November 20, 2006

The Long Dog

My grandmother’s skin “done gone pure punkin color.”
That’s how my dead grampa would have said it.

When my mother called, she said it like this: “My mother has hepatitis.”
I thought that it was not true. I couldn’t imagine it was a joke----but how on earth…?
I said, “Has Grandmother been partying with Aerosmith? Again?”

Now I’m thinking about the white house Grandmother lived most of her life in----she had to sell it and go to assisted living a few months ago. My grandmother does not like to be assisted. She’s old and viperous and strong willed. She went haring off unassisted and broke her hip into teeny tiny unfixable pieces, so they cut her open and put in a fake new hip, and she had to have some blood and the blood they gave her was chock full of Hep B. Neat.

Aerosmith would have made a better story.

This particular grandmother and I are not what you would call close. She was viperous for a long time before she was old. I respect her toughness, I have to say. There are days I want to borrow it.

I remember staying at her house when I was too little to be asked my opinion. I remember playing make-up with the pink puffs on the mimosa tree in her front yard and watching a moccasin go wriggling up her creek bed with his head held high out of the water, his body making a writhing series of S shapes as he propelled himself along. I remember the dry gas heater smell of the house inside at Christmas, and the outdoor baked black earth smell of Alabama summer.

Dogs came and dogs went, but the best one was a wiener dog with extra nose. A good four inches extra. He was pointy and stubby-legged and wary.

I don’t recall his name but I do know he loved a particular foam red ball. It had chew holes in it and smelled of 1,000 coats of dried dog spittle and it didn’t bounce for crap. Still, he loved it beyond reason. It was about the size and shape of a fine tomato, and when my brother threw it straight up in the air, toward the sun, as high and hard as he could, the dog would stare up into the sky like an outfielder and crane up toward the ball so that his front paws left the earth in little hops and he would yearn at it and follow the arc with his crafty bright bead eyes and leap and snatch it hard from the air it as it came down.

He wanted my brother to throw that ball up at the sun all the time, one throw after another. Forever.

One day we went down the yard past the neighbor’s horses and the shed where I once found (and stole) the chipped glass pig, all the way to Grandmother’s huge vegetable garden. Bobby had the ball with him, which meant he also had the dog. Once there, he threw the ball up toward the sun a few times. Then he swapped the ball out for one of Grandmother’s prime tomatoes, and threw that.

The dog braced and yearned and leapt for the red orb, and his long snappy jaws slammed shut on the tomato. Which exploded. Juice and pulpy jelly went splattering in an ASTOUNDING radius, spattering our t shirts and shorts and freckling the bare belly-white skin of our Irish legs. The dog’s eyes rounded in surprise----we saw his eyes actually had whites. He was….nonplussed.

My brother threw the ball again. The dog leapt at it almost by reflex, and seemed pleased when his jaws closed around its familiar foam surface.

We did it again. All day. My brother would get him all comfortable with 5 or 6 ball throws, then slip in the tomato. SNAP! Went the dog. SPLAT! went the tomato. We went home covered in bloody vegetable remains and got yelled at for throwing something edible and valued at each other.

All we learned from being in trouble was to run backwards after throwing the tomato, so that the jellied shrapnel didn’t reach us. All the dog learned was a taste for fruit.

He starting eating Grandmother’s tomatoes right off the vine, and then he figured out how to crack melons open by pounding at them and rolling them with his long snout, worrying a hole them, and then he’d insert his ridiculous spare nose inches in the hole or crack he made and eat the sweetest meat out of the very middle, so that the next day, two or three melons would be listing to one side, half deflated like old footballs.

After a few days, all that fruit gave him horrid gas and then even more horrid diarrhea that he left all over the lawn as he waited for more tomatoes to sweeten and get fat and ready for him.

One day the dog was gone. He had been a stray before, perhaps he went on the road in search of low-growing peaches. Maybe Grandmother had him put down. If it came down to a dog or her ‘maters, fear for the dog.

She TOLD me she had found a home for him “in town.” Meaning Florence. You always hear about the dog of bad habits who gets sent “to live on a farm,” and they of course mean the vet has put him to sleep. But I like to think that for this good dog, it was really true. Maybe my Grandmother has a secret soft place in her that I never saw.

I like to think of this wary road dog somewhere in a town apartment. It would have been a small place that smelled like apple potpourri and had cabbage rose print on the sofa. There would have been an Old Dear with a soft bun of white hair, doting on him. Maybe he lived his whole long life out in a small warm place, getting fat on canned food, hot house grapes, and Bing cherries.

If he didn't. And I think he didn't. I don't want to know.

Posted by joshilyn at November 20, 2006 5:02 PM
Comments

"I remember playing make-up with the pink puffs on the mimosa tree in her front yard and watching a moccasin go wriggling up her creek bed with his head held high out of the water, his body making a writhing series of S shapes as he propelled himself along. I remember the dry gas heater smell of the house inside at Christmas, and the outdoor baked black earth smell of Alabama summer."

I have the same memories. . .just two states to the west in Louisiana. Neither of my grandmothers were viperous--and both are gone--but both were tough too.

Posted by: Roxanne at November 20, 2006 5:44 PM

Thinking of you, darlin'.

Posted by: Mir at November 20, 2006 5:49 PM

You tell the BEST stories, Joshilyn Jackson.
This was wonderful!

Posted by: Karen at November 20, 2006 6:52 PM

Dittos Karen. It made me weep . . . sweet memories of childhood. Thanks Joss.

Posted by: Dana at November 20, 2006 8:18 PM

I'm a little freaked out by the extra nose thing. But despite extra noses and kind-of-mean grandmas, it was a wonderfully evocative story. I could see it all unfold in my mind.

My grandmas were both nice but I have a kind-of-mean grandpa. He's the only grandparent I still have left. The kind-of-mean ones just seem to have staying power. One of J's grandmas wasn't just kind-of-mean, she was downright vicious, and she lived to be 101. Seriously.

Posted by: DebR at November 21, 2006 9:10 AM

My viperous grandma had one redeeming quality... my grandfather. I never figured out what he saw in her.

What a delightful story, I'm beginning to believe you would write anything and I'd fall in love with the memory. delightful. Joss. delightful.

Posted by: Cele at November 21, 2006 11:25 AM

You are so very awesome! I heart you and this blog. You make me smile.

Posted by: katkin at November 21, 2006 11:28 AM

You just amaze me, Joss. Such storytelling is precious. I may even forgive you and Bobby for corrupting that dog, bless his little heart.

Posted by: David at November 22, 2006 1:23 PM