We didn't get him from a breeder, neighbor or the pound. No, he just showed up at our backdoor one day and adopted us. It was Mom who dubbed him Figaro, a character from her favorite childhood fairy tale of "Pinocchio."
My Dad was adamantly opposed to that name. "Dagnabit, we can't call him that. Name him after Ghepetto's cat? That's ridiculous. He needs a name worthy of his size, something big and noble."
But, my brother Dave had the last say. He liked that name, so that was that. You see, Figaro was his dog, no matter what anyone else said. Mom learned that real quickly. She so much as raised her voice to Dave and Figaro gave a growl. And if she spanked him? Oh - my - God, Figaro would bare his teeth and snarl something terrible. That is, until she "growled" back! Mom was definitely the Alpha Dog of our "pack", so Figaro knew when to "defer" to her judgment.
Dad called him a "Compact St. Bernard", a big old dog with thick fur, but not so drool-ly. Dad was also the Boy Scout Troop leader. He took the boys on many camping trips, and Figaro always went along. The boys' moms were always so amazed - the mess kits came home so sparkling clean. They asked Dad what he did to get them so spic and span.
"We use 'Seven Waters' out in the woods," was all he'd say, patting Figaro.
The mothers didn't understand, and the boys would just giggle and nod in agreement. No way were they going to spill the beans and spoil their fun.
As we lived in Massachusetts, some of those camping trips were in the dead of winter. Yet, no matter how cold it got, Figaro didn't mind - he was a true cold-weather dog. Except this one time, when it got real cold. Dad was awakened near midnight by a very cold, wet nose. That is true love of a master for their pet - that they'll share their small sleeping bag with their big dog.
During one of their spring camping trips, Figaro had a little "difference of opinion" with a porcupine. Needless to say, Figaro lost that argument and went home with a mouth full of quills for his troubles! Dad was so worried that that was it for him, but with the help of a good Vet, he recovered.
Not long after that, I appeared on the scene. Quite a few family members were worried as to how a big old dog would react to an interloper such as a new baby. Their concerns were unfounded. I crawled on top of him, pulled his tail and tongue, and stepped on his paws! He didn't so much as yip; he became my lord, high protector.
As I grew, he stayed at my side. Summers on Martha's Vineyard were always nice: he was my guardian at the beach and my guide down to the pond. As a toddler, he was just my size. One arm wrapped over his back, a bag of breadcrumbs in the other hand, he'd steer me down the road, across the street - he knew to look both ways for the traffic - and over to the pond. Feeding the ducks was one of our simple summer pleasures. My mother always regretted the fact that she didn't get a picture of us like that. Ah, but such is life - time waits for no one.
But, big dogs don't live so long. One summer day, my Mom walked me to the pond; I couldn't have been more than three.
"Where's Figaro?" I asked.
Blinking back the tears, she said, "He's gone to Heaven, Honey."
"Why?" I asked; that one-word question that has tormented so many parents for so many years.
Her next words were the most comforting I have ever heard for a pet owner. "People have to stay on Earth a very long time, learning to love, care and give. Dogs already know that, so they don't have to stay as long."
May we all take a lesson from our four-legged friends.
Click here for more by AJ Robinson.
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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