Watching the film Year Of The Dog recently caused me to reflect heavily on my years growing up in central West Virginia, on a small but functional farm. In the movie, Molly Shannon's character relieves extreme loneliness through a close relationship with her dog, Pencil, and then experiences tremendous grief when Pencil ...
I won't give it away. Catch the movie yourself.
We had pets on the farm, but I don't think I ever really felt a closeness to to any of them. There were lots of dogs, but those dogs were really tools we used to get food. Lots of wild animals those dogs hunted down were cooked up and placed on our dinner table during my youth. We had horses and ponies, but they were used on the farm too. It was common to see my father or grandfather use the horses to plow fields or haul logs. Even my favorite pony, Comet, was often used for burdensome tasks. Rabbits were sometimes on the dinner menu, and a goose we had made a fine Christmas meal once, as I recall.
I avoided naming pigs; one's breakfast sausages shouldn't be too familiar. And, of course, a hamburger made from a cow you thought was pretty ain't really that appetizing.
Animals were food, or tools to get food. I never really learned to develop relationships with them. And that's sort of sad, considering my wife is such a lover of all-things-furry. When Cecil, the canine love of her life, died several years ago after being hit by a car I was unable to really help her get through the grief. I just didn't get it: the mourning, the trauma and the angst. Those emotions are usually reserved for people in my world. But I'm trying, and even making some progress.
My favorite pet story goes like this:
My dad purchased a new, coal-black pony when I was 12 and my brother, Jeff, was 6. Jeff tried to ride the pony most every day, but it would buck and bounce and try to throw him off. It was really a mean-spirited animal; it wasn't uncommon for him to take a nip or two at the kids with his teeth, and he'd step on us on purpose.
(I may have made up that part. At this point in my life, I'm not always sure what's real and what's not. I do know that damn pony was mean.)
One Sunday, after Jeff jumped on it's back, the pony started thrashing around. Dad, witnessing this happen from several yards away, ran to help , arriving just as Jeff hit the ground with a thud. A really big thud!
Without pausing, my Dad hit that pony in the mouth with his fist as hard as I've seen anything get hit. Ever. A straight fist to the teeth. The pony immediately dropped to the ground. My Dad checked on Jeff to make sure he was OK, then tied up the pony. It was gone the next day.
My Dad was my hero for a long time after that.