It’s come to my attention recently that my family harbors a shameful and embarrassing secret. 2 Big burly men deathly afraid of a widdle pet bull.
I have a large family on my mother’s side; but not a particularly close family. I wouldn’t say estranged so much as just plain busy – in other words, lovely to see everyone at weddings and funerals.
My mother however maintains at least phone contact with her siblings, which is how I end up staying in the loop with regard to family gossip.
My immediate family; defined as the people (family and friends) that I am close to and actually do see on a regular basis; are all fairly sane individuals. When we decided to get Veronica and brought home the cutest, wiggliest puppy you ever saw; they reacted as expected…they grabbed her and raspberried her tummy. And that was the end of that…or the beginning of that actually.
But elsewhere in the family, unbeknownst to me; high drama was brewing. And I hate to say it…but leave it to the big, strapping, burly men to be the most histrionic.
To prove my point; let me tell you about my aunt Ellie. Ellie is an anxious woman, a bit afraid of her own shadow, given to popping xanax like tic tacs. Ellie made no bones about being afraid of Veronica. And you couldn’t be mad at her for it. She wasn’t insulting about it, she was just stating a fact; “I’m afraid to fly, I’m afraid to bungee jump, I’m afraid your dog will eat me”. Which is fine because it’s not like she was ever going to see my dog…right?
Well, not quite. There I was one Friday afternoon tooling around with Veronica and her Grammy, running errands; when Veronica’s Grammy (who insists upon driving; “as long as she still can” quote, unquote) says, “I’m going to stop by Ellie’s. I want her to see Veronica”. Veronica’s Grammy is a very proud Grammy; and everyone she knows is going to get with the program, “or else”. I myself am just an innocent bystander. The next thing I know she’s pulling out her cell phone and saying “Hi! So I’m outside of your house…”. To Ellie’s credit, while she was looking at Veronica the way one would look at a pet tiger on a thin leash; she insisted we come sit in the yard and visit. She kept casting sideways glances at Veronica, and after about 5 minutes she concluded that she “looked like a dog”(not to boast but obviously very high IQs run in my family). Which then led her to conclude that I should take Veronica off leash and let her sniff about since her yard was fenced. She made it a point to double check the gates and tell me it was perfectly safe for her, so Veronica got off leash and sniffed about. Ellie kept casting sideways glances at her. “Her tongue is out” she said. “It’s hot, she probably needs a drink”. The next thing we know out of the house comes Ellie with a bowl and a bottle of water. “This will be Veronica’s bowl”, she declares. I’ll leave it in the shed for when you visit, so now you have to come to visit more often. Ellie poured the water and Veronica obliged. Veronica caught Ellie’s eye. She wiggled her butt. She laid down and crawled over to get closer. “She looks so…sweet” said Ellie…and the next thing you know she’s petting Veronica and Veronica is licking her…and Ellie is closer than she ever imagined she’d be to a killer pit bull. And that illustrates the ability of women to see clearly what is in front of their nose.
Not so with the big, burly men. Grammy has 2 brothers. Both of them close to 6 feet, 200 pounds. My Uncle John we call Grizzly Adams; because he looks like Grizzly Adams, and he lives in the middle of nowhere and is an avid hunter. I’ve been to his home once, and couldn’t find a place to sit where I wasn’t being stared at by something huge and dead and hung on his wall. “The house of death”, I call it. And by my reasoning, anyone that actually sleeps in the house of death should NOT be afraid of a 55 pound dog. He met Veronica once when she was 6 months old. She was dog friendly then and she wanted to play with his Lab. Veronica was on leash and his Moey wasn’t. Veronica got Moey wound up and he ran around like a bat out of hell. My uncle had “never seen Moey do anything like that before”. Therefore “Moey must have sensed something in Veronica that freaked him out. Must have sensed a threat”. I shit you not. Sensed a threat in a 6 month old baby dog…on a leash.
This all comes out well after the fact; because Grizzly does not initially admit to being afraid of Veronica. Veronica’s Grammy dutifully invites her brother to visit us. They keep planning for Grizzly to visit with his dog Moey and that we will all take a walk together as Grizzly never gets to our neck of the woods and wants to check out some local landmarks. Except that every time they make plans, Grizzly cancels at the last minute. I learned my lesson after the first time. Having at least a few social graces I like to be prepared for company coming, since it comes so rarely. So the first time I actually thought Grizzly and family and dog were coming…I got cheese & crackers, chips & dips, a sandwich platter & salads and pastry. They canceled the morning of. Grammy and Grizzly made several more plans, to which I had determined that I had plenty of treats for Moey and they were up shit’s creek and could eat my Fiber One Granola bars if they were hungry. But it was a moot point because every plan they made, they canceled.
It finally came out that my 6 foot, 200 pound uncle, with a penchant for killing large animals was afraid that my pit bull would kill his lab, while on a leash, in the middle of an outdoor shopping district. Despite knowing that Veronica goes to training classes 1 to 2 times a week with other dogs, to pet stores, to art festivals…and that she was not even going to be allowed to interact with his dog. I mean forgetting the insult that he apparently thinks I can’t control my own dog…what is he, helpless? 5 grown adults are not capable of walking 2 dogs???? Veronica’s Grammy took great pleasure in emailing him links to Veronica’s agility training and canoodling with her canine boyfriend videos. “Harrumph”, she said to me, “He didn’t know what to say. What does he think, that we have a wild, ill-behaved dog? Well those videos shut his mouth!”
Then there is the second brother Bob. Again big, tall, strapping, burly, biker dude. Carries a concealed hand gun with a permit. Do not ask me why. This is not Texas. We live in New England; strapping a gun on your hip is not…common place. But I digress. The few occasions I have had to talk to my uncle he has told me the exact same story (and apparently he’s told my mother a number of times as well) about the legendary King Arthur. No, not the British leader, but a bull terrier. As the story goes, he was hanging with some unsavory types in the park (read: bikers engaged in illegal activities. Not that he participates mind you. Not that I know of. Not that I care.) And one of them had a bull terrier named King Arthur that was encouraged to climb a tree and hang from the limb (demonstrating the amazing power of his jaws) and then apparently was allowed to get into an altercation with another dog. My Uncle was duly impressed.
To digress again: I have been on the unfortunate receiving end of enough conversations from idiots about “amazing jaw strength”, and “look at those jaws” and “she must have a strong grip with those jaws”…that I have to say I find it offensive. I feel myself recoiling with a sort of visceral disgust. I find it offensive and distasteful and intrusive and in much the same vein as if one were inquiring about the tightness of my vagina. Seriously people, grow up and move along.
Anyway Bob came to visit my mother over the summer; and of course since we have an in-law set up; I am in and out and Veronica is always with me. So we sat on the porch for a bit and visited. Bob did not appear uncomfortable per se, if not a little…still. Definitly not a dog person I guessed. I’m sort of a dog person. If you put me near a dog and give me permission to interact with it, then I can’t get enough of it, provided it’s relatively clean and not drooling. Veronica is extremely clean (weekly allergy baths) and she does NOT drool. Bob gave Veronica a pat on the head, and was clear in his body language that he didn’t want her too close; so I made her lie down. I confess Veronica did keep looking at him hoping to make eye contact and trying to figure out why she wasn’t in his lap licking his face. I had coffee and we left. He later described the experience to another relative as “being pinned”. He felt he “couldn’t move”. Veronica had him “in her sights”. Oh…for…the…love…of…God. He could sit on her and kill her. One kick from his steel toed biker boot would send her flying. She only weighs 55 pounds. She’s a freakin’ peanut for God’s sake. And friendly, and smiley, and licky…and are you not even looking at the actual dog in front of you????
What reminded me of all this is that this past week was Election Day. My Uncle Bob called my Mom and asked her to meet him for coffee at the local version of a D squared. My husband, being a school teacher; also had the day off and was out with Veronica planning to hit the drive through and get a coffee. When he saw my Mom’s car he pulled up and rolled the window down, so Grammy could shower her granddog with pats and kisses. They both described my Uncle (who still will not actually admit to us that he is afraid of the dog) reaching out tentatively to give Veronica a couple of apprehensive pats on the head; the way talk show hosts do when they have zoo curators for guests and they get a wild animal plopped on their desk.
So that’s the story. Not really much of a story at all. Just a commentary on the ridiculousness of preconceptions and prejudice and 2 large, strong, grown men being afraid of a dog a quarter of their size; and a woman filled with fear who was able to look into the eyes of another sentient being…and despite her misgivings, make a connection and see truth.