that we eat things otherwise not considered edible. I have eaten at least thirty-four shoes. I’m not proud of that, although there was a time when it was something I boasted.
My name, by the way, is Jordan. I’m a human of the canine variety. I have grown up with Master and Mistress, and I was the first of my kind to live with them. Besides Master and Mistress, I live with Sandy and Conner, two crazy boys who keep me on my toes. Sandy is a huge Golden Retriever, they call him. He is very beautiful, and even-tempered. He came to live with us when I was still pretty young. He’s a lot older than me, and as soon as he moved in, I understood he was in charge.
Conner just came to live with us about six months ago. He’s still a baby. He’s a Collie. Once I heard Mistress talking to someone about Conner. “He’s perfectly gorgeous. He has more hair than we know what to do with, and he’s mostly white, with a tri-colored face. One tan spot on his backside.” It was true that he was beautiful, and even though he annoyed me with his always-happy personality, I guess I had to admit I was starting to like him alright.
I am a mixed-breed. I guess some might say that I’m not as high-quality as the two purebred boys with which I live, but I beg to differ. Two things about me- Firstly, I had a purebred German Shepherd mother, and I had a purebred Newfoundland father. Both of those breeds far outwit the Collie and the Golden. I am smarter in my one paw than all eight of theirs put together. And I am not shy to admit that I, also, am very beautiful. I have long black hair from my father, and small floppy ears. But my dainty face, and beautiful delicate nose comes from my mother. Also, my size is more like my mother’s breed than my father’s.
Secondly, I am female. I have power. (Yes. Even human canines know this. Well, this human canine knows).
Back to my story…
We did indeed pile into the car just as the natural light died down ( dark-day , we called it, when we knew it was still early but the light was gone. It happened more when the weather was cooler and more comfortable, and often when the white solid water was on the ground.) Sandy, Conner and I shared the backseat of the blue Toyota Corolla. I only know it was a blue Toyota Corolla because Master and Mistress often talked about it excitedly, saying things like, “… yeah, ‘cuz if it were American-made, the parts would cost one-fourth the price. But no! Toyota has to be so expensive. Corollas aren’t Novas no matter what they try to look like on the outside…” After many times through, we put together that the blue car was a Toyota Corolla, and that Master and Mistress sure wished it was still a Chevy Nova.
Whatever it was, it was small for three dogs, each a hundred-pounds, to share the back seat. But we suffered it as if it was nothing, because we understood that at the end of the journey, we were going to be in a special paradise! We would be at … the grandma’s! At the grandma’s, in the Eastern Upper Peninsula, there were wide open fields, dead carcasses to investigate, tons of the solid white water (O h! I know I’ll remember what that’s called. Just give me a minute!) and my favorite… Beau and Annie!
Beau and Annie, I guess, were technically our aunt and uncle-dogs. They lived with the grandma and grandpa. Annie was an English Setter, papers and all! And Beau was an English Setter mixed with Brittany Spaniel. Both were mostly white. Annie had black and gray spots on her, and Beau had red spots. They both weighed thirty or forty pounds, but Annie was as tall as Sandy. We liked to tease her that she could fly. I’ve never known a dog to be able to run the way Annie can.
This trip was difficult. The white stuff was falling like someone was pouring it from a vessel, and it was hard to see. I could see Mistress getting all stressed. She was uneasy about travel these days, and I think I knew why. She was carrying a small human inside. I could tell because of my instinct. It made Mistress and me a lot closer than we had been ever before. I often would stop playing with the boys just so I could sit with her and snuggle. Her baby took a lot longer to grow inside than mine would, but I think I had it figured that she was about two-thirds (a little more) through with the gestation. I knew that her mind was shifting from her previous life and becoming focused on all that she would need to learn as a mother.
Sometimes Sandy and I worried that it would mean she was going to get rid of us, but she never seemed to give a clue that that was so. She just went on with the routine, which made us very happy.
We made it to the grandparents late at night, and it was an uneventful hello to all the people and Beau and Annie, and a short night of sleep. The next day dawned crisp and bright.
I don’t know exactly what was going on this weekend, but I heard Mistress telling the grandma that they would be back “after the wedding.” They left as early as they could, and as far as we were concerned, that was fine. We played and frolicked and chewed and jumped and ran. The grandma always had these delicious treats she called, “Puppy Cookies.” She always talked to us in soothing baby tones and rewarded us with these treats for doing seemingly normal things. (Beau and Annie were conditioned to getting them every time they went outside and came back in.) We started a game that we would all beg to go out. A lot.
The day got long, though. We wondered if Master and Mistress were coming back at all. For a moment, Sandy and I actually feared that they had dumped us off on the grandma and grandpa. We felt fear rise within us that the time for canines in the house of Smith was over, and it would be time for the hairless babies. Conner was too green and dumb to know the difference, and we wished we could be like him, just for once.
Melancholy and anxiety seeped in, and we started to lay around, waiting.
I wasn’t going to give up. I wasn’t going to think the worst of Master and Mistress. It grew achingly long, but by the time the next nightfall came and the snow ( that’s what it’s called! I knew I would remember!!!) continued, I started to feel peaceful that they were returning. It must have been almost morning when their little blue car pulled in. Sandy, Conner and I awoke Beau and Annie. We were very excited about the return of our people. Beau just looked at us and went back to sleep. The grandma came out to make sure that Master and Mistress were OK, and in no time at all, we all settled in for a tiny winter’s nap.
The next day, however, all the ones on two legs left us again. I heard them talking about Christmas Eve and a special service. I understood that it was a special day.
There was a tree decorated with all kinds of things, and under it sat these amazing objects that would soon be the bane of our existence.
The gingerbread houses.
In fact, under the tree sat several little houses , and I understood them to be full of off-limits goodies. Even as I understood this to be true, I was pretty mad at the two-leggeds for leaving us again.
It is such exquisite torture, smelling all the treats, knowing they’re forbidden, understanding there will be consequences, yet knowing that the new dumb-boy (Conner) would get blamed for the destruction… the idea was too delicious; too, too delicious.
Annie and I played it cool. Beau was pretty nonchalant about it. This wasn’t his bag. He was “perfect.” He never did anything naughty. He acted like a prince, and the parents and grandparents thought he was a prince. We knew he was just a laid-back stubborn little fool who found a place where he could live out his days as a lazy dog; but he was happy, and in his own way, brilliant for making his life so easy for himself. He didn’t tell us not to do questionable things, nor did he tell us to go ahead. Sandy tried to tell us “no” several times. But Annie and I simply whispered an idea to Conner… we whispered that the treasures inside the gingerbread houses were unimaginable delights that he’d never since known… and that was when our life took a frenzied and temporary turn to the other side. We began pillaging, ripping, tearing, and I’m not especially proud to recall that we also began stealing things that were not ours.
Wait, let me get you from here to there in the story.
You can ask us to not bite small humans when they pull our hair. You can ask us to train to relieve ourselves outside. You can ask us to sit, shake, stay, and wait in your presence… but you simply cannot ask us to not want to eat things that are in our grasp upon your absence! No matter how well behaved you think we are.
Conner was mesmerized by the idea of unwrapping a present. Annie and I simply sauntered up to him and said, best girl voices we could muster, “You do know that they put magical treats in those bags. And they’re going to give them to others like themselves who don’t really need them. And just once, wouldn’t it be nice to see what all is in there… just to kinda check it out and make sure it isn’t bad for the babies?” We knew we were playing dirty pool when we threw the word baby in there for him. Conner wasn’t a man-canine yet. But it was clear that his specialty was going to be the babies and children. We sometimes joked behind his back that it was probably because his hair was so long he couldn’t actually feel the pulling of it. Later we learned that he could feel it, but he simply didn’t care. He truly loved the children.
As soon as he thought he might be saving a baby’s life by investigating the gingerbread houses, he was on task.
Conner tentatively opened the first of the gingerbread houses. The grandma spent a lot of time decorating them. They were brown paper bags with all kinds of things cut out and glued on them to make each and every one look just like a miniature house. The boys couldn’t count, but Annie and I counted eight bags. Our intention was to only open one bag, to sniff it out, and to taste a little of the stuff, to “make sure” it was OK. Annie and I figured that Conner would get blamed for it, Mistress would help the grandma put together a new bag, and no one would suffer too badly.
Something happened, though. Once we opened the bag, we discovered homemade popcorn balls, buck-eyes, cherry cordials, peanut butter cookies, fudge, and other things that we had only dreamed about. That was when the fighting started. We originally tried to equally divide the treats, but because the boys couldn’t count properly, things started getting loud and harried.
“Look – BOYS! We’re gonna hafta each have one ball, and then bite these ones in half. NO! NO! Stop it Conner! Sandy, can you get him under control? Sandy, stop biting his ear! No. ONE BALL EACH!”
Annie and I knew that we weren’t going to get any of .the treats this way. We looked at each other, made shrugs with our shoulders, and quietly opened the second house. This was the beginning of the snowball effect. Funny choice of phraseology. Snowball. Since we were talking about these yummy popcorn balls, which caused the fight in the first place, and since I couldn’t remember the two-leggeds word for the solid white water …This was how it all went completely wrong.
Mayhem stirred. Soon, all the gingerbread houses were torn into bits. Conner was like a baby-monster, consuming anything and everything in seconds, gulping. The boys were laughing at him.
“Hey there, little guy. Way to show ’em who’s boss. The girls can’t resist a boy who can eat three times his body weight in food and hold it down. You go get ’em…” Sandy and Beau sat back, licking up the remains of their popcorn balls, and a handful of cookies. They watched like the wise-guys they were, and high-fived each other sometimes. It wasn’t long before they realized that the little guy was eating a lot of really yummy stuff, and they decided to join in again. We girls consumed what we could without fighting.
Really, all in all, the destruction time was very short-lived. It’s amazing what kind of havoc can be wreaked by five dogs in an environment not monitored by the two-leggeds.
I think that statement stands alone.
It was the grandma who saw us first. Well, she saw the paper and some wrappings and crumbs, remnants of once-beautiful packages strewn about the family room.
“Oh no!” she cried.
I felt the red-flag a-risin’. I felt the icy-cold grip of reality sinkin’. I felt the strong pull to slink to the other side of the world. Yet, here I was with chocolate on my lips and a sticky popcorn kernel on my pretty, floppy ear. I looked as guilty as the next dog.
And that was when it started.
“The dogs have gotten into the gift baskets…”
“Bad dogs. BAD DOGS!”
“Did they eat the chocolate? That can kill them!”
“OH MY WORD!”
“This is unbelievable.”
(I saw my Master and Mistress standing there, horror-stricken faces.)
Sandy, Beau, Annie and I had ceased our attack on the goodies, and were hiding. Conner was the only completely inexperienced looting fool who chose to finish his final popcorn ball.
The yelling by the Master never scared me, but Sandy was very upset. Mistress was beside herself. The grandma was devastated.
“Oh, Mom. I am so sorry. It had to be Conner. You know that none of the other dogs have ever done this before.”
“And we have left them all weekend without incident,” the grandma replied. “Why now? Why when we were gone for just two hours?”
“What can we do?” Mistress lamented.
“Nothing. Nothing can be done. It was a lot of work, and I can’t make those treats again.” The grandma sat down, defeated.
“Mom, I am so mad at them.” Mistress looked over and caught my eye. I could see that she was struggling to keep her anger in check.
Conner suddenly came running up to Mistress, Master and the grandparents. I could hear him saying, “Oh no. Oh no. Oh no. Oh no.” (He isn’t the brightest).
“Here comes the little devil now,” Mistress uttered with disgust. She didn’t see the next part coming.
“What the…?” Master asked.
Conner stopped just short of the four two-leggeds. He curled up in an odd-shape while standing, his back bone looking almost just like a hook, and then he retched. The poor little boy, not even full-dog sized, began to heave all over the carpet in the family room. I watched the two-leggeds as they speechlessly witnessed retch after retch of popcorn-ball matter as it almost magically appeared on the floor. The grandma was the first to speak.
“Oh, Oh, Oh…” she cried.
Well, they all seemed to speak at once. Master and the grandma quickly went to grab paper towels and plastic bags to clean it up.
Mistress and the grandpa looked at the pile. It was at least as big as Conner himself.
“How did that all fit in that dog’s stomach? That’s at least as big as he is!” Mistress spoke in awe. She was momentarily distracted from her hatred for us.
Just as Master and the grandma returned to the room with cleaning products, the treats began to push on all of our bowels at the same time. We all began whining and crying. Conner whined and yelped at the same time.
He seemed to be squeezing his furry little butt-cheeks together, but not well enough. With legs crossed, and barely done heaving popcorn-ball-ness all over the floor, he began to leak out his other end.
Mistress screamed at all of us. She opened the door and practically threw us out. She completely passed-over the ritual of putting our leashes on us to walk us. (It was just something she did. When Master and Mistress were gone, the grandparents never leashed us. Mistress always leashed us because she didn’t want us to run away. This time, I very distinctly heard her beg us to run away and never, please never!!! , come back.)
But you know, when you don’t feel good, you just want your mommy. :) And no matter how mad Mistress was at us, we just wanted to be close to her. No matter how annoyed she was with us, we longed for a tiny pat on the head, a little touch that made us feel connected.
It’s true that over the next two days as we were recovering, we didn’t get many pats on the head. Mistress made it clear that we had really blown it this time. The grandma forgave us sooner than Mistress. I even think Master forgave us sooner.
Either way, we were never more than three feet from the house, aside from running to the edge of the property to do our “duty.”
This was an especially long visit.
Soon, the days and nights passed, and it was a morning of change. We four-leggeds can feel the change better, more distinctly, than the two-leggeds. Master was packing things in the little blue car. It would be so cramped this long trip south to our yellow house – our home.
“Let’s do it,” I said.
“What?” the boys asked, dull expressions on their faces.
“Let’s make a run for it. Master and Mistress are still mad at us, and they are trying to shove us in the back seat of the car with all those extra packages. As if it wasn’t small enough on the way up, now we really won’t fit. Let’s just go start over somewhere. Maybe find another Mistress who will love us.”
I missed the feeling of being special. I figured we’d truly ruined everything. It’s hard to keep the feeling alive, to keep the speck of belief going.
Sandy quietly agreed.
Conner didn’t know what to do with himself. He was still young enough to be a follower. Of course, we already knew this.
“Go potty,” the grandma said. She let us all out.
We made a run for it, the five of us. Beau and Annie were used to these parts, and it was a great adventure for them, they said. They’d take us as far as town, and then they would head back.
We stretched our many legs – twenty legs among the five of us. It felt great to finally feel well. The food we’d consumed from the gingerbread houses was more like poison to our bodies. It was something I knew I would never do again. (The boys would go on to do more things like this, but those are other stories for other times).
We ran. We played. We raced. We pounced. We scared small animals. We teased coons and squirrels. We were the invincible five. Somewhere in the back of my mind was a face of my Mistress. It was smiling at me with love, but I pushed it out of my mind. I saw Master with the car running as it had been doing when we took off. I pushed that out of my mind. I knew that they were expecting us to be there, and after what seemed like a really long time, I knew that the time to leave for downstate had come and gone.
Our lives were going to be different from now on. We were to be vagabonds. Still, even a vagabond stomach will rumble several hours into a journey. We’d gotten to town, seven miles from the grandparents, a while back. We were chasing the small animals and diggin in garbages, talking big about our new life of independence. Beau and Annie took us out to lunch.
The Raber Bar.
The lady there laughed to see these five dogs, begging at the back door for scraps. She had plenty and soon shared with us. She marveled at the fact that there were five beautiful dogs, all sticking together and moving with a sense of joyful purpose.
I knew it’d been hours since we’d left the grandma’s. I hadn’t counted on the lady at Raber Bar recognizing Beau and Annie. Apparently the little contraptions that the two-leggeds put to their face (I think they call them phones) really work. Even up north. The lady called the grandma, laughing, spilling the beans that she had lots of dogs there at the bar, and thought maybe some of them were the grandma’s.
Yes! Thank Goodness! Oh, Laura, (my Mistress’s name) the dogs are down at the bar! All this I overheard on the phone.
“Your mommy and daddy will be here soon!” the lady cooed at us in those same soothing tones the grandma used when she was giving us cookies.
I couldn’t believe my ears. Was it true that Master and Mistress were still waiting for us? Still looking for us? That couldn’t be, I’d figured. It was many hours since I knew they were planning to leave. When we ran off, the car running, I knew that Master was chomping at the bit to be on the road.
If they were still here, that would have to mean…
That would have to mean that they still loved us!
My human canine heart began to beat triple-speed. I fought the urge to run away again. (I always did have to fight the urge to run away). I squished down the voice of doubt which told me that I hadn’t really heard my mistress’s name. Even so, if Mistress was gone, the grandma was pretty OK in my book. I figured I could live part time with her.
The grandpa sure loved us. He wasn’t even very upset by all that’d happened.
They were good people…
My ears perked up. I heard the familiar turn of wheels that belonged to only my blue Toyota-Corolla. Mine! Tiny and uncomfortable, expensive and sometimes even ugly! But mine! My eyes beheld the beautiful sight of my Mistress. I wiggled. She smiled. She got out and opened the door on one side, and Master got out and opened the door on the other. They both called us in sweet tones, kissing and clapping, just as if nothing bad had happened at all.
I knew that adventure and freedom called.
But nothing could beat that the stupid, little cramped Corolla and the moody, pregnant Mistress and the crabby, tired Master all represented a powerful idea we hadn’t considered while running away: they represented our ticket home. Home was warm. Home where there was endless food. Home where we slept on soft dry furniture. Home where we still ruled.
We got in the car, and aside from the epic recounting of the tale (complete with laughter and groans), we never got in another lick of trouble over the eating of the gingerbread houses, the being sick all over the grandma’s carpet, the running away on the morning of our departure, or the hanging out at the bar.
“Christmas” it was called. Our last Christmas before life changed with babies at the Smith house. Sandy’s last Christmas ever. Conner’s first Christmas ever. The only Christmas that we ever did such unthinkable things…
Sandy died less then four months later after getting into some chocolate again. He had a heart attack on the kitchen floor in the night, a day after consuming it. He’d already been treated for heartworm, which he had when he was adopted by Master and Mistress, so his heart wasn’t strong anymore. The new baby, Emily was only ten-days-old when that happened. (April, 1996).
Conner developed epilepsy, and had horrible seizures, and developed terrible skin allergies, which led to his early death in 2003, at the age of seven.
I was pretty special to Mistress. Well, we all were. But when the baby came along, Mistress let me stay by her side. I didn’t intrude like the boys tried to. But as more babies came, and as I developed terrible allergies and ear infections that caused my ear to swell up, I became rather mean. Mistress had to choose the hairless babies over me in 2001, after all. I was almost eight when I went to “that special ranch where doggies and cats get to go live out the rest of their days running happy and free…”
Somewhere in Ohio, is how it’s told to the kids.
Beau and Annie – well, they made it to the ranch, too. Beau was fourteen. He’d lived a long, happy life. He was deaf for the last few years, but happy. Annie got poisoned and came along pretty early as well.
But what an adventure that was for the five of us in the year 1995…