My family passed along very few stories to me, or, at least, very few that proved memorable. One of them was Grandpa Johnson’s bacon, to which I was not a witness, though I choose to believe it. There’s another story I choose to believe, one to which I must have been a witness, though, to my sorrow, I’ll never, ever remember it. And I kind of hate to share it (it’s my story, and, in that special sense, not something for the world), but it’s a story I like a lot, and I suspect that one or two members of the world will appreciate it, too, so I also hate not sharing it. In any case, it’s short, and it goes like this:
My family acquired me and a very young puppy within a month of each other. I came first. The puppy came next. Like any human infant, I was useless and tended to sleep a lot. Like any puppy, ours tended to explore and sleep a lot. In the course of its explorations, it soon discovered me and my crib, and quickly concluded that the best place in the world to sleep was with a nice warm baby, in a nice comfy crib. And so it would slip between the bars of the crib and sleep with me. When the family couldn’t find the puppy, they always knew where to look first. This continued for some time, during which, as the particulars of our species demand, the puppy grew rapidly, while I grew slowly. One sad day, as the story goes, the family rushed to the nursery to investigate a piteous whining. They found my young friend crying for help, her head stuck between the bars of the crib. It seems that as she’d slept with me that day, her head had grown that last iota which made the difference between fitting and sticking between the crib’s bars. And so, after her nap, on her way out, she’d become trapped. She was freed easily enough, of course, no harm done, but ever after had to settle for some other, second-best place in the world to sleep.
When I sleep, so many decades later, when I am lucky enough to dream well, she, above all the other dogs I’ve loved, is the one who still comes to see me once in a while. I’d pay good money to forget just about every part of my childhood, but not if it meant losing her.
* * *
When random conversations turn to dogs, and I tell people that I grew up with dogs—which, broadly speaking, is a common enough experience to be unremarkable—none, I think, would guess just how literally that was true. And something about the way I grew up with dogs left a mark: Some friends tell me that their dogs approach me and play with me as if I were another dog, something they never do with any other person.
Of course, I wouldn’t have it any other way.