It became a bit of a joke. Whenever my father and cousin, Sidney, would talk for any length of time, they had to talk about dead dogs.
There was Simon and Rupert, and Mitzy. And many more but they were before my time. All dead and buried, here and there, under an apple tree, behind the barn.
Some died tragically. Backed-over in a driveway or shot by a farmer for chasing sheep.
These dogs, I would come to understand, marked time like rings in a tree or sedimentary layers at Olduvai.
Our first dog was Lucy.
I brought her back from the pound one spring afternoon. Catherine came back from work all in her power suit and there I was, a scruffy graduate student all beards and t-shirts with a big, brown Great Dane sitting on my lap and an even bigger grin on my face.
"It's Lucy," I said.
She'd always said she wanted a Great Dane named Lucy. It's a Grateful Dead song. Loose Lucy was a friend of mine...
She was impossibly thin. Supermodel thin. And tall, so tall that her too-long legs would tangle and she would fall, wailing like a toddler with a skinned knee.
We fed her but it was useless. She seemed to hate food. Put a plate of food in front of any other dog and it was gone before a minute was up and a drooly, kibble-encrusted muzzle was looking up at you for more. But a fly's passing could eclipse Lucy's interest in food. The phone could ring and that was that. Lucy would lift her head and leave her bowl.
But if she wasn't supposed to eat it, it was as good as gone. The London Broil at Christmas? Gone! Thanksgiving Turkey? Lucy had that sucker down and out the dog door before anybody realized what had happened. Bowl of Raisin Bran? Lucy ate that too and you can only imagine the effect breakfast cereal with raisins can have on a dog that size.
In the end, it might have given her a few more years. Big dogs like Lucy don't tend to live long. I think it's their hearts. They just give out. But Lucy lived a long time. Over eleven years.
We have started on a new era.
It had been a few months since the vet had come to put Lucy down. It was nice, really. Peaceful. A lot tougher than I had expected it would be, though. I buried her in a huge hole where the other pets have been buried. My mother's old Springer Spaniel, Brenda, is buried up there. And a couple of cats. And a chicken, too.
At the end of the summer, we got a call that some friends of ours had found a stray Springer Spaniel. Would we like him?
And a new dog era begins.