Dog Daze

Antoinette Brush

© 1999 by Antoinette Brush

Photo of Toni at 6 years old.

This story is one of many that I have told my children over the years. I decided this year to write my stories for them and for my future grandchildren, putting everything on paper so that even the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that I never meet will come to know a little about me.

One of my favorite childhood songs was Swinging On A Star written by Burke and Van Heusen for the movie, Going My Way. As promising as swinging on a star sounded, at one point in my life, I would rather have been a dog.

My obsession with dogs took many forms, including an entrepreneurship. That started with a quilt on my bed, which had the picture of every known breed of dog printed on it. My brothers and I would argue over which breed was best, then we would look in the back of the Sears catalog to see how much that type of dog cost. The exorbitant prices threatened to keep the acquisition a dream. We couldn't possibly sell enough lemonade to pay for a dog, so we switched to Kool Aide.

Despite failing to raise enough capital from soft drink sales we did find a few dogs to adopt. Perhaps my preoccupation began with these first few failed attempts at having a dog for a family pet. The first dog we had was a beagle named, "Spotty." He sure seemed like a great dog, only he left us before I got the chance to know him better. Mom's story was that a farmer came and offered Spotty the chance of a lifetime. Mom, not wanting to stand in his way, allowed Spotty to seek his fortune through farming.

Our next dog was a mutt named "Yogi." We named him after the Hannah Barbera cartoon character, Yogi Bear. Yogi really looked a lot like the famous movie star dog, Bengi. My Uncle Ray, told me that a mutt was the very best kind of dog. I was convinced he was absolutely correct until the first time Yogi ran away. No sooner would we let Yogi out in the yard, than over the fence he'd jump. He wasn't your "average" dog. Yogi was every bit a hobo, identical to the cartoon character for which he was named. Eventually he owned the town, and living the life of a tramp, became quite famous. He had his picture in the local newspaper, The Beacon, numerous times. Yogi became best known for sleeping on the roofs of parked cars and for perfect attendance in kindergarten. While I was glad to see that Yogi had made a nice life for himself, I couldn't help but feel resentful. He was the second dog we had who had chosen greener pastures.

Some ventures defy explanation. In trying to find one, I am reminded of a time when an adult would grab me by the shoulders and ask me to explain myself. They would then ask the unanswerable, "Why?" I know the answer lies somewhere in the silence of surprise that filled me following that question. Astonishment kept me from finding it. I have since learned that mere words will never explain the magic of Pretend.

Pretend is limitless, ever changing, and defies description. As a child I knew the power of Pretend. So, when I deeply longed for a dog, I just decided to become one. The decision was perfectly logical and provided a simple solution to life without a real dog. 

I began by studying dog behaviors. After polishing my act, I announced to my family that I was, from that moment on, their dog. I don't think they took my announcement all that seriously until after a few days of begging food from under the kitchen table. At which point my mother threatened me with more than a doghouse if I persisted. I thought she'd be grateful I didn't shed and was housebroken. Thwarted, but not outwitted, I did the next best thing. The idea came to me while watching Mrs. Reading through her garden gate.

Wellen and Jane Reading were an elderly, childless couple who lived across the street from my parent's home. They lived in a small brick house with a front porch large enough for just two chairs. Their back yard was accessible through a garden gate that was located next to the porch. During the summer, the Readings, sitting on their porch, could be relied upon to holler a "How do" whenever you went out. Plus they always had candy.

Mrs. Reading was short, round, and jolly. Perhaps it was her height that gave her insight into the ways of children. She wasn't too far from being eye-level with me. Mrs. Reading was every bit the imp, with a twinkle in her eye and a constant smile. She wore her brown hair curled tightly against her head and was always properly attired in a house dress covered with a bib apron. Upon her nose sat a pair of eyeglasses, the frame tinted blue at the eyebrow. Her husband, Wellen, was taller, thinner, and much more serious. Together they reminded me of the nursery rhyme couple, Jack Sprat and his wife.

"Hiya, Mrs. Reading."

"Oh, Toni, you startled me," she chuckled, pushing up her eyeglasses. "Come in."

"Whacha doin'?"

"Oh, I just finished dusting, Dear. How 'bout you?"

"I've been thinkin'."

"Oh, thinking. Well, thinking can be tiresome. Yes indeed. Would you like to take a break?" she asked, as she held the screen door open for me. Entering, it took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the change in light. There was a step down into her kitchen, with a small table built for two, near the kitchen window. I took my usual seat while she poured me a glass of milk. After setting the milk on the table she went to get her candy jar. The candy jar was on a shelf above the oven. Mrs. Reading would stand on a little stool to reach it. It was a tall, clear glass apothecaries jar so I could easily see its contents. Everything in it so was appealing that it took me a minute to decide which piece I wanted. Unlike the Five and Dime sales clerk, Mrs. Reading allowed me all the time I needed to make my decision.

"Oh no, Dear, not the black licorice," she said, "I need them for a physic." I had no idea what a physic was, but it didn't bother me that she wanted the black licorice. There were plenty of other choices so I chose a cherry gumdrop.

"You know what you need around here, Mrs. Reading?" I asked with my mouth full.

"Now what would that be?"

"You need a dog."

"Oh dear. Oh no, I don't think Mr. Reading would appreciate the extra work."

"Oh, it wouldn't be extra work," I said confidently. Then, pausing to drink some milk, asked, "Know why?"


"Because I could be your dog."

"You, Dear?"

"Yup. Every home needs a dog, and Mom won't allow me to be a dog at our house anymore."

"She won't?"

"Nope. She said, 'enough of this silliness'," I replied, leaning on my elbow. "And I'm a good dog. Wanna see?" I asked, wiping my mouth on my tee shirt sleeve.

"Let me get you a napkin," Mrs. Reading said, handing me one too late. "O.K., let me see."

Jumping down to the floor I got into a crawling position and gave Mrs. Reading my best performance. I wagged my rear as if it were my hindquarters, barked using various tones, growled, and even panted. I must have given her a good show because she clapped her hands in merriment. I stood up and bowed.

"Oh, dear, that was wonderful," she said lifting her eyeglasses to wipe her eyes. "You're so right, Dear. I do think Mr. Reading and I need a dog. Oh, but if you're going to be our dog, then we must have a good name for you, mustn't we?"

I nodded enthusiastically, not quite believing my good fortune.

"Yes, well," she contemplated, stroking her chin, then added with an elfish grin, "We'll call you Trixie." I beamed, and accepted the offer of another gumdrop.

Every day, for weeks after, I would visit Mrs. Reading, staying for hours, so I could be her dog. Mrs. Reading played a very realistic mistress. She allowed me to drink my milk from a saucer on the floor, stroked my hair as if patting a dog's head, and rewarded me with gumdrops. She was a phenomenal, tireless playmate.

One day, Mr. Reading, having just come home from work, picked up his newspaper and saw me sitting on the floor next to his hassock. "Hello, Toni," he said, sitting down in his easy chair.

"Oh, that's not Toni, that's Trixie, our dog," said Mrs. Reading.

"Our what?" asked Mr. Reading, puzzled, putting on his half-glasses for reading.

"Our dog, Dear. Surely you must remember Trixie, our dog. I'm sure I told you about her."

"Grrruff," I barked in agreement. 

Mr. Reading looked at me in disbelief, momentarily speechless. He next spoke from behind his opened newspaper, grumbling, "Isn't it dinnertime? Isn't it time for this child to go home?"

"Oh, indeed it would be, Dear, if we had a child here. How unfortunate too, for I do so love children," Mrs. Reading responded, stroking her chin.

Mr. Reading looked at his wife over the top of his newspaper as if she had lost her mind. Then he promptly turned the page, trying to ignore us both.

"I'll get your supper, Dear," Mrs. Reading said, going into the kitchen. 

Mr. Reading continued reading for a few minutes while I sat in silence watching him. I could hear Mrs. Reading preparing dinner with an occasional clang of a pot. After Mr. Reading finished a few pages I caught him peeking over the top of the newspaper at me. I don't know what possessed me, but the next time he peeked, I stuck out my tongue and started to pant. Mr. Reading lifted the newspaper higher and started to chuckle. I could see the paper quivering in his hands. His chuckle soon turned into a rollicking laugh. I got up from the floor and climbed onto his lap and collapsed, the newspaper crumbling underneath me.

"Oh, aren't you a piece of work! Now watch my paper," he added, trying to salvage its remains. "So, Trixie, is it?"

"No, it's me, Toni."

"Ah, and where did you learn to do that?"

I shrugged my shoulders, then added, "I learnt myself," wiping my nose on my arm.

Mr. Reading, pulling my arm gently from my face, said, "So you taught yourself, did you?"

I nodded yes. 

"You're very good at it, you know? You should be an actress."

Soon, the savory aroma of the Reading's dinner filled the room, reminding me, "I got to go home for supper now. See ya later, Mr. Reading."

"Don't let the door slam, Toni," he said, a few seconds too late, as the door banged shut behind me. 

Hearing his request from the porch I shouted, "Sorry," and skipped across the street.

Some people would worry about a child who pretends to be a dog for such a long period of time. I know my mother was concerned. I remember Mrs. Reading reassuring her that it was nothing more than just a game. I slipped my hand into Mrs. Reading's, worried that Mom would stop our playing together. The moment Mrs. Reading squeezed my hand I knew everything was going to be all right. Mrs. Reading, being an adult, could negotiate. Being a kindred spirit, she accepted the magic of pretend. I couldn't have asked for a better champion.

I continued to be Trixie until I was distracted by some other childhood interest. I'm not exactly sure how long that took, time being as infinite for children as it is for angels. Knowing time's measure today I'd say it was all too brief. I'm sure Mrs. Reading would agree. Although Mrs. Reading has been gone for a long time, she continues to cross my mind as frequently as I crossed her doorstep. Her benevolence is eternal and thrives in the land of Pretend.

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