It was a beautiful late winter’s day in Waco, the Heart of Texas, and Karen was going through accounts payable with Mr. Milman in his office when Clyde arrived in the hearse and pulled almost all the way down the long driveway. “Well, there’s Mr. Jack Putnam. That was quick! I just spoke to the hospital only a few minutes ago.” Mr. Milman rose from his chair with these words and headed to the kitchen/lab at the back of the house to help with the receiving and to talk to Harvey, their master embalmer.
Karen always felt a bit of a “sinking” (as she described it to her husband Kurt) when a body was received. She knew that death was natural and that Milman’s Mortuary services were excellent and necessary, but she also knew that somewhere right this moment someone was in tears or at least shaken. She went back to her own desk in the front of the old house and prepared for a visit from the grieving family. If funeral arrangements aren’t pre-planned there are many decisions someone has to make, and there are always papers and lots of time spent with the bereaved. Death is sometimes swift, but its wake can take a long while to subside.
As Karen was getting up from her desk to get a Coke from the lab refrigerator, through the windows she saw a huge grizzled black, wire-coated Scottish Deerhound-Whatever-mixed dog trotting gracefully down the driveway on his long legs. She went out the front door and ran after it. The dog stopped to sniff the hearse, the back door of which was still open. He was so tall he could stick his head right in. When she fearlessly went up to him (He’s just a big sweetie, you can tell! Karen thought.) and put her hand out for him to check out before trying to pet him, he looked up at her with huge dark eyes and wagged his long, scruffy tail a little.
“Well, what’s up, Sweetheart? I don’t recognize you. Who are you? Are you alone?” (Kurt said that Karen’s questions always came in groups!) She cradled the dog’s slim head in her hands and spoke directly into his expressive face.
Clyde came out and said “Who’s the fuzzball, Karen?” Then he came over to close the hearse door and pet the dog. “He’s a nice big old boy, isn’t he?”
“I have no idea who this is. He just came down the driveway after you. Let’s go look, Buddy, for your master.” Karen tried to pull the collarless dog back up the driveway, but he seemed unsure of what she as doing and he stayed put. The top of his head was at her waist, and she couldn’t really coerce him successfully. She walked up the driveway herself but was back in a minute. Clyde had been petting the creature and speaking to it.
“There’s no one out there missing him, looking for a dog, or calling a dog. Nada! And no tags. How dumb is that? I’ll look on-line and check WACOneighbors.org or see if there’s a missing doggies site. And then I have to get back to work!” While Karen was speaking, the dog went and plunked himself down on the grass by the few steps up to the door of the lab. He looked quite settled and put his head on the ground between his paws like a tired sphinx.
“Maybe he’ll rest and then just go back home on his own.” Karen stooped down to pet him once more. Clyde went in to get a stainless steel lab pan of water for the dog. Then the two of them went back to work.
When Karen left at 4:30 the dog was still there. “We can’t just leave him here,” she worried aloud to Mr. Milman who had come out to see the visitor. “He can’t stay here. This is a place of business and one that requires reverence and dignity. I love dogs too, Karen, but maybe I should take him to the Humane Society.”
“Well, Mr. M., how about I take him home with me? As we walk home through the neighborhood maybe he’ll go in his own yard or someone will claim him. If not, Kurt and I can keep him tonight. He doesn’t look like a bit of trouble, and we love dogs.” Karen was excited about having a big hairy guest, but knew that Kurt (and also her Aunt Zinnia inside her head!) would be saying, “Don’t get attached! Don’t get attached!”
The dog, whom Karen decided to call Danny MacDogall because it was a fine sturdy name for a dog undoubtedly of Scottish descent, walked placidly with her once she got him up and started with a cookie. No one recognized the creature as they walked, and Danny showed no interest in any of the homes or yards they passed. Since Kurt and Karen did not have a fence, she took him right into the house with her after she’d stopped next door to show Danny MacD. to Jeanette and to borrow some dinner from their Oscar. Jeanette thought Danny-Mac was a wonderful dog, and the little beagle Oscar seemed to agree.
Karen was at the front door getting the mail when Kurt came in the back door. His voice rang out excitedly, “Karen! Who is this?”
Danny MacD was being petted by Kurt when Karen dashed into the kitchen. “It’s Danny MacDogall. Or I just call him that. Don’t worry! I’m not getting attached!” (Kurt had looked at her under a slightly furrowed brow.) She continued, “He appeared at work, has no tags, and just plopped himself down in the backyard for the whole afternoon. I couldn’t just leave him there. I’m sure I’ll find his owner soon. Someone is missing this sweet doggie.” Danny wagged his tail as if he recognized the compliment.
“Don’t get all attached now, Karen. Please don’t do it.” Kurt came over to hug his wife who put her head on his chest and replied, “I know. I know. He’s not ours. He never will be. He has owners somewhere close by.”
“You know we both want a dog, Karen, but first we need a fence and then to find a nice medium-sized dog who doesn’t need his own bedroom.” Karen chuckled into Kurt’s chest.
The hound went to work with Karen the next day. And the next. Karen thought she was doing very well at maintaining a foster relationship with D-Dog, as he was now known. Each day at work he just sat by the back door in the same spot, watching Clyde and Harvey and Mr. Milman go in and out. Just sitting there watching.
That afternoon, however, was Mr. Putnam’s celebration of life. Mr. Milman warned Karen gently to be sure and keep D-Dog out of sight. Maybe tie him to the pole at the back of the carport, he suggested. However, Karen thought to herself he’d really be out of sight for sure and more comfy in the back of the hearse. D-Dog easily hopped right in when she patted the plush black carpet. and settled down, looking positively regal, Karen thought. She gave him a big hug and then put the front windows of the vehicle down. He was completely hidden by the black glass in the back door.
After Mr. Putnam’s memorial, Karen was pouring coffee and refilling the cookie tray for the little crowd of mourners when she saw from the corner of her eye Clyde rolling the hearse gently in reverse up the driveway to the French side doors. Holy Moly! She realized in a heartbeat that it was almost time to carry the casket out.
Karen excused herself softly and fled through the front door and out to the driveway. Already the pall bearers, including Mr. Milman, had the coffin half way through the side doors. Karen sprang to the back of the hearse as Clyde was just getting out of the driver’s seat. She quickly opened the door, reached in to grab Danny MacD. who, in an atypical burst of energy, leaped out and ran to the casket.
“GROVER!” several people in the group shouted in unison! “Daddy’s dog is here?” someone asked. The pallbearers put the coffin down on the low cart that was at the bottom of the few steps ready to be wheeled to the back of the hearse. Mrs. Putnam came to the French doors when she heard the shouts and was down the steps in a moment. “Oh, Grover!” she said weeping into the dog’s giant head which she held in both hands. “We’ve missed you so! You were here with Jack then?” When she released his head and looked up at Mr. Milman with a wan smile, Grover laid his head on the casket, and Karen was sure she heard him sigh or at least exhale.
Mrs. Putnam began talking to no one in particular, “Oh, Jack loved that dog so. When he disappeared the other day I thought it was a stroke of fate. They were inseparable this last year.” She began to weep and several people came to put their arms around her and to pet Grover as well. “Let him grieve a moment there,” Mrs. Putnam went on. Grover suddenly put his front paws on the coffin and looked down at it. His paws slipped a bit on its smoothness.(Scratching it up! thought Karen glancing at Mr. Milman.) It was quite a sight, this lanky dog looking for all the world like he was doing a “laying on of paws.” Then the previously ever-silent hound stretched out his neck lifting his large head and gave a high-pitched howl. Then he brought his paws down to the earth again and leaned into Mrs. Putnams’s legs. “You must come with us, Grover, to the cemetery. We’ll take Jack together, all of us.”
Mrs. Putnam was just getting in the limo with her daughters (after the dog had jumped in) when she turned and asked, “Has Grover been here the whole time? Who’s been looking after him? I need to thank someone.”
Mr. Milman stepped through the group and indicated with an outstretched hand, “Karen, my assistant, has been so kind as to take excellent care of Grover. I know she’s going to miss him very much, but we’re so glad he’s back with his family, aren’t we, Karen?” Karen reached out and shook Mrs. Putnam’s hand with both of hers saying, “It was a real pleasure. He’s such a great dog.”
After everyone was gone, Mr. Milman set out for the cemetery as well. On his way out, he stopped Karen while she was cleaning up, buzzing around with a tray of paper cups, crushed napkins, and crumbs. He looked her in the eyes and said, “Well, so much for quiet dignity! Thanks for taking care of that very special next of kin, Karen.”
“No problem, Mr. M. I miss Danny MacD. already.” Karen gave him a little grimace and went back to tidying.
At dinner that night Kurt chortled over Karen’s imitation of Grover’s keening yowl. He cocked his head at his wife (just like a dog, she thought!) saying, “I’m glad the big guy’s at home now. Not that I don’t like him. He was just sort of…huge and reserved, huh? I’d like a dog as spunky as my wife.”
Karen sent him an air smooch and asked, “How ‘bout we get a fence really soon?”