When I take my dachshund jogging, boys and widows gawk and stop tossing balls or lopping limbs off shrubs. They call and point at long, pot-bellied Oscar trotting like a rocker horse, tongue wagging, dragging on grass when he hops over skateboards, long muzzle wide as if laughing, eager, sniffing the breeze. All Oscar needs is a tree like a mailbox, postcards from dogs he barks at at night, and odd whiffs he can't place. When he stops and squats, up runs a neighbor's collie tall as a horse, stalking like a swan meeting an eel, muzzle to muzzle in dog talk, collie tail like a feather fan. Wherever we go, we're not alone for an hour, devoted hobblers on the block, the odd couple-- long-legged bony man jogging along, obeying the leash law, the black, retractable nylon sagging back to Oscar, who never balks or sasses when I give the dangling leash a shake, but trots to me desperate for affection, panting like a dog off to see Santa, willing to jog any block for a voice, a scratch on the back. I've seen that hunger in other dogs. I watched my wife for forty years brush dogs that didn't need the love he does. When my children visit, my oldest grandsons trot with him to the park, that glossy, auburn sausage tugging and barking, showing off. The toddlers squat and pat him on his back. They touch his nose and laugh, and make him lick them on the lips. Good Oscar never growls, not even if they fall atop him. He was a gift from them, last Christmas, a dog their pop could take for walks and talk to. Oscar would have loved my wife, who spoiled and petted our old dogs for decades, coaxing them up for tidbits on the couch beside her, offering all the bliss a dog could wish for, a hand to lick, a lap to lay their heads. Oh, he's already spoiled, barks at bluejays on his bowl, fat and lonely unless I'm home. But how groomed and frisky he could be if she were here, how calm to see us both by the fire, rocking, talking, turning out the lights.
For Grandfather, in memory of Grandmother Anna
From Blessings the Body Gave, published by Ohio State University Press. Copyright © 1998 by Walt McDonald. All rights reserved. Used by permission.