It’s Just a Family Tradition

In the early sixties my grandparents Virgil and Irene were in their early sixties but that is germane only as it pertains to their positions in the following tale. Virgil was a telephone man, that is to say that he left the house at the same time everyday, switched his Chevrolet for a phone company truck at the central phone company office downtown and went to his jobsite where he worked until he got off for lunch, switched vehicles again and drove home. This had been the established pattern of his Monday through Friday existence since he began working for the phone company in 1926. Irene had had a heart attack just before her 60th birthday and was forced to quit her part time position at the neighborhood grocers where she cut meat three days a week, she was thereafter a housewife, cooking, cleaning, fussing after Virgil, two dogs and two parakeets. At approximately 11 a.m. of a weekday this part of our tale begins.

As mentioned above, Virgil and Irene had two dogs, one named Butch who was an English bulldog in the neighborhood of one hundred pounds and his dearest buddy and pal Tiny, a well named rescue that weighed little more than your average alley cat. These were outside dogs, they had their houses and their dishes and all the things that dogs need in their backyard kingdom, they stayed in the backyard. And that’s were they were as the story begins.

Late morning found Irene unfolding the ironing board in the kitchen at the back of the house and ironing Virgil’s shirts for work the next week. She always ironed in the kitchen because the heat of the day came on early in North Texas and with the side door of the house open a breeze blew through the front of the kitchen and out the other side through the screen porch facing the back yard making a normally hot, sweaty chore bearable. At this time it is important to know that Butch, the enormous bulldog was also aware of the heat and he lay on the back porch step next to the screen door letting the cool concrete keep him comfortable. He could sleep for hours there, and usually did.

The only hard and fast rule my grandparents had about their house when we were young was that if you opened the screen door onto the back yard you had to immediately latch the door behind you so that the dogs didn’t get out. This particular day someone forgot. And this happened.

Butch the bulldog had two thoughts that ruled his waking life, food and out. He would routinely smack his considerable backside against the screen door to see if it bounced open against the spring, meaning someone forgot to latch it from the inside. Seeing that little bit of daylight put him straight into ‘go’ mode, he began tossing his head against the door and as soon as he got his nose into the gap the game was on. One hundred pounds of bulldog came screaming through the back porch, little Tiny in hot pursuit, indoor/outdoor carpet providing friction enough for maximum acceleration right up to the kitchen door and the kitchen floor, the linoleum floor, and no friction whatsoever. The ninety degree turn necessary to navigate the other kitchen door never happened, Butch was sideways on the linoleum, sliding on a collision course towards Irene and the ironing board. I can only imagine a scene of cartoon proportions with my grandmother and the ironing board left in a heap on the floor and Butch barreling through the house’s side door, it’s stout spring closing it again before Tiny could make his escape as well.

Soon enough Virgil pulled into the carport and was surprised to see Tiny laying on the mat at the side door. He picked the dog up, carried him straight into the house, through the bathroom and the back bedroom and out the screen door, latching it after. He walked through the screen porch into the kitchen to see Irene still in the floor amongst the ironing, “What happened here?” he asked.

“The dog got out,” she said. And like that he was behind the wheel of the Chevrolet and gone.

Butch had taken off in a more or less straight line as fast as his short little legs would carry him and Virgil found him thus, his speed reduced to a crawl about a mile from the house. He pulled ahead of the dog, parked, opened the back door and when he had caught up, wrestled the exhausted animal into the car and drove him back to the house. Only after securing all avenues of further escape did he return to the kitchen to see after Irene, thankfully she had only broken a hip.

Fast forward about thirty years and we find Virgil and Irene’s daughter, my mother, dogsitting for my bestest buddy and pal, Brain, a loveable Chesapeake with a bad case of hip dysplasia.

My mom is likewise retired or as I call it, house robe bound, she doesn’t shuck off the slippers unless there is a mighty good reason. This day finds Brain’s dysplasia acting up so Mom has to ‘help’ him in and out of the house by bending over and supporting his hind end. To get from the back door to the kitchen of my mother’s house there is a very small entry and two steps up into the kitchen. As mom has gotten the dog in the door and worked her way around behind him she supports his weight from the back and he walks up the two steps, mom following. As she steps up to the kitchen her trailing slipper gets caught in the trim of the second step and she falls into the kitchen floor on top of the dog. Not too much later my sister comes in the house from the front door and sees the tangle in the kitchen.

“What happened?”

“I tripped and fell on the dog.”

No sooner than the words came out of her mouth my sister was out the door, into the driveway and opening the rear door of her car. She matter of factly strode into the kitchen, knelt down beside our mother and ever so gently picked the dog up and carried him to the car.

Returning from the vet an hour later with a seemingly unaffected Brain she found mom still in the kitchen floor, unable to get up with a broken wrist. That’s just how we roll.

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