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Charlie Brown 1970-1977


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This is a photo of Charlie Brown, the first dog of my life. He lived fast, burned bright, and died young.


I had been asking for a dog for years. My mother refused to get one until my youngest sister stopped eating everything that fell on the floor. That finally happened the summer I turned seven. A family in town had a litter of unwanted pups, so we drove out to look at them. The teenage daughter of the family was nuzzling a little brown thing, and nudged the little black and white one out of the way, saying, "Get out of the way, Charlie." I chose him, and we drove home, where my brother redubbed him "Charlie Brown."


I remember dressing him up in dolls' clothes. I remember parading him around the neighborhood on a leash, even though all the dogs ran free in those days.


He was a very bad dog. My parents never had him neutered; it wasn't the culture of the time. He roamed free, impregnating females at will. The neighbor's little black dog came into heat, and Charlie broke through the basement window to get at her. Another neighbor had an expensive little miniature Schnauzer who nearly died giving birth to too-large puppies who looked suspiciously like Charlie. He was picked up by animal control many times. One of the favorite family stories is about the time my brother, about 9 at the time, came home and said, "Charlie Brown is stuck to some dog up the street, and the lady is really mad!"


He was incorrigible. I remember him treeing cats, and sitting at the base of the tree for HOURS, barking. I remember trying to get him home one night when he didn't want to come home. He lay down in the middle of the street, still as a stone. My neighbor came out to comfort me, thinking he'd been hit by a car. I had to explain that no, he was just being a very badly behaved dog. I do think he bit me a few times. We didn't worry so much back then; I deserved it.


He did get hit one time, chasing a car. He yelped and ran off into the woods. The man knocked on the door and was very apologetic to y mother: "I think I just killed your dog." My mother said that it was our fault; we knew there was a leash law. Charlie came down out of the woods a few hours later.


He used to run off with a pack of males a few times a year. He would be gone for days and days at a time. I used to lie in bed and pray for his safe return.


One summer, our family was planning to go to camp in Maine. Charlie had been missing for several days at that point, so we left dog food and a chain, and asked the neighbor boy to chain him up and feed him if he came home while we were gone. Sure enough, he did. When we finally returned in our station wagon, Charlie jumped into the back seat and refused to get out. Chastened.


The summer I turned fourteen, Charlie got sick. We had no money to spare on any heroic treatments, so my parents just let things go. Finally, he got very, very sick. My father and I drove him to the vet, who told us he had heartworm and, most likely, cancer. We drove him home.


The delivery men had just delivered the piano I had been yearning for. For forty-five years, every time I smelled the woody interior smell of that piano, I thought of the day I learned that Charlie was going to die.

He went a few weeks later. My father buried him out back. I went to see "Star Wars" at the local theater... and still when I hear the opening anthem or smell that particular movie-theater butter smell, it brings me back to that strange sad summer.


They told us he was a Russian wolfhound. We used to laugh about it. But maybe he was my first border collie. When I brought my current dog, Buddy, to my mother's house, she slipped up and called, "Charlie Brown."


I fully expect to owe him an explanation for the dolls' clothes when I meet him at the bridge.



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That was a lovely memorial. There can be many good dogs in our lives but there is only one "first" dog. I was really too young to remember my two "first" dogs (they were my mother's) but the dog that was *my* first dog is unforgettable.


It was a different culture back then, wasn't it?

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