Growing up on West Main Street, having pets meant a higher probability of having an early introduction to death. Kids did not let their dogs roam freely — except for Sophie, a sort of free-range Shepherd mix that seemed to move through the neighborhood without restriction — without running the risk of finding later that they had been hit by a car. The rules were a little more lax for cats since they seemed to be blessed with more intelligence, but there was still a risk.
And even if you did your best trying to keep your dog leashed or in a pen, sometimes it just figured a way to get loose and run. You would go after them, or the neighbor up the street would call and threaten to shoot it the next time it dug up his vegetable garden. And you would bring it home, and put it back behind bars, and try to will it to learn some common sense before something worse happened.
This was the case with my dog Josie when I was small. She was a mutt, mostly some kind of spaniel, I think. I was too young to remember much about her, other than her golden color, and the fact that she liked to dig out of whatever pen we kept her in.
And I remember the night she got killed, when her luck ran out. I don’t know if the driver of the car stopped. I don’t think I saw it happen. But I remember my dad opening a black heavy-duty garbage bag and showing me what was left of her. My mom dug a grave the next day, in the back yard near the basketball goals.
Father’s Day is coming up tomorrow. This will be my first Father’s Day without having my Dad around. I won’t be buying a bag of peanut butter cups or a crossword puzzle book to take over. He won’t be there to complain about the sorry state of college basketball or show off his new high score in Tetris.
I miss him. But I also can’t help but smile a little when I find myself doing some of the same things he did. Whistling randomly, waving at strangers, things like that. Once he told me that there were two options when you woke up in the morning and looked in the mirror: to say “Good God, morning,” or “Good morning, God.” Good advice. I try to pick the second option as much as possible.
And I try to be a good dad, to take the lessons my own parents taught me and teach them to my own kids. Right and wrong, good and evil. Life and death.
We had six hermit crabs yesterday. We have five hermit crabs today. We came home from McDonald’s tonight to find that one — the one with Spongebob Squarepants painted on its shell — had been ripped to pieces inside the terrarium they all shared.
I could tell immediately that it was more than just a random murder. This was a killing that was supposed to send a message.
All three kids fingered the spiked, neon-shelled crab we call Big Pinky as the culprit. I don’t know if the evidence would hold up in court, but he had pinched the 4-year-old earlier in the week, and he was lurking by himself in one of their hideouts, while the other four crabs were paired off, presumably in terror.
We put Big Pinky in solitary, the no-frills steel and orange plastic cage he came in. And then we gathered up what was left of Spongebob, put him in a cardboard box with some food and salad mix and buried him in the back yard.
The 4-year-old delivered the eulogy, which consisted of her saying “I wish you had a good day” and then dropping to the ground and pretending to swim. It seemed fitting, somehow.
After I dug enough dirt to fill in the hole, we decided the service was over. They put on their swimsuits and proceeded to finish out the day playing with a sprinkler toy as the sun went down.
It’s all a circle, you know. Fathers have sons, who become fathers themselves. And we all live to honor the ones who came before.