I went to Mass on my birthday last month. Thanks for another one, please make the next one a little easier Lord.
Counting my blessings, I prayed for my parents, God’s first gift to all of us. I hung around in the pew afterwards and thought about my mom and dad.
I don’t know why, but I suddenly had a flashback to the day over a half century ago when I broke my mother’s heart.
I was around nine years old and had walked home from school through the snow for lunch. My brothers and sister were in high school or out in the world and the house was empty. Mom had a bowl of tomato soup waiting for me at the kitchen table with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a big glass of milk, my favorite lunch.
I looked out the back window of our house and asked my mom, “Where’s Muggs?”
Muggs was my dog, a huge Irish setter we brought home a couple years earlier with a toy beagle named Fred. In a moment of weakness my mother had bought my sister and me the two puppies when we stopped with her at the dog joint one summer day. Our family had dogs before, but only one in my memory.
My older brother Tommy’s dog, “Peanuts,” had adopted his mercurial personality and his stay with us was short lived. My dad’s pal, Senator Whitey Cronin, was over one night having a few cocktails with my old man and he bent down to pet Peanuts while he was sleeping. Like a cobra awakened in his lair, Peanuts snapped a choice piece of flesh from the Senator’s left hand. Blood, screams, oaths, and it was “Adios, Peanuts.”
But Fred and Muggs were pretty mellow pets. They didn’t fight, they were fun to play with, and everybody loved them. Fred was small and wasn’t going to get much larger. Muggs was bigger and resembled a young colt when we first brought him home and then he just kept growing.
We discovered both dogs had distemper a few weeks after coming home and spent the next six months nursing them back to health. A bond formed. Muggs required the most care.
Both dogs had symptoms of diarrhea, but it was worse with Muggs because he would leave pizza pie sized poops in his wake.
We had a fence at the end of our driveway and about a fifty-foot gangway leading to the garage. Muggs would run back and forth in the gangway, barking and slobbering all over anybody who stopped to say hello. Littered along the gangway would be about twenty or thirty land mines of poop piles that had to be shoveled up daily.
Well they were supposed to be shoveled daily, but the little boy who owned Muggs was very lazy. In the winter the piles would freeze and my friends would flip them like pancakes with the shovel and fling them against my neighbor’s white vinyl sided garage. Next-door neighbor Mr. Shilling wasn’t happy about this.
Things got worse. As Muggs grew, he got pretty good at leaping our fence in a single bound. This red slobbery giant would clear the fence and proceed to jump up on anybody walking down the street. People were freaked out by this huge dog.
Muggs was just so friendly that when he jumped up with this paws on your shoulders, you went down. Then he would lick your face and bark and next thing you know the mailman would be screaming for the cops.
It was just too much for my poor ma. After seven kids she didn’t see any window on Muggs becoming domesticated. Washing my old man’s boxers was bad enough, but stepping in Muggs’s pizzas every other day had driven her almost batty.
“Muggs is gone, Mike.”
She sat down at the table and folded her arms and explained that she gave Muggs to a priest who lived in the country and the dog would have acres to roam and would be much happier. I felt betrayed at nine years of age.
I ran to my room, slammed the door, and flung myself on the bed crying.
How sneaky to wait until I was at school to get rid of my dog. It was the first time in my life I’d felt like that. My mother opened the door a crack and sent Fred into the room to console me. “You can still play with Freddie!” she reasoned.
I could hear the nails of Fred’s paws on the linoleum as he approached my bed. I turned on him, “GET OUT OF HERE, YOU TRAITOR!”
Fred ran back to the door and cowered. He’d stood by while they loaded Muggs into the priest’s car and said nothing. He’d sold out his brother dog with his silence and he knew it. And for what Fred? More Alpo?
Pretty soon I heard my mother, “You better get up and go back to school now, Mike.”
Yeah, thanks for the lunch. I stood at the front door with my hand on the doorknob and glared at her as she sat on the couch with her hands in her lap looking sad.
My tears were gone, replaced now with dreams of vengeance. Something welled up inside of me and I looked my mother right in the eyes and sneered, “I… hate… you!”
And then she started to cry. I wanted to run to her and tell her I didn’t mean it, but by then she was sobbing. I wasn’t ready for that. I slammed the door and ran back to school trying to forget it all.
And it all came back to me sitting in a pew after mass at St. Odilo’s in Berwyn on my 62nd birthday. What made me think of it? It’s my one regret.