Home on summer break after my first college year across the state, I was anticipating my sophomore year in the fall closer to home at the University of Washington and the chance to explore a vibrant 70s Seattle. I had missed the island’s abundant greenness, the tangy salt smells from the beach and more tranquil weather than the wind and snow that blew across the rolling hills around campus.
I adjusted back into family life with only a few independence twitches, and had a part-time job packing herring with my mom at a small wooden building that had been the island’s general store when I was younger. We stood sorting through shallow tubs filled with chilled, almost-flat little silvery fish or bent over to package and seal them in trays to be boxed and trucked away. Our hands independently working as we laughed and told stories, I was welcomed into the crew of women my mother’s age. The nose-clearing odor and fish scales were almost impossible to clean away at the end of my shift. I’ve never been able to eat a herring.
I turned 19 that summer, and my baby brother was about to turn 4. Boosting my steps into adulthood, my mom, two sisters and I conspired to bring home a Labrador-mix puppy, as a surprise for my brother’s birthday. I was thrilled to be my mom’s partner in this “don’t tell Dad” adventure. We enjoyed meeting and playing with the jumble of puppies, and as we drove home with our pick, a small black ball of sweetness, he threw up at my feet in the car. Duncan (named after my freshman dormitory) wriggled his way into the female hearts of the family and became my brother’s best buddy.
My mom and we three girls didn’t consult Dad because we knew he would say “no,” and we ignored his unhappiness with this surprise addition to the family. We were sure he would be won over…how could you not love a puppy? We pushed through with our certainty and resented his resentment.
Duncan eventually won over Dad’s reluctance by being a steady companion. I wasn’t around often enough to have many memories of this dear canine, but I enjoyed his glee and wiggles during my visits home. Duncan enjoyed his beach domain, never met a stranger and lived a good life.
Reflecting during this memory-searching, I’ve realized that the female family members had developed a pattern of dismissing Dad’s opinion when we wanted to bring home another pet to love. We needed this love and we didn’t allow the inevitable loss of another love to get in our way. We failed to consider that Dad was the one responsible for putting down almost every beloved animal companion. And disposing of the body.
Looking back at our majority-rule decisions, I cringe when I imagine how isolated and diminished Dad must have felt. He and his tender heart.
For us it was all about filling the heart again. For him it was preventing the pain of loss.