Gandy: Already Playing Her Part

Ah, the pleasure of a stick, well chewed!

This marks the first 48 hours with a new dog in the house, and only hours short of two weeks since Tsuga left us so suddenly on December 5, written out of this script and off this stage upon which he had performed his part with such ease, grace and joy.

Gandy, the 9 week old understudy, has been tapped for a role she struggles to imitate, stepping into paws she could not possibly fill. Even so, she is a trooper, and after all, the show must go on. She knows her lines somehow, and her sense of timing will some day have her name in lights, at least on Goose Creek.

This has been our first day at home alone, just the two of us. And already, she shows a good sense for finding the best light, knowing when to be cute, coy, heroic, sweet and when (we hope less and less often) to play the vixen.

It is late on an overcast day, the somber clouds cast a shadowless light into the room otherwise lit by the flickering glow of the wood stove. She had just made the rounds through all her toys and the new rawhide chew she was introduced to for the first time a little while before. Then she turned her focus of tooth-and-claw to me. She jumped hopefully beside me in my swivel chair at the computer.

When she is in this barracuda mode, I have learned to be careful picking her up, because she forgets her play bite and thrashes savagely for the hands, the shirt sleeve, the ears, the beard. And I have remembered the way to fend off those jaws by holding her head just so that she works hard to connect, and never quite makes it, wearing herself out finally, with any luck. We used this technique with Tsuga, who was all teeth his first weeks to the point where we thought it might be necessary to give him back to the breeders.

And in this little martial arts parry and thrust, Gandy ended up on her back in the crook of my arm, exhausted from her failed attack, and welcoming the chance to settle down. I began to rub her tummy–the first puppy-belly in our lifetime of adult puppy ownership to have little nipples, I noted.

She suddenly seemed to hear something far off, with a distant gaze on her face. Her eyes grew heavy. I continued to stroke and coo, and there she was, asleep, so small, so dear, in my arms, in this quiet, warm, once-again complete home. And I saw, just beyond my feet, Tsuga, lying on the carpet in front of this very wood stove, over lying beside me as I napped on the couch, and up beside me of an evening in our routine guy-time just before bed. The present and the past co-existed for that rare moment, like layers of a complex photograph, the recent, still aching then,  forever underneath the unknown, hopeful and emerging now.

How sweet. How sad. How confusing and wonderful. And life goes on.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. That essay was exceptionally lovely. My first thought when I read you were going to stop your newspaper essays was: more time for photography! But after reading this piece, I want to encourage you to keep your focus as much or more on your writing.
    I’m glad the blog will always be your outlet for all impulses to put words to paper for others to read.