Her full name was Cleopatra, because except for the white fur on her feet and a tuft of white in the middle of her chest, her coat was jet black. Cleo was your classic kid loving mongrel dog. She was (you'll have to forgive my prejudiced view on the matter, but she was after all my dog) the best dog on the face of the planet and hands down the best dog that ever lived. She was my best friend in the world. Cleo was a mixed breed, a Heinz 57 variety dog with a lot of Collie blood in her.
To say that Cleo belonged to my family would be inaccurate. we belonged to her. My brother and two sisters and I adored that dog and just like Lassie on TV, she would have fought for and died for any one of us kids. On one occasion, she really did fight for me.
One time one of the kids in the neighborhood, a bully, was giving me a really hard time just down the block. Cleo came around the corner just in time to see it all go down. She looked up at my face, then she looked at the bully, then back to me and back to the bully once again. By this time all you could see the whites of her eyes and most if not all of her teeth. Cleo knew exactly what was going on and was having none of it. Cleo must have chased that kid for at least two blocks with Cleo snapping his ass all the way.
A short while later, Cleo came back to check on me and sniffed me all over to make sure I was all right. I saw that she had a long thread of the bully's blue jeans wrapped around one of her precious little fangs and hanging out of her mouth. I was so utterly .touched, there were tears in my eyes. No human being had ever done anything remotely like that on my behalf. Cleo...what a wonderful dog!
My dad took issue with my good dog Cleo because he thought she was a canine slut after she gave birth to some puppies, she was always going into heat and getting pregnant. Why dad never took her to the vet to get her fixed was beyond me, and for him to judge my good dog in terms of human sexual values was also beyond me.
Cleo was a female dog and it's a fact of life that female dogs go into heat and have puppies and they can't help that, even a little kid knows that. But dad thought Cleo was a little canine round heels bimbo and he was always giving her dirty looks and inferring that indirectly and it really pissed me off sometimes.
Well, Cleo had her very first litter, and we had a nice little box with a blanket for her and the puppies down in the basement. There were seven puppies, but four of them died one after the other. As I or my sister took them away to be buried (four sad little graves with Popsicle stick and scotch tape crosses in back by the garage) Cleo would look up at us with her liquid brown eyes and tell us without saying a word to be gentle, be gentle with my little lost ones.
In March of 1966, my dad was offered a much better position as a technical service rep by the 3M company in Minnesota and the next thing you know, it was time to say goodbye to Peoria and Kenwood Avenue. Dad had bought a house in White Bear Lake Minnesota and it was time to move. Dad made the announcement that we were going to move and handed me this made up sounding story that Cleo was sick and would have to be left behind, but don't worry because he found a good home for her at a local farm and she should be perfectly happy there and blah blah blah. Bullshit. There wasn't a thing wrong with her and we both knew it. Cleo was frisky and fine thank you very much, but dad would not entertain any discussion on the matter. Cleo was taken away and when the packing was complete, we moved to Minnesota.
I'd like to think that Cleo did live the remainder of her life (she was only 3 years old when we moved) happily on a farm someplace, but way down deep inside I knew that dad was lying about Cleo's ultimate disposition. Cleo who would let me use her as a pillow while I lay on the couch watching Captain Jinks and Salty Sam on TV and all the while licking me in my ear. Cleo who had once fought a battle for me. Cleo...
As we were leaving Peoria for good I held out faint hope that dad wasn't lying about what was going to happen to Cleo.
WELCOME TO MINNESOTA
As we were headed north in the car and as the hours passed on the highway, I couldn't help but notice the weather getting cooler and cooler, like some kind of omen of things to come. In Peoria, things were just starting to turn green again and spring was just settling in. There were still half melted snow drifts all over the place when we got to our new house in Minnesota. Big ones. I found this depressing.
Then, about a week after we had settled in I got the surprise of my life, and not a pleasant one, we were hit with a classic late March Minnesota eye-blinding blizzard. We got a foot and a half of snow dumped on us and the temprature dropped down to well below zero. I couldn't believe my fucking eyes! Welcome to Minnesota!
The Minnesota weatherman was on the goddamned TV that evening, grinning like a brain-dead mongoloid and cheerfully predicting more snow and sub zero temperatures for the next couple of days. I could have cheerfully reached through the television screen and strangled him, cutting off that stupid Minnesota accent of his in mid-spiel.
That accent was another thing that was quickly getting old as far as I was concerned. The horrible Minnesota weather was one thing, but that Minnesota accent everybody had up here was just the icing on the whole fucking cake. Years later, when the movie Fargo came out, and I saw the pinched looks on the faces of all the little Minnesotans in the theater and watched them squirming in their seats, well after all those years I felt vindicated...well, hokay den pie yimminy (yes!)
Time passed, and we were all missing Cleo, my father maybe not so much, but I was missing her terribly. Dad decided to get us a new puppy, a smaller breed more to his tastes and perhaps easier to manage. Enter Cedric the dachshund.
Cedric, I have to admit, was cute when we first got him. He did all kinds of cute puppy stuff, tripped over his own floppy ears trying to run fast, falling over while trying to learn how to sit up, running around in circles and barking out, “yap yap yap” after a treat, that kind of thing. But when he was eight months old and almost grown, .that's when the first signs of incipient mental illness began to manifest itself in old Cedric.
Once while we were having dinner, Cedric decided to jump up onto a chair, and then on to the dinner table to help himself to some meat loaf as if he had every right in the world to be there. We were all sitting there stupid with shock, as Cedric also decided that the mashed potatoes were also to his taste and had his muzzle buried in them. That’s when my father and I both swung on the dog at the same time.
The dog, the string beans and the mashed potatoes all hit the floor on the other side of the kitchen, and Cedric came up off his back ready for a fight. You could see the whites of his eyes, his tail stuck straight out and all the fur in that dark brown stripe running down his back stood straight up as we all heard Cedric's patented “Oh, no you .did not...” growl for the first time (it became one of Cedric's trademark growls as time passed)
There were mashed potatoes dripping from his jaws and Cedric looked positively rabid. Cedric, still growling his weirdly almost human growl looked up to my mother for support and got it. My mother saw that damn dog as 'Her wittle baaaaybe” and she picked the dog up and began to coo at it and tenderly wipe the mashed potatoes off his nasty little face. The dog looked back over it's shoulder at the rest of us and gave us another of his trademark looks, the patented “See, somebody around here understands me” look and began to lick her face. Throughout his life, Cedric kept getting these mixed signals between Mom and the rest of us and as a result, he became impossible to discipline. Stern, authoritarian father, laxly approving mother.
As the years went by, Cedric just got stranger and meaner and harder to discipline. I suppose someone should have made a dog training video about our family showing how not to train a dog. Cedric was never completely housebroken. Once my family and I went out for a few hours and when we came back home, Cedric was sitting right in the middle of the living room rug right next to a nice, big dog turd. Cedric himself was looking up at us like a little brown fuzzy Alfred E Neuman. “What? Me worry” was written all over his face. Dad decided a little discipline was in order. Dad called us all out to the front yard and lined us up like the Von Trapp family singers to witness the dogs discipline under a half grown sour apple tree to witness the disgracing of the dog. He picked up a branch that had blown down from a nearby tree that had blown off during a thunderstorm the night before and approached Cedric like a Prussian officer.
Dad swung the branch at the dog once and only once. Cedric went completely batshit crazy and began chasing my Dad around the sour apple tree. Cedric was snapping at Dad's ankles as he chased him around the tree, and my dad was doing this drunken looking goose step trying to get away from him. Dad had this weird thing he did with his tongue when he was really mad, he'd curl up his tongue and bite on it with his front teeth, ( I'd come to think of it as his hitting look) and he was doing that now as Cedric was baying and snapping at his ankles. Dad’s face was all purple and he was still biting his tongue as he tried to climb the small sour apple tree and wound up hanging from a low branch that was too small to bear his 190 pound frame. That branch slipped lower and lower with dad hanging off it while the dog was boinking up and down on it's stubby little legs like a homicidal Johnsonville bratwurst with fangs trying its best to bite my dad's ass. And the look on my dad's face was sheer terror.
Cedric circled the tree a few more times, growling at my dad, then he calmed down and sat down and regained that Alfred E Neuman look on his doggy face, as dad climbed down out of the tree.
Cedric could be a real nuisance sometimes, and some of the jokes I played on him made him worse I suppose. Once I was vacuuming out the stairwell with a portable vacuum cleaner, and Cedric was going berserk attempting to bite the cleaner because he hated the noise it made. I got pissed and waved the vacuum hose in Cedric's face, driving the dog into a psychotic frenzy.Then I turned the vacuum off, and said; “Dead snake Ceddie...DEAD SNAKE!”
Cedric circled the vacuum hose, poked it and sniffed it and then stuck his muzzle into the end of the hose. I turned the vacuum back on. Cedric's eyes bulged, his tail stuck straight out and he shot straight into the air with all his fur standing out and his tongue flapping a raspberry inside of the vacuum hose. I turned the vacuum off and Cedric had a complete psychotic break.down. He was so mad he forgot how to bark properly, he was baying at the vacuum as he tried to bite through the vacuum's side and pull its guts out.
“What the hell's that racket down there?” my mom yelled from upstairs, but I couldn't answer. I was laughing hysterically and gasping for air in between the laughter.
A few years later while I was in the Army, I'd get stories about Cedric in the mail from time to time from my family. Once a neighborhood kid tried to pet Cedric and Cedric gave the kid six stitches in his cheek. Mom was close to having him put down, but mom paid for the kid's doctor bills and the kid's folks decided not to sue. Finally, as Cedric began to age, he developed severe back pain and couldn't walk and mom finally did have him put down. Cedric was replaced with another dachshund named Schotsie. That one turned out to be relatively normal, but my general distaste for dachshunds remains to this day.
I never completely got over losing my Cleo though, I never stopped loving her.
Sometimes, every once in a great while I dream of her. It's a recurring dream.
In the dream I've just died, and I'm standing outside of my body, looking down at myself and wondering what the hell I'm going to do next. Then I hear her barking, my Cleo, and I see her off in the distance in a summer field, a summer field somewhere near Peoria. She's running in circles and barking and she wants me to follow, and I do. The look on her face tells me that whatever it is she wants to show me is really great, and I should really hurry up and come take a look. It's just over there, over the next rise...just a little further...