Candy

Her name was Candy. She was a female pup. Our adoption of her was probably not the fate of most female pups, unfortunately. Female pups often get the shaft, I think.

The name almost seems to have come out of the air, but not quite: a song that was out back then about "Candy" had it seemed to fit. I confess I can't remember why now.

I guess I was about 12 years old when we got her. We lived in Batesville, Arkansas, on the outskirts of town, although I 've noticed recently that the house we lived in then is no longer on the outskirts.

Anyway, Candy proved to be an intelligent animal, let me tell you. Candy, unlike most dogs, could talk; well, not literally, but almost so. Maybe you know what I'm referring to: it was a long or drawn out bark, almost a purr. As time went by, she got better at it. I really do think she could almost communicate with us. She seemed to understand what we said sometimes and to respond in her weird "talking."

She learned to beg for food at table at mealtime as household dogs often do. But for her, begging was almost panhandling. Sitting on the floor next to my father's chair at breakfast, she would rise to two legs at my father's cue, an upraised hand with a piece of bacon in it. Then Dad would say, "Candy, tell us if you are hungry." To which she would reply, "RRRReee." This was the thing people referred to as ''talking."

As a puppy, when we'd noticed how long her ears were compared to the rest of her, she hadn't seemed very interested in breaking up fights. But by the time I was a teenager, she had improved dramatically in that area. No fight went un-refereed by Candy by this time. If any of the kids in our multi-kid neighborhood attacked another one, Candy would step in, like a UN contingent, to monitor things.

Once, when I was about 17, my youngest sister took her to school, to display her talking talents to the world. People were amazed. Apparently, talking dogs are not all that common in some people's lives!

Actually, a lot of the kids already knew Candy, so we had to keep her away from the schoolyard. She'd follow the kids all the way into the building, into class, "talking" all the way. The teachers, who were amused but not that amused, eventually mentioned it to my parents. From then on, they had to keep her inside the house until well after all the schools in the area were in for the day

Once past the initial morning rush, she seemed to handle staying away from the school. Until, of course, the end of the school day, when she "spoke" to every kid who passed by, tail wagging intensely in a circle. (I have since seen other dogs with tails wagging in a circle instead of the standard back and forth pattern. This apparently expresses extreme excitement.) We finally had to restrain her then, too. She was just too friendly for her own good.

I've only met one other dog that I clearly recall talking the way Candy could. It was an apparently stray, beautiful collie that came ambling into our neighborhood one day. We kids in the neighborhood soon named him Rusty, in matching his rust and white coat.

Rusty looked like Lassie: same color and size. He wasn't our dog. We didn't know whose dog he was. It seems as if there may have been something about his being a neighbor's dog until they moved away and he was left behind. I really can't remember that very well. This gets foggy in your mind after awhile.

In any case, soon Rusty took up with Candy and they would walk down the street together, "talking" to each other, the children and whatever adults happened to be around. It was quite a scene. I sometimes have wondered why we had so many talking dogs in our small area. Perhaps it was another case of similar things being "filed" together.

Of course, Candy died eventually. She had taken to raiding area chickenhouses and had been struck on the spine by a chicken farm employee, the best we can put together. The blow produced a tumor-like knot on her spine and she began to have agonizing seizures for which the vet could offer no relief. We had to have her put to sleep. My late brother Tim took her to the pound on the vet's recommendation.

Tim told me later that, as he drove her to the pound, Candy seemed to know that she was going to die. Perhaps she was precognitive. Or perhaps she'd learned to understand our speech well enough by that point to get the "gist" of what we were going to do to her. For his part, told me repeatedly over the next few years that he'd had trouble getting over being the person who'd taken Candy to her death.

Tim himself died this past year, at only 41 years old. I guess he'd have wanted me to spend as much time writing about his life as I have about Candy's and I've vowed to do that. Hopefully, our lives together will be addressed in this book.

At times, my emotions about Tim and those years together that encompassed Candy and other incidents seem to freeze up. Only now, as I again remember that my brother recently died, do I also recall that I've been grieving and frequently crying for him. The loss seems to sink in only slowly. At my mother's mother's funeral, I couldn't even cry right away. It was as if I'd gone into shock or something. It could be that I need time for all of this grief and loss to register.

For the time being, I can say that having two talking dogs in one neighborhood was something the average kid probably doesn't experience.

What happened to Rusty, I don't recall too well. I believe there was something about his being hit by a car, or being found dead by the side of the road.

I guess the main thing that comes back to me about that period of time is about some of the "neat stuff" that went on all around these events. I've also become aware in recent years of a level of activity, an undercurrent, that was going on beneath the surface events. You know, man was walking on the moon, but mostly these were things that were closer to home, some of them things that aren't around anymore. Studebakers. Grapette. Cheap gasoline. Little Black Boxes. Those first Japanese-made transistor radios. Drive-in theatres. Believable flying saucer photographs. Hordes of small, family-owned businesses. Fresh-water ponds that are now stinkholes.

How much of this I would actually want to still be around is unclear. Maybe it's the realization that so much has changed that is the real memory. That in turn brings up the question of how much of the past would really be nice to still have around. Part of you hangs onto the past, but part of you knows it's better that much of it is gone.

This also probably puts one's mind onto a line of thinking that incorporates the city versus small town debate as to where it's best to raise a child. Small town America has its good and bad points. I guess from the standpoint of a kid growing up, it's probably nice in a lot of ways. But there is also a lot that is missing. A city probably gives a kid a lot of good things, especially educationally or medically, since cities have libraries and hospitals and universities and buses.

It would be a bit much to say that Candy was a country dog. She sometimes chased rabbits, to our dismay, getting covered in mud and cockle burrs in the process. But she was terrified of large flies and many birds, and, as I recall, a coiled snake was as much a source of horror to her as to me.

However, it may be that dogs like Candy don't come up in cities. I have since heard some secondhand stories of dogs that could talk. I don't believe they were, any of them, city dogs, so maybe small-town dogs "talk" better than city dogs. The whole concept is goofy. But apparently these things do happen.

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