I overcame grief at the age of 8 and have never suffered (worth speaking of) since then, and it seems to me that grief, like mumps, is best got out of the way early in life.
My dog Jack, in those days, was the magic of my life, since in my country it was common to grow up in a rather austere or cool house. This was in the days before it was known that kids should grow up in a warm heap. A dog was not austere, however, nor oracular nor overpowering, so for a kid a dog was a great treasure.
One day another kid, a great buddy of mine, told me with the relish that only close friends can dispense, that Jack was squashed a couple of blocks away under the viaduct. I got up there, and sure enough. It was hard to get him home to bury him beside the garage.
Time, that takes away everything else, took away the misery. Of course as one bounds along life's highway there are occasional sad sights. The first day I was in New Guinea I saw a fellow running about burning to death, and I have had my share of pulling people out of car wrecks dead or dying, and these things do nothing for cheer.
Brightness falls from the air, queens have died young and fair. So I do not trifle with you by seeming to argue that life is altogether brisk, but I do mean that losing a mutt is an exponential mode of pain. Precisely as minor ear infections hurt worse than many terminal ailments.
Still, if you live through it at the age of 8, you never have to hurt quite that way again, and you do learn eventually that pain is no excuse for withdrawing from the fray, or for over-arming the heart against hurt.
"Never again," some say, not wanting to "go through that again." But they err.
Now we have lost our middle mutt, Sheba. I knew, when the tail started describing 180-degree arcs instead of 360, that something was wrong, and at the last, when the tail did not move at all, I knew she was dead.
Of course the vet warned of this six years ago.
"Don't get fond of her," he said, "because I doubt she will make it six weeks. Never saw a dog so abused."
She was new to us then. She had been abandoned on Third Avenue by an owner who simply wished to walk away and leave the dog in the mad traffic, thus earning a permanent berth in hell quicker than most.
Sheba had a broken back and not very good teeth and about as much charm as a wet sock. She was shipped from New York at heinous expense in a Pullman bedroom, etc., etc., and for some days she did not walk but sat expiring quietly on the sofa between enforced excursions to the back yard.
Then it occurred to her she was not going to be beat with a stick. She perked up a little, though still unable to manage to climb over a curb if you walked her on the sidewalk.
But with time she eventually learned to go up one step, learned to run with surprising speed without (what she clearly needed) a gyroscope.
My wife said, when the vet said not to get fond of the animal, that the vet was nuts. Why there were years in that dog (she said) not having any faith whatever (I have often noticed) in expert opinion. She forbade the mutt to die, and the dog decided (as others have often done) there is no point arguing.
Sheba, a few years later, adopted a basset pup. The pup, no matter how hard Sheba tried, became less and less like a Lhasa apso every week. To her dying day, Sheba never gave up working on the hound--a corrective growl here, a firm nip there, and she never wasted time wondering where she went wrong.
The years passed. The original vet was probably right about not getting too fond of the beast, but Sheba was the most subversive dog I ever knew. Diabolical. Rightly was she named for that queen that seduced Solomon.
Until we had her, no dog had ever brought those nuggets of dry dog food into the living room. We forbade it. Sheba rarely cared what we didn't allow. Brought her Purina in, anyhow, and guarded it by the hour with ferocious snarls. She weighed l0 pounds, I would say, and she had her way in all things, cowing the other dogs. The hound could have tended to her in one mouthful, but of course kept a very respectful manner in Sheba's presence.
She visited the vet for some intravenous stuff to keep her comfortable and died without apparent discomfort at home in human arms, signaling by a cessation of tail centrifugally that the day was done.
She had some years the vet never thought she'd have. She gave some pleasure we never thought we'd have, since she came to us a total burden, yet left us substantially in her debt.
She was, as one of our great wits said of Cleopatra, a creature of similarly gaudy nights, a lass unparalleled.
It is precisely because almost every American can report the same facts that I mention old Sheba in the first place. A few tears aren't going to kill you, when you lose your mutt.
Now some people cannot have dogs. But others bow out, fearing the day the dog will die, and not wanting that particular mode of discomfort. But for me, I would hate to die myself without a mutt or two racing around the place extremely interested in the funeral baked meats. This, I have always imagined, would permit me to holler (at whatever chariot swang low) the excellent roar of the great Sufi mystic who had a wisdom rare among saints:
"Not without my dog."