My Best Friend Forever
He appeared in my life when he was a black-and-white butterball, only 12-weeks-old. Today he reached 12-years-old.
That distant October Saturday I sat on the porch of the old farmhouse at Ninth and North Market; my wife at the time was loading antiques to go to a store in Richmond, VA. Hauling alongside Sharon were a fellow dealer named Perry and the oldest of my Russian “children,” Dr. Dmitri Kuprash. The Moscow State University molecular biologist scientist’s presence that weekend had much to do with how the baby English pointer got his name.
My now ex-wife had put together a power-packed party for my 70th birthday, which yawned the following dawn. A passel of politicians were due and assorted VIPs, including good friend George Delaplaine, my publisher; I still wrote a column for his Frederick News-Post. Also invited were several colleagues from the newspaper.
While furniture and knick-knacks passed by my rocker, I spied this seemingly odd couple: he was very unkempt young and she very pregnant. Between them walked this baby dog on a metal leash. The expectant mother obviously enjoyed her pet. Ever slow to jump, I watched them cross behind the hedge that was high enough to keep motorists’ eyes out of our front porch goings-on. They had passed the gate before I jumped up and walked quickly down the front sidewalk.
“What a cute puppy!” I said.
The boy swiveled on his feet in my direction: “Want to buy him? He’s got papers. $100.” The girl looked on, studying my face.
By strictly chance, my wallet contained a bill with Ben Franklin’s face. When examined, the “papers” turned out to be a vaccination record for “Freckles,” the two-syllable name was important because while suitable for the roly-poly critter on the sidewalk, it would not do for his dignity while maturing into an a grown dog.
In the middle of her moving, I approached Sharon and indicated I was more than simply interested in buying him. Later she said my face looked like an 8-year-old boy’s; never mind the exact words she thought. I asked if I could keep the pup in a higher voice than my age-ripened tones. Her reply ran along the lines: I should take him into the brick patio out back and if he had no accident on the way and Boomer and Sweetwater, our other dogs, didn’t attack him, we could talk about it. Nothing happened. The boy pocketed the Ben Franklin while the girl became teary eyed.
Subsequently my ex-wife also related she had scoured the city looking for a birthday present that would not be forgotten, grown out of or thrown away. The black-and-white butterball appearing was, she said, the exultant answer. Opening her store, Lady on Skates, the following day, she gave a customer a big discount, more than he expected, because he had a crispy $100 bill that wound up tucked in a card.
Christening the new dog came a cropper. Dima, yclept Dmitri, suggested the puppy should be called by another diminutive for his name: Mitya proved awkward for Sharon’s Hoosier tongue. She tried and gave up in desperation. Then I stepped forward: proclaiming he would be named Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin. The greatest Russian poet was also black-and-white by heritage; grandfather Hannibal was seized in Abyssinia – today’s Ethiopia – and given as a boy toy to Tsar Peter the Great; he grew up to come a major-general in the Russian army and married a noble lady. The poet was proud of his African ancestry. To his Negritude he attributed his sexual attraction for women. In any event, he died in a duel over another lady, not his wife. (I learned about him when Stephen James, Duke Ellington’s nephew, set out to co-write a musical about Pushkin’s life.)
The first nights in the house the English pointer cried; for my birthday, son Roy Meachum hugged him on the back porch. For at least a year Pushkin slept on my lap while I read the morning papers. We took afternoon naps together, even after he peed in bed at the Chincoteague house. Of course I did not wake him. When we got up, I threw the sheets over the rail of the balcony overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway that flows along the Atlantic Ocean as far as the Gulf of Mexico.
During the years’ many upheavals, including Sharon’s move to the Eastern Shore, taking “her” Sweetwater and Boomer, Pushkin has been my joy and delight and, most of all, my teacher in what the world calls “man’s best friend.”
Pushkin and I grew older together; we both take pills and acupuncture for arthritis. This week’s 106 degree days, for all the liquids we both drank, there was frazzling of both strength and temperaments. We did not yell or try to bite each other. Simply put, we remained one another’s best friend.
Most of all, I fear what can I possibly do without the English pointer, my shadow who moves when I move or at least cocks his eyebrows up and down.
My friends have heard Pushkin and I have a solemn contract not to die before the other guy. God willing, that’s how things work out. Insha’allah.