HARMON: Of dogs and extended family

April 2, 2014 

We call them “extended” families and there are a lot of them around these days, including ones with numerous dogs.

I suppose it’s the idea that a family is living somewhere and they are together that counts. We aren’t all wealthy landowners or former politicians who inherited wealth and/or opportunity. Some of us will take longer to “make it” than others.

Of course there are those who were in a position to make smart educational/economic decisions that allowed them to live more independently and we harbor no ill will for those folks. Economic times being what they are, and us being Americans, we will most certainly make the most of the situation. An extended family with a few dogs running around is not a bad place to be.

I learned a great deal visiting my grandfather, who was part of an extended family back in the ‘60s, and wish I’d had the chance to spend more time with him. He taught me many things by the example he set when dealing with other people and his dogs.

He allowed the dogs to be a member of the family and each one, although different as a breed, seemed to appreciate the opportunity to be with people.

As a retired fellow, my grandfather, was able to have a leisurely morning free of work stress, looking forward to a breakfast of eggs, biscuits, redeye gravy and cream in his coffee, with an afternoon of baseball on the radio, sitting on the porch and rubbing one of the dogs’ ears.

He had three dogs during the 20 years I knew him. Chipper the Cocker, Spike the rover and Pity Pat, the lovable mutt. He treated them all the same although one was a thoroughbred, one a dog about town and one a rescued female. And they all treated him the same -- with a load of respect, born out of the unconditional love only a dog can give.

I never saw him feed any one of the dogs, they mostly ate table scraps and canned dog food back then, but they knew their breadwinner. Whenever we arrived at his house the first words out of his mouth would be, “Feed them children and feed that dog.” Then, one of my aunts, who lived there at the time, would see to it we all were fed. If there is a heaven for dogs all three will be there because my grandfather insisted on having a morning devotional at 10 a.m. for whoever happened to be in the house. Each of the dogs spanning those 20 years would meander into the large living room around 9:55 a.m. to hear Bible reading, missionary work and The Lord’s Prayer, along with any other concerns the family might have at that time. If we are indeed, “saved through faith,” those dogs had it. A faith in the old man who fed them, never hit them and was a “schedule” each could read.

Each, in their own time, lay at the foot of his big old brown chair and waited for the “amen” sure to come after the Lord’s Prayer, when they knew devotional was over before they got up to leave.

All three are buried on a hillside at Sharp’s Ridge in Knoxville, Tenn., and with each come special memories only a dog can bring. I don’t know how much they got out of the Bible reading, but I do know they never barked during the prayer. It seemed like a good way to start the day. We didn’t do that at home, it seemed we were just too busy. Dad was off to work by 7 a.m.; we left for school shortly after. I was only 10, hell seemed a million miles away and I only worried about repentance after girls came along.

But, I digress. What I’ve learned about how to treat my dogs came from watching and listening to my grandfather and the members of that extended family up on Sharp’s Ridge (a grandfather, grandmother, two aunts and two cousins). I also keep in mind that the dogs I have didn’t ask to come here to live. That was our choice. All they ask for is food and companionship. If I don’t give them that, well, there’s that hell thing again.

Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College. Visit his blog at http://sharmon09@blogspot.com.

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