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. Continue reading