Mom came home from work one day in the summer of ’84 in a rush. She saw a sign on her postal route: “Free puppies, half retriever/half Siberian Husky.” We jumped at the thought of a new dog.
“It can play with Puddles. Since it’s summer,” I said, “I’ll probably teach it to play fetch, and then catch a frisbee. And I’ll take it on walks every day.”
She continued, “It’ll be golden or white, blue eyes probably and pointy ears.”
Jake squealed with joy. “Since it’s summer, I’ll probably teach it to jump and lick me,” he said.
She came home the next night with a small, all-black dog with floppy ears and brown eyes. “We’ll call her Ebony,” mom said and I went to work training her.
I threw my favorite tennis ball for her. And then went and picked it up. I threw it again, it stopped right next to her, but she didn’t even sniff it. I picked it up and took it inside. I dipped the ball in a bowl of fifteen bean soup and brought it back outside.
I let Ebony sniff the ball. She licked it. I threw it, but Ebony just looked at me. I threw it a couple of more times as the dog jumped and licked Jake. I took the ball back inside.
I asked dad that night over a bowl of soup for ideas. “Just keep working,” he said, “she’ll get it.”
The next day, I put peanut butter and jelly on the ball. I took Ebony outside. I threw the ball and she just looked at me.
Each day for almost two weeks I worked upwards of five minutes trying to teach the dog to fetch. I tried new flavors for the once-green tennis ball: butter, ranch dressing, and Kool-Aid (cherry and fruit punch). She would lick the ball when I held it in front of her, but she wouldn’t chase it.
The last week of August, I was sitting in the living room watching He-Man when I noticed Ebony run by the sliding glass door. She had something in her mouth that looked like our cat!
I ran outside as she was digging a hole. There was an smelly animal next to her with white, wiry hair and a long, hairless nose. The animal was soaked from Ebony licking it. I picked it up to get a closer look. It had long teeth and half-closed eyelids. Ebony jumped at me, whimpering. I threw the animal as far as I could, past the next orange tree. Ebony ran after it, picked it up, and brought it back to me. She set it down and began digging again. I picked up the animal and threw it again. She trotted off and brought it back.
I left the animal next to the hole and brought Ebony in so she wouldn’t bury it. I called dad at work and told him about how good Ebony was doing at playing fetch. Dad said, “Don’t touch it, I’ll be home for lunch in five minutes.”
Dad came home took one look and said, “That’s an opossum. Go get my reading glasses and the horse racing form from last night.” I ran and got them. I came back out. “Put the form down on the washing machine.”
Dad put the opossum on the racing form. He put his glasses on the opossum’s long nose and ran inside. He called mom at work. “Micki, I have a surprise for you. I left it on the washing machine for when you get home. Don’t guess! You’ll ruin the surprise!”
Dad went back to work. Jean, Jake, and I checked on the opossum once every hour or so, excited to hear mom scream.
Mom came home and ran toward the garage. We stood in the kitchen waiting to hear her reaction. She opened the door and looked at the washing machine. “Huh,” she said, “why’d your dad leave his racing form on the machine?”
Zach has a new way of reacting when I chase after him.
First, he looks at me and laughs.
Then he crawls as fast as he can for two or three seconds.
Then, he plays possum, laying his head down and freezing. He hopes I won’t tickle him.