As it was told, my grandfather brought home a puppy. My grandmother said, “We can’t have a dog, you’ll have to take it back in the morning. The next morning Poppy said, “Well, I guess I will take that dog back.” And Monie said, “You are not taking my dog anywhere.”
My grandmother named her dog Fritzi.
My mother(to be, some four years hence) was reveling in her glorious years. She was earning her Master’s Degree in Theater from Chapel Hill and having two, sometimes three, dates in one day. (I have her diary for those years: my goodness!) Spending the weekend at home in Selma, N.C., she poses with Fritzi. She stations herself in the garden behind a wall, arranges the dog in front of her, and smiles enigmatically—keeping an iron grip on the dog’s chest and right front leg.
As it was told, on a future weekend at home in Selma, my mother-to-be was sitting on the porch playing bridge with her friends. A man on crutches swung past on the sidewalk. He had broken his ankle playing tennis and had come home to recuperate with his mother. Fritzi the dog ran out and bit him. My mother to be invited him up to the porch to play bridge. Within the year he became my father.
I lived with Fritzi from infancy until I was six. She was an aloof dog, preferring my grandmother’s company. I have no physical memory of ever touching her, smelling her, or having any exchanges with her, though I most certainly did. She stationed herself beside my playpen, and there I am reaching through the bars to grab her fur. She was always with my grandmother, sniffing up at the sunny air next to the deck chair, while Monie held me aloft and I laughed and pointed at something.
It’s all recorded in the black and white photographs.
But then comes the one that causes a pang. An old dog sitting at the bottom of some steps. I feel the dog’s…what? Bafflement? Anguish? Curiosity? Resignation? Where did those steps lead? Our vet lived on a steep hill and you climbed those steps to his office. Was this Fritzi’s last trip?
But then I am probably making a dramatic story, perhaps those were only the steps to one of the houses we rented. I don’t know the answer. All I know is, while laboring over this drawing, I felt the old dog in my bones. It was the deepest feeling I have had since Robert died, sixteen years ago.
I felt the old dog from the bottom of my heart.
“We devour novels and drama. But we have little or no interest in the life stories of animals—unless they are linked in some way to human stories. Dogs love others and yearn to return home, owls ponder, snakes sneak, and eagles thrill at the freedom of the open sky.”
-Edward O. Wilson, biologist and naturalist, The Meaning of Human Existence, 2014.
(If you think of yourself as someone who “is hopeless at science,” E.O. Wilson is the place to start if you desire to know more about how we became human. I first discovered him through his work on ant societies. For a while I left little snacks for the ants on the floor beside my bed. They seemed immediately to know when a new snack dropped, and, thanks to Professor Wilson, I spent many engrossing moments studying their activities.)