I remember the incident with great clarity despite the fact that it took place more than 50 years ago. My dad, home from a day of golfing at Lost Creek, his favorite leisure venue, after his 19 holes of fun, headed as usual for the couch for a nap before dinner.
My mother was in the kitchen working up her culinary magic. Perhaps it was what she called birds’ nests, which consisted of mashed potatoes hollowed a bit on each plate so that the concave area could be filled with that delicious hamburger gravy.
Now, the ranch houses in the middle-class neighborhood of my youth, the 1500 block of Latham Avenue, were separated only by a small strip of turf and a driveway. Perhaps the close proximity of the houses contributed to the neighborliness of my 1960s block. To this day, I can do something that I can’t even do in my current neighborhood, which is name every family all the way down on both sides of my block in both directions.
Next door lived the Hartmans, comprised of a married couple and a daughter the same age as my sister, Joan, along with a miniature poodle named Chiffon, a canine that seemed to spend inordinately long stretches of time voicing opinions in a less-than-full-throated yip.
On this early summer day as my father reclined on the west living-room wall just under a window with a fan in it to add some breeze to an air-conditioning-devoid house, Chiffon was on the Hartmans’ back porch, about 10 feet away, airing all sorts of grievances or, according to the Humane Society website in shedding light on why dogs bark, seeking attention, expressing boredom, or sharing joy.
As I sat on the carpet sorting some baseball cards and noting that I had quintuplets of Cardinal utility infielder Julio Gotay and bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t move any of them in a trade because all my pals had at least five Gotays as well, I remember being somewhat amused by my father’s thrashing around a bit and grumbling as he tried vainly to grab some guilty-pleasure day winks.
What I was watching were the harbinger-like mumblings of a paternal volcanic eruption, of which my father was capable when provoked enough. When the yipping went on for a split second too long, he came up off the sofa pillow to a half-sitting position, wheeled to face the revolving blades of the fan and yelled, “Shut up, Chiffon, or I’ll put you in a bun and eat ya!”
Since it was the screens-in season and his voice, the same one I would inherit, was stentorian, of course, it was heard. Within seconds, I heard the softer voice of Mrs. Hartman saying, “Chiffon, it’s time to come in now for dinner!” I suppose Mrs. Hartman thought it was better for her favorite fur ball to be the eater rather than the eaten.
Flash forward to my present day, when my own sense of domestic tranquility often takes a left turn. If you count the number of dogs and humans who occupy the houses on both sides of me, it’s a dead heat, five apiece.
While two of the dogs are small in both size and voice and are only out when their humans are out, the other three are out in the backyard, raising all sorts of canine Cain both in diurnal and nocturnal times. I’ve heard them at noon and later at midnight. Human intervention from the house is really minimal, I’m guessing, because they’d rather have the three out barking in the yard than inside the house.
While I’m trying to be tolerant and be a good neighbor, it can be tough. I’m not a real strong advocate of yelling at animals because (a) I don’t think it works if they don’t know you well and (b) I think you look a bit silly and grumpy old dude-like doing so.
Look, I get the dog-loving gene that some have. I see people allowing dogs to take liberties that frankly mystify me. That became evident again when I recently watched a lady at a hotel breakfast with a Chihuahua on her lap alternating forkfuls of waffle, one for her, one for the pooch, with the same fork.
With the barking jags emanating from the yard to my immediate south, I’m open to suggestions, folks, especially from the dog lovers out there. What do you do when encountering those moments when the incessant nature of all those barks seem almost worse than bites?
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.