Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dogs of Our Lives: Jacques

                    Katja and Jacques, circa 1971

Dear George,


We’ve always joked around that one of the unintended effects of Steven’s good nature was that he had a penchant for adopting dogs in need of a home, but then, when circumstances got complicated, he would wind up passing these loveable orphans along to other family members.  Our parents received most of these surprise gifts, but we got our poodle Jacques from Steve and Margie when they moved to Detroit in 1965 where Steve was beginning law school.  They had gotten Jacques from a friend in Florida, and, while they were very attached to him, they weren’t allowed to have a dog in their new apartment.  We were living in the country outside Ann Arbor, with lots of yard space and landlords who were o.k. with dogs; plus we were ready for a new pet.  Jacques was a smallish standard poodle with curly black hair, just a puppy at that point, housetrained, and with a happy and energetic disposition.  We were more than happy to take him in, and he immediately added fun to our high pressure grad student lives.


I was struggling at the time to make progress on my dissertation research, and, though I had my data in hand, I was having a painful time getting it analyzed and getting words down on paper.  Katja was working full-time as a sales clerk at Faber’s Fabric in downtown Ann Arbor and doing a lot of sewing on the side.  She made clothes for both of us, and, for our one-bedroom house on West North Territorial Road, she made red velvet curtains for all of the windows in the living/kitchen/dining room area.


Our landlady’s name was Zorra, and, like her name, she was a handful – heavyset, noisy, uncouth, plus she was lonely and wanted to be personal friends.  We didn’t reciprocate, and when, six weeks before our scheduled move to Cincinnati, our toilet got plugged up and required a plumber, Zorra and her husband served us with an eviction notice.  Steve was finishing up his first year of law school, and we became his first informal clients.  He prepared an argument for us and accompanied us to our court hearing, certain that we would win our case.  Since Zorra had cashed our rent check after having served us with an eviction notice, the judge tossed our case out, and, though he wasn’t allowed to speak in the courtroom, we credited Steve with his first legal victory.


I’d taken a job in Cincinnati, and things got hectic in our last weeks in Ann Arbor.  We stayed in town very late one day, essentially forgetting that Jacques was home alone waiting for us.  When we got back around 9 p.m., we could tell something was wrong as we approached the house.  We walked in, turned on the lights, and were shocked at the scene.  Jacques had gone around the entire large room, pulled every red velvet curtain down onto the floor, and systematically pooped on every single one.  This was a smart dog with an impressive poop capacity, though he clearly had a streak of vengefulness as well.  We never again made that mistake again.


We’d made arrangements in Cincinnati to rent a two-story townhouse in the Williamsburg Apartment complex just outside the city limits on Galbraith Road.  Katja liked the air conditioning and the well-equipped kitchen, as well as the fact that the complex was brand new.  We were among the first tenants in a gated village which would ultimately hold thousands.  Our apartment was on a quadrangle, and we could walk Jacque on its interior.  There was also a playground and forest area nearby where I would take him on outings.  After a while, we started letting Jacques out on his own to run around the quadrangle.  He did this faithfully, never leaving the area despite several possible exits, but some of our neighbors complained to the management, and we had to start walking him on a leash.


Jacques was such a sweet, loving, intelligent dog.  Katja and I attributed this to our dog-raising skills and took it as a sign that we could look forward to being good parents.  Some months later we went to a big graduate student party hosted by our friends, Clyde and Ann McCoy.  In the midst of the party, Katja told all the party-goers she had a surprise for me.  She then disclosed to me and everyone else that she was pregnant.  I was shocked since I’d had no idea that she had stopped taking her birth control pills.  Katja said she’d interpreted our discussion about being good dog parents to Jacques as my signal that it was time to have a baby.


Thus, partly due to Jacques’ good character, our son J was born in September of 1969.  Katja’s mom came to help before the birth, and my mom came afterward.  We didn’t need that much help, though we felt obligated to provide for the traditional role of grandmothers.  When my mother asked what she could do, I said that the best thing would be to walk Jacques around the quadrangle on his leash.  My mom, who’d spent her life with dogs running free in the country, stubbornly balked and said she’d never walked a dog on a leash in her life and had no intention of starting now.


Jacques coexisted perfectly with our new baby, and we would all take outings together.  As J grew and got more mobile, the four of us would go most weekends to Mt. Airy Forest where we’d take a long trail walk that wound up at a creek with a horse pasture on the other side.  J and Jacques would climb on the rocks on the creek, and the horses would wander over and look at us with curiosity.  

                    J, David, and Jacques at Mt. Airy Forest (circa 1971)

In the summer of 1973 we went to Bethel, Maine, where I was doing research on sensitivity training groups.  We rented a house trailer, located out of town at the edge of a pretty evergreen forest.  Each morning we’d go to the back yard area and play near the creek that streamed by.  One day we cooked hot dogs on our barbeque grill on the trailer’s front porch, and Bethel’s entire volunteer fire department came racing to the scene, called by a passerby who’d seen the smoke at the front of the trailer.  On our last night in Bethel we went with our friends Dave and Jillian to Martha’s Restaurant in Bethel to dine on oysters and rhubarb pie.  When we got home, the babysitter and J were on the front stoop, and the babysitter was in tears.  She explained that Jacques had gotten loose, had gone out on the road, and had been hit by a logging truck.  She had his body in a box on the porch.  We were crushed.  I drove the sitter home.  The next morning we took Jacque’s body to the back yard near the creek that we’d enjoyed together all summer long.  I scratched his name and the date on a white boulder, dug a hole next to the creek, and we buried his body there. 


Jacques was an important part of our family during a period of many life transitions: my departure from graduate school, Katja and I taking new jobs and having our first real home, Katja’s pregnancy and the birth of our son, my first major research project as a faculty member, our settling into a new community.  He was a playful, affectionate companion and added a lot of enjoyment to our lives in this difficult period.  We had seven good years with him.  We’ll always remember sweet Jacquey.




G-Mail Comments:  
Jennifer M (11-28): I like this story and the pictures!

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