Today's story, dear readers, as hinted at yesterday, is about Jakes and Joanne. This story first appeared in Grit: America's Family Magazine, so many years ago, Jane truly cannot remember. Really. No, we mean, really.
We think dog lovers will know immediately what's going to happen next, and non-dog lovers will happily anticipate it. Regardless, if it brings a smile to your face, Jane will be happy. Enjoy Part I. We believe we will be able to bring you the conclusion next week, in Part II.
John likes dogs. I knew that when I married him. But I told him, as we cuddled together in that big round bed at Honeymoon Haven, that before I would allow a mangy dog into my house to ruin my carpets I would eat my hat.
So John, ever anxious to please his new wife, smiled, tweaked my nose, and winked. I should have known there was a hidden message in that wink.
Life was good. We moved to a quiet neighborhood, spent weekends painting our new three-bedroom home, mowing the backyard, doing the usual suburban chores and loving it. When we were blessed with a beautiful daughter, I was so thrilled I went about the house crooning for a whole year. Nothing, I told my mother and father, could be more perfect. Time went by like a soft breeze on a summer afternoon.
And then, it happened.
Out of nowhere, well, really, out of the sharp March wind, a creature of terror, a small shivering blond bundle of sharp teeth, entered my home in the arms of the man I thought I knew better than any other human being alive. A man who, I thought, understood how I felt about...creatures that wiggled and shed copious amounts of hair. This creature, I could tell right away, was trouble in the making.
"What’s that?" I asked, watching the creature whimper and whine like a lost child.
Mandy, six years old and a woman of the world, knew what it was.
"It’s a puppy!" she squealed, eager hands grabbing it away from her father.
"Puppy, my foot," I mumbled under my breath. It looked like a small, hairy monster to me. I turned a possessive glance to my rugs and furniture.
Look, I like animals. Really I do. I suggested we get a nice, quiet goldfish. Or a canary. Creatures that don't think of sofa legs as chew toys, or curtains as firehydrants. How, I asked myself--silently, of course--could John bring this...this Tasmanian devil into our house!
A golden retriever puppy, honestly!
"Let's call him Jakes," John said. Jakes, after the dog he'd had as a child. As if I hadn't heard enough of those stories. "We’ll train him," he and Mandy said, pinning me against the kitchen wall, promise shining from their wide-eyed glares.
They did try. I’ll give them that. They corralled Jakes into the fenced-in backyard every evening for two months and, as I watched through the kitchen window, John worked his pitching arm, Mandy ran invisible bases, and Jakes retrieved every stick he could find-- but the one that had been thrown. This routine lasted, on par, for an hour or so at a time. Then, giggling and panting, John and Mandy would come sliding into the kitchen for lemonade, and Jakes would sprawl on the grass happily teething some unfortunate tree branch.
I was the one who drove to the pet store and bought a copy of How To Train Your Golden Retriever. While Mandy slaved over spelling in second grade, and John saved our sagging economy selling real estate, I was the one who lugged that roly-poly puppy into the backyard and chased him from one corner to the other while he leaped and cavorted about, licking my face every chance he got.
"Hey, give me a break!" I begged one warm Tuesday, collapsing in the grass after an hour of running circles throughout the yard. My collapse, naturally, was an open invitation to a panting Jakes who proceeded to leap upon me and drool all over my face. I couldn't even move. I stretched my arms out, hunkered down into the cool grass, squeezed my eyes shut tight, and thought, over and over, He's merciless! That’s all. Just merciless. In case you're interested... it wasn't Jakes I was thinking about.
In time, I’m proud to say, I did get him to pick up the fundamentals. He would sit on command (sometimes); he would lie down at a word (especially if he was tired); and he would stay, for as long as it took me to pat his furry head. Then, he would leap up and run around in circles. The routine never varied. As did his penchant for chewing my slippers. When I tried to substitute a shoe--not one of my shoes, of course--Jake refused it. John insisted it was because Jakes likes me best, but...I'm pretty sure it was a deliberate act of hostility. And no matter where I hid the slippers, Jakes would find them.
"He must be part grizzly bear," I complained to John one day, while dropping the latest raggedy slippers into the garbage. "When is he going to stop growing?"
John shrugged. "Another few months," he mumbled, from behind the newspaper.
Dr. Pollack, our veterinarian just laughed when I asked him the same question. "Maybe you should move to a farm," he said, holding up one monstrous paw. "This guy looks like he’s going to need a saddle pretty soon."
A saddle. Saddles you put on horses, I know that much. It wasn’t hard to see what Dr. Pollack meant. The space under the dining room table where this mammoth animal decided to stretch his growing limbs shrunk over the months until all four legs stuck out between the chairs. Looking at him lying there, sides heaving in sleep, boded something …horrible. I could feel it. You can't grow a dog that big -- and not expect disaster.
"Joanne," John cornered me in the kitchen one evening just before dinner, "Jakes loves you." On hearing his name, our pet beat a hollow drumroll on the linoleum with that broom-handle tail. "How can you resist him?" John nuzzled my neck.
"Like this," I said, calmly strolling into the other room.
Jakes followed me, of course. After all, I was the one home with him all day. He dogged my heels, all day, every day. By now John was busy after dinner with Mandy’s soccer team practice. Since someone had to stay home with Jakes (one trip to the soccer field convinced the other parents that Jakes was better off at home), three nights a week Jakes and I watched Jeopardy and each other.
And, it's true. I did take to talking to him.What choice did I have? He was a good listener. His eyes would follow my lips (ok, maybe he was watching the cupcakes or jello but he was watching, wasn't he?) all the while sitting attentively at my feet. I found it comforting to have someone's undivided attention.
Suddenly, before I knew what was happening, a whole year had gone by and Easter was upon us. I had work to do.
"This is it," I told Jakes just a week or so before the holiday. I’d been out shopping for Easter candy, already. "This is going to be the best Easter," I said. He eyed the bag of goodies with curious eyes. "Really, John and I have an announcement," I told him, putting the candy in the cupboard.
"Can you guess? Oh, c’mon. I’ve been hinting about it for weeks. Haven’t you been listening? Mandy is going to be a big sister. What do you think of that?" I bent down to get a good look at his reaction but he only sniffed the edge of the table and drooled on the floor. He didn’t think much of my announcement --- his mind was on the Easter candy.
In hindsight, I realize that was my first clue.
What will happen next, dear reader? What calamity will befall the Easter celebration? Will it be Jakes' fault? Will it be Joanne's fault? How will Mandy and John feel about it? Stay tuned...Jakes may just surprise you!
What's not to like about that?