Aunt Minnie wanted to meet Howard.
That was not a good idea. Aunt M’s bones could snap as easily as soda crackers, she had muscular dystrophy, and she was confined to a wheelchair, any one of which was sufficient reason to nix a visit from my dog, an exuberant 130-lb. Akita that had once stepped on my foot and broken my toe and had, more than once, confused people as to precisely what he was. . . pony? bear? dog? Really?!!! Meeting him was not for the faint of heart nor frail of body.
I often amused her with tales of his antics. How many dogs, when left home alone, could open a pantry, remove a pop top can of dog food, open and eat it on the dining room carpet without making a mess? Or walk into a motel room and eat all the soap before we could unpack the car? And how many dogs would lie patiently while a toddler grandson probed his cavernous doggy nostrils with a tiny finger?
She begged me to bring him for a visit so that she could “meet him in person.” She used the term in all seriousness, for dogs and cats had always been the children she’d never had. I grew up in the same small town where they lived. We were not allowed to have pets at home, so visits to their house with its don’t-touch antiques, knickknacks, and gleaming silver nonetheless delighted me because of the opportunity to play with their pets.
While a succession of dogs had kept them company most of their 65 years of married life, the last years found them petless because of my aunt’s decreased mobility, so when she kept begging me to bring my big goofy dog for a visit, I finally agreed.
It was a 2 ½ hour drive and Howard rode in the back of the station wagon. He liked to ride and lay quietly, a good thing because his standing eclipsed the rear window, removing Reverse from my gear options. He was large enough to see out the side windows by simply lifting his head. I always listened to audio books on trips and I swear that Howard enjoyed them too. . . our own mobile book club. We made many trips, just the two of us, and I teased Dearly Beloved that Howard was much better read than he was, at least when it came to fiction.
There was a strange car in the driveway at my aunt’s house. It was only mid-morning, so I had not considered the possibility of company. My uncle, working outside in the back garden, came over to hug me and tell me that a missionary couple was visiting. They supported several quite generously, so this was no doubt either a Thank You or a Could You Possibly call rather than a Come-to-Jesus visit. Surprisingly, Howard barked at my uncle, probably in protest of the heavy gardening gloves he was wearing. We blamed our dog’s prejudice against work gloves back to a time we’d left him in our fenced back yard and returned a couple of hours later to find the gate ajar and Howard on the porch, an unfamiliar work glove between his paws. We couldn’t be sure what happened but we assumed that someone had tried to steal him and Howard disabused them of that notion, keeping the glove as a souvenir.
I had him on a leash and once inside, Howard filled the doorway of the small den. There was little maneuvering room since it overfurnished with the large tv, two Barcaloungers, Aunt’s wheelchair, and the tufted, overstuffed sofa holding two overstuffed missionaries.
They must have been urban missionaries because the husband and wife team would surely have leapt out of the room when they saw my “wild animal,” had we not been blocking the doorway. Howard did not move toward them, but did give two quick barks–not menacing, but not exactly friendly either– more of his “new sheriff in town” bark. They shrank visibly back into the sofa since they had no place else to go.
Aunt Minnie laughed her soft, tinkling laugh and explained, “This is my niece. She’s brought my granddoggy, Howard, so that I can finally meet him.
I began babbling apologies for the barking, but they quickly interrupted, explaining they had to leave. I tried to jockey Howard back to make a path so they could stand and pass, but before I could stop him, he gave a quick jerk on the leash and moved quickly over to Aunt Minnie’s chair. Howard looked at her for maybe three seconds, this woman he had never seen before, then lowered his big head ever so gently onto her lap. He remained that way for several minutes.
“God bless him,” my aunt said softly, as she stroked the velvety fur between his ears. “He recognizes his Aunt Minnie.”