I had a dream last night.
I was sixteen again, hunting the muskeg swamps around Blackduck in search of the huge white snowshoe hares that hide there. Peanuts was with me, sniffing his way through the brush and the saw grass, rooting out those giant rabbits that were easily as big as he. We were having a great time. I lost the dream, though, when the bed suddenly started to sag and jiggle as something climbed over the mattress, turned around three times and lay down.
Peanuts hadn't done that in at least four years. I reached down and patted his big flop ears. Old as he is, I certainly wasn't going to toss him back to the hard, cold floor.
Peanuts snores. That's how we know when he's really pooped. Well, he hadn't been laying there more than five minutes before the room was blessed with the soft grumble from his throat. I'm used to that, and I could have quickly gotten back to sleep, but Peanuts began to have a dream. His ancient feet were scrabbling over some unseen snowscape, and the whimpers escaping between snores told me that he, too, was hunting rabbit. I rubbed his ears and remembered.
I was nine years old the day mom brought that puppy home. Mom was four beers into a Sunday afternoon six-pack when a friend told her he had some beagle puppies he wanted to get rid of and she could have one for free, if she wanted it. Well, she took a look and, sure enough, she wanted one.
Mom always insisted she could drink beer all day long and never get drunk. She said it had no effect on her whatsoever. I loved my mom, and I knew she couldn't possibly be wrong about the beer, but something had messed up her ability to tell one dog from another.
The pup she handed to me was orange and white. It had short hair, just as you would expect a genuine AKC beagle to have, but the black spots were missing. It did have short legs, like any self-respecting beagle, but the body of this particular creature was almost twice as long as a genuine beagle would have had. Then there was the nose. It was orange, like those big spots. Beagles have black noses or brown noses, or something in between black and brown, but they don't have orange noses.
I held the warm, odd puppy and I fell in love. So what if it wasn't a real beagle? I finally had a dog.
The first thing I learned about the pup was that it was a boy dog. I learned this when, as I held him against my chest in a happy hug, he excitedly wagged his tail and peed up the front of my shirt.
After I changed my shirt and splashed water over the affected areas, I got down to the next order of business. I had to name my dog.
Big dog names like Rex and King and Bruno didn't fit at all. This was a small dog, and the tiny paws attached to those short legs told me that small was something he would always be.
People names like Ralph or Milford or Pierre didn't work well either. Names like that suggested a certain personality that this dog just didn't have.
I was fondling his big flop ears when his name fell like candy out of a Christmas stocking. Those ears were wide at the top and wide at the bottom, but narrow in the middle. They were both dark orange. They looked like great big marshmallow peanuts.
Peanuts went through the usual dog phases. He became housebroken, sort of. He learned when he could pee on the floor and get away with it and when he had to make an effort to get outside. He discovered that warm, soft, fuzzy lady slippers were lots more fun to chew on than those heavy flannel men’s slippers. He figured out that if he pretended to be deaf he could spend most of the night curled up on my bed.
Actually, he didn't figure that one out by himself. I taught it to him. See, I'd get really hard of hearing when mom would holler at me to "get that damn dog off the bed!" Peanuts would perk up his ears and look at me, then at mom, then back at me. Mom would holler again and he'd get down. After a while he learned by watching me that if he didn't perk up his ears and look at mom, she would have to actually come into the room and push him off the bed. She got tired of that game a lot sooner than Peanuts did, so he eventually won the right to sleep on the bed whenever he wanted to.
He began voluntarily sleeping on the rug next to my bed about the time I turned seventeen. That's because I would wake up at all hours of the night, howling in pain and thrashing around trying to work out the cramps in my legs. Proximity to someone you love is important, and so is a soft bed, but Peanuts knew that neither of those was more important than a good night's sleep.
Peanuts and I had great fun together. He'd walk the newly plowed fields with me in search of worms for our regular fishing trips. In the boat, he'd hang over the side and bark at the fish. More than once he saw something in the water and got so excited that he fell in. We'd fish him out; he'd shake water all over us, then he'd be right back to barking at the fish. Dad always said he was scaring the fish, but dad never seemed to catch more by himself than he did when we were along.
Peanuts always chased my bike down Breed's Hill when I raced my brother to school. He frightened off the neighborhood cats, spent hours trying to climb trees so he could catch squirrels, and he would happily lie on the porch and chew on the Sunday paper whenever we weren't fast enough to get to it first.
Constant companions, we explored the woods together. It was on one of those explorations of the big woods when we discovered we both liked to hunt rabbits.
I must have been all of twelve. I had my pellet gun along to protect me from dragons and sparrows and other threatening creatures. The two of us were kind of lost and had just wandered into a muskeg when suddenly one of those great snowshoe hares jumped up and started running. Well, I started running and hollering and Peanuts started running and hollering and that poor rabbit didn't know which way to turn. It was so confused it just stopped dead and turned to look at us. Peanuts didn't know what to do about that, because he thought the fun was all in the chase. I knew, though. I took aim with my trusty pellet gun and popped that critter right in the noggin. Presto! Fried rabbit. I tucked it into my jacket.
Peanuts was sort of upset with me because I'd taken the fun out of the rabbit hunt, but a little while later he found another one and we went through the same ritual all over again. By this time, he had the game figured out. He finds the rabbit, we both chase it for a while, and then I hide the rabbit in my coat. Then he finds it again and we run some more. It was great fun.
He was ten years old when he could no longer chase rabbits. Oh, he liked to come along and walk through the brush with me, but his old sniffer wasn't working all that well, and arthritis put a crimp in his running. More than once he ran out of gas, and I wound up carrying him in my backpack along with any rabbits I'd gotten that day. Thank God he wasn't a St. Bernard. He'd curl up on the pickup seat and snore all the way home.
It's been three years since he's been more than ten feet from the porch. Milky clouds took his vision away last year, and he really did go deaf about a year before that. Most of the time, we communicate with touch. I still talk to him and pet him, but the words are mostly for my own sense of wellbeing. For Peanuts, it's just the gentle warmth of a pal reminding him that he isn't alone.
I was thinking and remembering all these things as I touched my old friend. He wimpered and twitched. I was glad he was back out there chasing rabbits, if only in a dream.
It must have been about two when I woke up. It wasn't a noise that woke me, but rather the lack of a noise. Peanuts wasn't snoring. I reached down and stroked his plump side to let him know I was still there for him.
It took me two or three passes over his grizzled fur to realize he wasn't breathing.
The sun is up. My alarm should be going off any minute now. I think I'm going to just let him lie here a bit longer. I'll call in and take some time off from work. It's almost 300 miles, but what the hell. The pickup could use some highway time. Peanuts and I are going up to Blackduck.