I was walking to work two weeks ago when a large golden lab came up from a side street and challenged me with a “Woof!” I said, “Hey, Bud,” and he pressed his face against my leg so I could scratch behind his ears. His eyes closed, his tail swayed, and I got a lot out of it, too. His owner, strolling behind him with the leash hung around his neck, smiled.
“Labs are great dogs,” I said, and he replied, “The best.”
I had to move on, but for the rest of my walk, I thought about King, my father’s Labrador. I’d written something about him in 1963 or so, but couldn’t recall just exactly what it was until I leafed through the archives.
And there it was:
My Daddy’s Dog
He is pure of blood.
He is regal.
He is noble in appearance.
He is majestic in stance.
He is as wise as a thousand scholars.
He is called King.
He walks into walls.
He slobbers his food.
He is afraid of bicycles.
He is a dull oaf.
He is called King.
So we should have his name changed?
King was supposed to assist my father in duck hunting, but mostly he was a dog. Mom wouldn’t let him in the house, so he lived in a house out back, with a run of his own. During thunderstorms, he received a hall pass.
He ate dinner in the basement, a stainless steel bowl of kibble and table scraps with some hot water. His tags rang on the edge of the bowl as he wolfed down his meal. He ate everything but green peas. On nights we had green peas, I would find twenty or thirty of them at the bottom of his bowl, both the bowl and the peas licked clean. I still don’t know how he filtered them out, what delicate magic occurred inside his mouth.
I used to walk King. I remember his leather leash, his collar, his ability to heel, and come, and sit, and stay. He was a prince, if not a real king. I wish now that I’d gotten to know him better, as well as I knew Clete or know Gus. But King was a mystery in many ways, and I was not much of a detective then.
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Photo: King being watchful while my niece, Tamara, watches a kite being flown across the street by her father, circa 1968