Wednesday, January 18, 2012

His Name Is No Go

     As a kid, I had a dog named Andy. He was a medium-sized wire-haired terrier/mutt mix, and he was a fixture in our house until I was about seventeen years old. We got him on Valentine's Day in 1966 when we were still living in Cincinnati. My Aunt Lynda brought him to us in her yellow Mustang, and to our surprise and delight, Andy immediately inaugurated our living room by peeing under the piano bench. Although he was smart, Andy wasn't a great follower of commands. He knew how to sit, and that was about the extent of his repertoire of tricks. He did redeem himself as a watchdog, barking without fail to alert us that someone was at the door. I don't recall him ever biting anyone. Overall, he was a good natured dog, who was tolerant of having his tail pulled and being ridden like a horse by us kids. Andy had a special relationship with my grandmother, Babcia (BAB-cha). He sat with his chin on her knee when we were at the dinner table, where she'd discreetly attempt to feed him the majority of whatever was on her plate. I'm not sure what compelled her to do this, but Mom seems to feel it was related to her ill-fitting dentures: they made it hard for her to chew her meat. Andy was more than happy to serve as Babcia's garbage disposal. This Babcia-Andy cooperative alliance drove my mother nuts. Mom would motion to Dad, who would kindly ask his mother, in Polish, to stop feeding Andy under the table. Babcia, who didn't speak English, would feign ignorance, denying that she was feeding him, acting as if she had no idea what Mom and Dad were talking about.
     We moved to Osawatomie, Kansas in 1970, and our new neighborhood was pure heaven for us and for Andy. We lived in a small staff cottage, just across the street from the state psychiatric hospital where both my parents worked. Most of the cottages were arranged in circular fashion around a large loop, which was located just off the main road. We lived on the far side of the loop, and our backyard was a huge open field, distantly bordered on the left by a small pond that we'd ice skate on in the winter and near which Mr. Sedriks kept his beehives, as well as some farm acreage and a creepy old cemetery where the dead mental patients were buried about a half mile off to the right. Our neighbors were families from all over the world: Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, Turkey, the Phillipines, Greece, the Dominican Republic, Latvia and Poland. Best of all, there was an endless supply of kids for us to play with. Like most children who grew up in small towns in the early 70s, we could ride our bikes to the main square, about a mile or so from the hospital grounds, and spend the entire afternoon away from home without our parents worrying about us. People seemed to look out for each other's kids back then. If Mom gave my sister, Emi, and me each a dollar, it would buy us cherry cokes at Meek's Drug Store, an ice cream cone at Tastee-Freez, and maybe some two-penny candy for the ride home.
     In the summer of 1973, Andy befriended a sweet, creamy-yellow female dog that we came to know as Honey. Our entire family fell in love with her; she was so gentle. Honey and Andy were inseparable, and several months later, we discovered she was pregnant. The experience of watching Andy and Honey's puppies being born was indescribable--how did Honey know what to do? As soon as one puppy popped out, she'd chew off the placental sac and umbilical cord, licking the tiny newborn to stimulate him or her to breathe, and then nudge it toward her teat. I was ten years old and found the birth process fascinating, even more so than a human baby being born. After all, I had a little sister and two younger brothers...been there, done that. Finally, Honey's sixth and last puppy emerged, but this one wasn't breathing. She licked and nudged him, trying to get him to breathe, but she wasn't able to revive him. He was stillborn. Emi and I tended to Honey and her other puppies, while Mom and my four year old brother, Adam, engaged in the task of burying the poor lifeless puppy. Mom dug a hole under a tree in the backyard, and as she placed the puppy in its grave, she said to Adam, "This puppy should have a name, don't you think?" Adam turned to her, his hazel eyes wide, and matter-of-factly replied, "His name is No Go."
     Watching Honey feed her puppies was a curious sight. Our own mom could only breastfeed one baby at a time, but Honey could nurse five puppies at once! I don't remember all of the names we gave the puppies, but there was a boy named Ringo and a girl named Sylvia. I have no idea why we chose the name Sylvia for the girl, but Ringo was easy--we liked the Beatles, and Ringo had a white ring around his neck. The puppies grew strong and fast, and much to our dismay, Mom informed us that we couldn't keep any of them. Ringo ended up going to the Basits, an Indian family who lived downtown. Our parents were very close friends, and my sister, brothers, and I spent many hours hanging out at their house, playing Clue with their kids, Alia, Haris, and Tahlu. It was heart-wrenching to give Ringo away, but we knew he would be loved by them. Sylvia was sought after by the Garcias, a Cuban family who lived two doors down and across the street from us. There were three Garcia sisters, Cira, Carmen, and Josefina, and most of the time, Emi and I got along just fine with them. Somehow, the whole puppy thing brought out the worst in us, and when those girls set their sights on Sylvia, we declared war.
    As a medical student in post-WWII Edinburgh, Scotland, my father had been a fencing champion. He kept his foils, épées, and masks displayed on hooks in our garage, and sometimes, Emi and I would play-fight with them. The foils weren't sharp, but they certainly did look intimidating. Tensions regarding the puppy situation between the Garcia girls and us had quickly come to a head. They knew we didn't want to give Sylvia away. They also knew that Mom wasn't going to let us keep any of the puppies, and they couldn't seem to resist capitalizing on our deep sense of loss. It was a real canine Catch-22. As the puppies started to wean, Emi and I began feeling desperate. We couldn't allow those mean Garcia girls to get Sylvia! I knew exactly what to do. I went out to the garage, took down one of Dad's foils, along with a mask, and proceeded down the street to the Garcia's house. I strode up to the front porch and rang the doorbell. Cira answered the door and snarled when she saw me in my fencing gear; she sort of reminded me of a bull in the ring, about to engage in a death match with her matador. I stood outside the glass storm door, taunting her with my sword. No words were spoken, but we both knew this fight was about Sylvia, and neither of us was backing down. After a couple of minutes, Cira became so enraged that she put her fist through that glass door, cutting her forearm and hand pretty severely. I'm still not sure why she didn't just open the door to confront me instead. The Garcia girls eventually got Sylvia. Shortly after the puppies were given new homes, Honey was struck by a car and killed. The next summer, Andy and my family moved to Georgia.
     My brother, Adam, is in jail right now, for violation of his parole. He served time in state prison a decade ago for possession of narcotics. I was in medical school at the time, and my boys and I went to visit him once or twice with Mom and Dad when he was in Jackson. The only times I've seen my father cry were when Babcia died and Adam went to prison. Dad loved the story of the prodigal son, and I remember him telling us that he'd die a happy man if he could see me graduate from medical school and welcome Adam home from jail. I'm happy to say that Dad got his wish. Like Honey, Adam is a gentle, sweet-natured soul, but he is tormented by the demons of poor judgment and instant gratification. Our relationship has deteriorated over the years, and I don't see him very often. I wish I knew how to help him. He has a beautiful, smart, inquisitive four year old daughter whom he adores; she dazzles brightly amidst his darkness, and boy, does she love her daddy. Adam has hazel eyes, just like my father's, only his speak quietly of lost innocence, pain, and regret. I can only hope he hasn't completely lost touch with the spontaneous poignance of childhood he once knew, that place of uncompromising compassion where even puppies who don't make it still deserve a name, a perfect name like No Go.
Me and Adam, reunited on December 17, 2012. He was also reunited with his daughter, Jerney, earlier that afternoon.

17 comments:

  1. That's a beautifully flowing piece of composition. Hats off, Helena.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Antara! I remember it all like it happened yesterday.

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  2. Kris, another beautifully written and moving post. Wonderfully descriptive and evocative. Wishing Adam much joy and peace in the days ahead.

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    1. Thanks so much, Marty. What a difference a year has made in our lives.

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  3. The prodigal son story is one of my favourites too - it has so many dimensions: the son in a sorry state, the narrow, judgemental brother, and the father who defied all the dignity protocols of the time and sprinted towards the son he thought he had lost.

    We're all screw ups, and if we perhaps remember that more, perhaps this world might be more grace-ful.

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    1. Robert, I think it's a beautiful story, too. Just like squeaky wheels, children need to be lubricated by love sometimes. And, I couldn't agree more that if we all accepted ourselves and our own fallibility, we'd be a lot more forgiving and compassionate toward one another.

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  4. Now that was lovely. I also appreciate the fact that your family haven't given up on your brother.

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    1. I appreciate that, DTJ! My family is definitely well-tempered with unconditional love .

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  5. Now that was lovely, full of lots of little snapshots of your life.

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  6. Helen, your story touched me very deeply. It's very sweet, and yet very sad, and I can relate in more ways than you might imagine. I'm an ex-con and my sister is my very best friend. I've found my own way to a better life, and your brother will have to find his own way as well. Just don't give up on him, that's the best help you can give him. I don't usually plug my own blog on other people's pages, but I recently wrote a piece you might like to read. It's titled "Proceed With Caution" If you do read it, I'd love to hear what you think. Every dog definitely deserves a name... Thank you for sharing this piece of your story, it's beautiful.

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  7. Ohh how perfect the name No Go truly was. I so enjoy hearing stories from your past. They always engulf me and take me there. I can totally see you in your fencing attire prepared to dual to the death :) It is also wonderful to hear that your brother will be home for the holidays. What a great thing for you and his family.

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  8. It seems that maybe my comment did not post correctly, so I apologize if this is a duplicate. I just loved the post...I always enjoy hearing stories from your childhood. It sounds like you had a wonderful life surrounded by friends and always being entertained! I would love to see a photo of you in your fencing attire!!! Glad to hear that your brother will be home during the holidays, as I am sure you and his family are as well.

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  9. I'm so happy that your Dad got his wish. My wish is that we could all stay in touch with that "place of uncompromising compassion." Happy holidays! I hope 2013 turns out to be a special turning point for your brother.

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  10. Beautiful piece. I really enjoyed reading it :-)

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  11. Helena, for a while I was totally lost to the worlds of your household, Babcia-Andy cooperative alliance, the cottage at the circular settlement at Kansas, Honey and the pups, interment of No Go, your attempt to scare the Gracias and your troubled brother. It is a bitter-sweet story that twinged and tickled my heart. The vivid, wistful narration will bring me back to this page.

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