HUMOR: A Box of Puppies
On the way home from Gooseberry Falls we passed a cardboard sign. FREE PUPPIES. Do you think we kept driving? Not with three kids in the back. Dad turned the station wagon around.
At the store we drank grape soda from heavy ice-cold returnable bottles. You finished it while standing. I can still feel the bottle in my hand and the grape pop going down on a scorching hot day, then the satisfying clink as you set the empty into an ancient wooden box reading Winona Bottling Company. You have to feel sorry for the latest generation, who will never do that. On the plus side they can look it up on their phone.
Another box held five squirming puppies. We picked them up and played with them on the service station floor until they got tired and fell asleep. Then we put them back in the box and they curled around each other in one corner and we got into the car and drove home. They sure are cute, Mom said. It would be easy to make a mistake. We passed a house with a dog in the yard big as a Shetland pony, laying on its back in the shade, caked with dirt, all four paws in the air. Maybe that’s the father, Dad said.
The Mullins weren’t so lucky. Coming up behind us they stopped for gas and soda pop and picked the cutest one from the box and took him home. There was no fighting the kids, which included a thirteen-year old girl. You’re not going to win that one.
They named him Turbo, again prophetic and he was a cute puppy, the cutest dog I ever saw. He sported a tawny coat of heavy fur and had round soulful eyes and a semi-pug nose. By the time he was three months old he weighed forty pounds. He loved to play and eat, in that order. A year later Turbo must have gone well over a hundred fifty, a great powerful dog with massive jowls and huge feet and a tail that swept geraniums and books and drinks and small children to the floor.
The family had a lot of fun with that dog, at least the kids did. The parents not so much. Turbo had issues, shall we say.
He didn’t see well. He had recurring and mysterious eye infections, with the vet forever prescribing another ointment, which Turbo manfully (dogffully?) withstood. His hips bothered him and they gave him some kind of pill each day. He drooled continuously. If he liked you (and I think he liked everyone) he growled. Not really a growl, but a low groan of affection that could scare the wits out of a stranger.
The worst of it was that bushy coat. It grew heavy and it grew fast, like a Merino ram. He needed grooming every two months and they charged three times as much as a normal dog because Turbo was three times more dog than a normal dog.
But as I say the kids loved him. He ran free in the neighborhood back in the day when a dog could do that. We played football and soccer and baseball with him and travelled far into the woods and had explorative rambles through industrial lots and railroad yards and the crummy dilapidated neighborhood my parents called Skunk Hollow, literally on the other side of the tracks. I believe they felt we were safe. Not too many, man or beast, would have challenged Turbo.
But he was a pain at home. He knocked down lamps and muddied the new carpet as he ran with the kids through the house. More than once I heard Mrs. Mullin scream Get That Thing Out Of Here. One summer they bought their own dog clippers and tried to shave him themselves, with very mixed results. His eyes grew worse. He panted continuously and started sneezing, as though he had hay fever. He looked like all heck, but I’d say he was still a good dog for the Mullins.
After all, he saved their lives.
It happened like this. Late at night a burglar slipped through the glass doors in back of the house. We shall overlook for the time being how those doors might have come to be unlocked, and creeping through the living room and kitchen the intruder turned left. After scanning the hallway he made his selection, reaching for the bedroom door of Sara, the Mullin’s sixteen-year old daughter.
That’s when he heard a growl. He turned. The pen light illuminated the immense, drooling, bloodshot face of Turbo, the fur half-shaved from his great shoulders. Again the low growl. The light fell to the floor.
The man ran through the house, and I mean through, knocking down lamps and tables and chairs and screaming to the Almighty for his mother. He broke through the doors and leaped from the deck, Turbo hot on his trail.
The cops caught him. Or he caught them as he ran yelling and pleading up Excelsior Boulevard for help.
In the end it turned out to be nothing, only one of Sara Mullin’s boyfriends, some knucklehead who thought it was a good idea to sneak into their house at two a.m. Other than having about ten years’ growth scared out of him he sustained only a few bumps and bruises. Turbo had knocked him down a half-dozen times. Playfully, I’m sure. If that dog really went after anyone he’d have tore them to pieces.
The next day Turbo got a few extra milk bones. And Sara got grounded. Turbo was a good dog but you’re kind of glad he belonged to someone else. A whole lot of work goes into a dog that size. And as for free dogs you get what you pay for.
Which is to say, on one summer night on Brunswick Avenue in St. Louis Park: Priceless.