Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ode To Buckwheat

We have a cool memorial not far from here, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park . My husband and I, trying to find something to do that the kids would enjoy that cost nothing but time chose to spend a lovely day there ‘en famille.’

My husband and I had gotten the kids all pumped up about it, telling them of the cannons, the old houses, the wonderful hiking trail (which turned out to go straight up) and assured them it would be a great adventure followed by a nice picnic lunch. It was during Memorial Day weekend so the park was gussied up, flags aflutter everywhere, waving as if ushering us in. Literally thousands of people were milling about, taking pictures, throwing balls, picnicking on the grass, perfect!! One of my sons, upon seeing a dog race across a field and with a mighty leap catch a Frisbee, shouted “Oh mom, I want a dog like that!” My answer, as always, was ‘No’ (Aside: No one has ever accused me of being not practical. A bitch, sure, but never not practical) My son, refusing to be thwarted, burst into tears and yelled “Well, can’t we just rent one then?” I went into my usual litany of we haven’t got the room, the time, nor the money. Who would walk him, brush him and feed him? He stuck out his lip, turned his back to me and said in a very quiet but very mutinous tone “A boy needs a dog mom!”

Flash forward, several years; our family found itself adopted by a Golden Retriever named Buckwheat (oddly enough, because he was the color of buckwheat) who had been usurped as lord and master of his previous domain by a new baby. Suddenly, and to my children’s great joy we had a dog we could take to the park. He was too fat and too old to catch Frisbees but entertained us for hours on end with his near ridiculous behavior.

It was once again Memorial Day and we putt-putted off to the same park, 6 people and a hundred pound dog in a tin can car made for 5. We poured out like clowns at the circus, stretching and groaning, trying to get our blood flowing before we struck off across the field for the trail. My son, after watching several Frisbee tosses bounce off the dog’s head had given up on that and had decided instead to use him as an engine, a tow truck of sorts to help him get up the mountain. This trick worked great for the first three hundred feet.  Buckwheat lunged up the first few cutbacks, tail wagging, children dragging behind,  Barks and whoops and hollers proclaimed everyone’s joy at being out and about and together on this perfectly gorgeous day.

By the time he rounded the third cutback, Buckwheat was starting to slow down perceptibly. By the fourth he was chugging like a train while the kids urged him on, cajoling with promises of pets and treats. At the 5th cutback he sat. I am here to tell you that one hundred pounds of retriever flesh is not easy to move once it has decided it is done moving. When the kids snapped the leash and shouted “Come on dog!” he lay down. When they shouted “You can do it” he put his head on his paws and closed his eyes. When they pointed out much smaller and (quite frankly) less majestic dogs leaping over him as they gaily trotted next to their well scrubbed masters, he yawned and rolled over onto his back. To a stranger looking on it might have looked like a family taking a break from the climb, in reality it was a battlefield anew, fat dog on one side, six people in various degrees of frustrated confusion on the other. Needless to say the dog won.

My husband walked back down the mountain, carrying the mutt cradled in his arms like a baby, while the children and I fought to enjoy the rest of the steep, steep hike. The kids were worried that their innocent game had hurt the dog, would he be okay, would he live? I didn’t know how to answer their questions, instead snapping “This is why I never wanted a damn dog!” When we finally reached the summit we stood at the lookout and gazed down at that “damn dog” far below, running, leaping, barking and chasing another dog like a wild thing while my husband huffed and puffed and tried to get sensation back in his arms and legs, face red as a beet. This was just the first of many times that Buckwheat used his considerable bulk as a weapon in the war of wills that is man vs. beast.

Buckwheat liked nothing better than having everyone around him. When the entire family was together in the little living room he was in dog heaven. The happier he was, the more relaxed he got, The more relaxed he got, the more gaseous he became. He would be just aquiver on a Saturday morning when he spotted the mound of kid limbs sprawled across the couch and floor. Fats rolls vibrating and tail wagging he would crawl up on the couch, squashing the kids into the cushions and letting out such vile clouds of noxious gas that we worried about the kids surviving it. Since he weighed more than three of them combined they were stuck, wedged into the nylon cushions unable to rise or even turn their heads away. I would like to think this was uncontrollable but seeing his face when they all yelled “Buckwheeeeaaaatttttttt” I have my doubts

One Christmas, after having eaten half of the goodies in the kid’s stockings and gassing them all good once or twice, he appeared to nap while we made preparations to spend the rest of the day at my parent’s house. Now, you have to understand how much Buckwheat loved riding in the car. The enforced closeness set his little heart to pounding so that we had to always ride with the windows all the way down while we joked about igniting fireballs with cigarettes, air pollution indexes rising and birds dropping from their perches in the trees. As we got the last of the loot loaded and instructed the troops to load up Buckwheat lit out of the house and jumped heavily into the back seat as soon as the door was opened. We told him to get out, he stared out the windshield. We told him to get the HELL out, he stared out the windshield. We tugged, he glanced at us, we pushed, he snorted at us. We did both together and he lifted his hind end just enough to let out another chocolate laced poot. After 20 minutes of pushing, pulling, yelling, cursing, wheedling, bribing, coaxing, we just gave up. My husband got in the car and slowly, in a very stately manner, drove Buckwheat around the block. When he pulled back in the drive, he opened the back door in the manner of a chauffer and nodded to the dog as he stiffly and with great aplomb stepped out of the car and, looking neither left nor right, walked into the house.

That dog was proud of his girth, he adored his barrel chest and his heavy haunches, you could just tell he knew what he had and he loved to flaunt it. However, tell that dog it was bath time and, in his head anyway, he could shrink to next to nothing and stay silent, stealthy like a ninja retriever. He would hide behind whatever was closest, stock still, head down, tail tucked, cutting his eyes barely in your direction to see if his mind meld trick was working on you. Not only did he strive to become like a monk in a bad kung fu theater movie, to become one with nature, he tried to do it outside. Inside he could have at least hidden behind the couch, but no, he chose to test his mettle by hiding behind a pine tree with a 3 inch diameter trunk  Giant ass hanging out one side, giant head hanging out the other he dug in, daring us to find him, let alone try to bathe him.

Buckwheat was a good dog. Not necessarily a good dog for the park, or for kids, or for company, but a good dog none the less. Funny and smart and ludicrous and entertaining and an integral piece of our family and it’s history.