Tuesday 27 Sep 2016

A Mouthful
AJ Robinson

I never knew Figaro, my first dog. He was around before I was born, and then he passed away when I was still a toddler, but I heard all about him. He was a good dog, very protective of me, and a great companion to the family. One of his favorite things was going along with my dad and brothers on their Boy Scout camping trips. They did a couple of those a year, sometimes in the dead of winter, and we’re talking New England winters! They almost never bothered good old Figaro. He had such a thick coat of fur; he could withstand most wintry nights.

Most, but not all; there was one time when my dad awoke to the touch of a cold nose against his cheek. It was Figaro, and he wanted to join my dad in his sleeping bag. It was a tight fit, but they managed, and Figaro helped my dad stay warm that night. As my dad said, he also kept the bottle of milk in with him, to keep it from freezing and shattering the glass bottle. He also warned the boys to keep their canteens in their bags, lest they freeze too.

Then there was the camping trip during a more temperate time, and this was when Figaro truly got a mouthful. They were out in the open countryside of Vermont, if memory serves, or maybe western Massachusetts. Figaro always loved being out in the country; it meant being able to run free and check out all the smells of the area. It also meant he could chase squirrels, raccoons, and any other animals he came across. My dad always worried that Figaro would run into a skunk.

Oh, would that be tough to deal with! Just the thought of trying to get a stinky dog home in the car, on that long drive, was enough to make dad cringe. My dad didn’t cringe easily. Fortunately, Figaro never tangled with a skunk.

Unfortunately, he did tangle with something else. He came across a porcupine! Figaro then made the mistake of trying to bite the animal, and he got a mouthful of quills. This part of the story I saw. My dad often brought our home-movie camera on the camping trips, and he got a shot of poor Figaro struggling with those quills. My dad was so worried about him; he was sure the quills would infect or cause brain damage, or maybe Figaro would bleed to death.

They broke camp, packed up the car and trailer, and high-tailed it out of there. It took a while, but they finally came to a small town that had a veterinarian. My dad carried Figaro inside, and it did not take a long explanation to convey the details of the event. They were self-evident. The vet went to work. He sedated Figaro, and then carefully extracted the quills, one by one. Fortunately, the wounds were very tiny, so bandages were unnecessary. A good dose of antiseptic, and Figaro was ready to go home. The vet told my dad that Figaro probably was never in any real danger. All mammals have a hard bone plate in the roof of their mouth. The quills could never puncture Figaro’s brain or go deep into his tissue.

The whole troop breathed a sigh of relief at learning Figaro was okay. After all, he was their mascot. On the plus side, Figaro learned to never again mess with wild animals. Although he continued to chase squirrels and cats or so they told me.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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