I never, really knew much about my great grandparents either come to think about it. Ernest (Pa) had apparently been a rough, tough lumberjack in his day, and had apparently bitten off some dude's ear in a fight. The Mike Tyson side of Pa was lost on us kids, we knew him as a affable, kindly, tobacca' chewin' guy who used to bring us candy and cheap penny gum. Ma (Mandy) was always in the kitchen, stewing a chicken or making some other country delicacy. They were farmers, and all the food came from their farm, including the “raisins” I used to find on the ground. When my mom found out I'd been eating the “raisins” she damned near fainted!
Pa was a crack shot with a scattergun, and could bring down a pheasant from a mile away. Hunting was big with the Bergin clan, and pheasant season was anxiously awaited every year. We'd clean the shotguns, 4-10s, 20 gauges, 16 gauges and 12 gauges. Some were semi-autos, some were pumps and some were single shot. Pa's was an old, old double barrel, 12 gauge.
I distinctly remember going out hunting with the clan. The dog put a bird up and BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM, BLAM...
That's a lot of BLAMS! Problem was... the bird was still flying. Then we heard a 'click' as Pa chambered a round. He NEVER carried the gun unless it was broken down, and he NEVER carried it with a round in the chamber. He slowly raised the gun to his shoulder and... BLAM!
Dinner was served at 6. Which brings me to Elmer.
Elmer The 7th was a purebred Dachshund from champion stock. His ancestors had won many a highfalutin dog show in the past, which must've been the reason that damned dog was so mean! When he came to us, we made him live in a tar-papered doghouse, outside of a lousy, remodeled chicken coop. That had to SERIOUSLY piss him off. And he was SERIOUSLY mean too, I still have a scar on my hand from when he took a chunk out of it. He'd strike without warning. You'd hear a quick “rrrrrrrrr” then “ROW, ROW, ROW” and CHOMP... you'd be looking for a band aid.
Elmer especially hated water. The word “bath” would send him into conniptions. His eye's would get wide, his ears would perk up and he'd high-tail it through the field... “ROW, ROW, ROW” Now this, particular aspect of Elmer's behavior played into our devious little hands. Our cousin... let's call her Shirley, shall we? Shirley was scared to DEATH of Elmer, so whenever she came to visit we'd spray him with water then jump up on the dog house. Shirley, being a tad shorter than us couldn't make it up there, and since she was the only human within Elmer's jaw range, he'd light out after her. She'd be screaming like a banshee, running around and around the dog house with Elmer hot on her heels.
“ROW, ROW, ROW ROW, ROW, ROW...”
TONS of fun!
But here's the thing about Elmer... he was the best bird dog we'd ever seen. I remember going hunting with my dad. All the other hunters would have expensive bird dogs. We had Elmer. It was hard not to notice the condescending glances until we turned him loose. He'd spot a bird hiding in the field and stop dead... tail out, paw up just like the most expensive bird dogs on the planet. “Put 'im up boy” my dad would yell and...
“ROW, ROW, ROW ROW, ROW, ROW...” BLAM!!! Dinner was at 6.
Eventually our relationship matured. We understood our need for private space, Elmer and me. I'd walk by him, and he'd let out a growl. I'd simply continue on, and he'd fall back to sleep. We both knew our place.
Elmer loved to chase cars. He'd gotten hit more than once, and more than once we thought we'd have to bury him. He always made it through though, except for the last chase. Maybe he was just too old, and his speed was gone. Whatever it was, he was not going to get up and walk home this time.
I buried Elmer the next morning, and as I did I remembered a scene from a movie. I don't recall the movie, but I think it starred Burl Ives who was attempting to help an old man with whom he'd had a very difficult relationship. Burl's line was something like “...after all these years it's not whether you hate or love someone. It's the relationship that counts.”
I felt that way about Elmer.