It’s a long trek from my apartment in Manhattan to my parents’ home in the Ozarks of Missouri. Usually I would take the standard trio: a train, a plane, and an automobile. But this time I met my boyfriend in Pennsylvania and we drove. My dad’s home cooking alone is worth the trip; on this particular occasion he’d spent the hot June night in his camo-boxers, wide awake, meticulously monitoring a smoking pork shoulder as we drove under the black starry sky. West Virginia, Iowa, Ohio, Illinois and onward, we were motivated partly by the relaxation of the country, and more by the deliciousness of the barbeque we were sure to be eating later that day. And, as planned, we finally arrived, immediately crashing as we slept off the twenty-hour drive, waking just in time for a perfect late afternoon dinner on the front porch.
As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones who had travelled a long way for my dad’s home cooking. First, I must mention here that my parents’ neighbors have an ever-changing and indeterminable number of dogs, averaging around eleven. My parents themselves have four. And every time we eat on the porch, they all lounge about, spread amongst the grass, drooling and staring, all with fixed gazes on our plates, ready for my dad’s famous “Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh BOY!” which is the end-of-meal cue to come and get ‘em. I would never have noticed an outsider dog in this motley crew, except that, this night, when the “Oh Boy, Oh Boy, Oh BOY” came, there was one dingy brown beagle who looked very pathetic and who meekly stayed behind while the others fought over the scraps. On account of this pup’s good manners, I knew he definitely did not belong to the neighbors; on account of his nasty looks, I knew he definitely did not belong to my parents.
As it turned out, no one at the table had ever seen this beagle before but, considering his condition, he had obviously been lost for some time. I remember being a little grossed-out by the huge ticks all over his face (one was so big he could barely open his left eye), but I felt sorry for the little guy. Unfortunately, due to the high number of strays and abandoned dogs in our area, my parents make a rule to never feed them anything too tasty that might keep them around, conceding that there are plenty of dry dog food bowls in the yard. That being said, I chose to forgo the pork, but went over and gave the little pup a nice ear scratch. Maybe it was the ear scratch, or maybe it was the smell alone that kept him around. Either way, he plopped down right there at my feet and got comfortable on the grass. He looked like a dog that had been wandering for a year and, this night, finally decided to lie down for the first time.
A few hours after dinner, the beagle was still there, watching us with his uncomfortable tick-face but looking strangely content. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I darted up from the table, grabbed my mom’s tweezers and a cup of turpentine, and set out to help. The tick on his eye was huge, about the size of a fat grape, and was really clinging to the poor guy’s eyelid. I probably yanked a good three times before it let go. The pup didn’t even flinch. So then I pulled off another, then a few more, and eventually had counted about eighty five ticks, all while he lay limp in my lap and my family looked at my like I was nuts. I was covered in parasitic blood and left with a cup of drowned nastiness, but I’ll be damned if that dog wasn’t the sweetest and most grateful looking thing I’ve ever seen. On account of him being so brave, I named him Batman, gave us both baths, said goodnight to him outside, and went to bed.
I’m pretty sure you can figure the rest out from here. The next morning I was thrilled to find out that the ticks and the bath didn’t scare Batman away, and that in fact he spent the whole night curled up on our front porch. I fell in love with the way Batman thumped his tail on the ground when he saw me the next morning, thanking me for my efforts. I was amused that, when I finally broke down and fed him a delicious piece of dad’s pork shoulder, he took it gently from my hand, as if he were taking communion. I was determined to spend the next few days making sure my boyfriend saw how amazing this dog was, and I was convinced that driving to the Ozarks was, in fact, fate, because now we could keep him.
And then there was the big, humiliating, shock when, on the third day, my mom pointed out that my new beagle was a girl. I suppose it was a fairly blatant oversight on my part. While I assured everyone that Batman could pass as a perfectly unisex name, the family was too involved at this point to let that fly. Two days later, we packed Lola in the car and drove her back to the east coast. She lived in Pittsburgh, Manhattan, and many places in between, but today I’m lucky enough to say I live with two of my best friends — my boyfriend and Lola — all in one house.
Lola’s one-year adoption birthday is coming up this month. When people ask how we found her, I tell her she found us. And if they are ever in the market for a dog this great, then maybe they should have my dad make an all-night pork shoulder.
Christena Lynn Doggrell is from Memphis TN, and has been living on the east coast since 2005. She is an actress who enjoys yoga, writing, and hanging outdoors with her beagle, Lola. In addition to acting, she is currently hoping to retire from waitressing to pursue a backup career in medicine.
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