I Always thought Punky was my dog.
That’s how I remember it. The year after my dad crashed his plane I was playing in the sandbox beneath the big apple tree in our backyard. A little brown dog saw me and wedged his way through the white picket fence that separated our yard from Mom Hopkins yard. You could see his ribs. He came right to me in the sandbox. My mom was hanging out the wash on the clothesline behind me. The clothesline ran along the fence from the apple tree up to the garden by the chicken house. The dog didn’t have a collar. By the looks of him you could tell he was a stray. I’d never had a dog so I asked her if I could keep him. I begged and pleaded! She reluctantly gave in with the condition that I would take care of him.
I find two whole pages in my mother’s writings about “Punky.” This is how she remembers it.
“I was hanging out the wash on the line when a little brown terrier came through the picket fence and stood looking up at me. He was so thin and weak his legs were trembling. His eyes were pleading for help even though he was making no sound. I left the clothes as they were and went in and fixed him a saucer of warm milk. He became our beloved pet and we called him “Punky”
There goes the memory of my “begging and pleading.” So I guess “Punky” was not exclusively my dog although I’ll always remember him as mostly mine. My mother writes:
“Punky became our beloved pet – He became so much a part of the family that I think he forgot he was a dog sometimes.”
In my memory “Punky” was mostly my dog for about three years, all the way to the beginning of second grade. In the beginning he was pretty timid, especially frightened of bigger dogs in the neighborhood. My mother writes:
“When Dan heard dogs fighting or barking he would put Punky in the basement. Several times when Dan wasn’t there I’ve seen Punky run and dive through the basement window by himself.”
I never realized my mother was such a dog lover. There’s nearly as much ink about Punky in this notebook as there is about the five children she gave birth to. Here’s a little more ink she penned on Punky.
“One day the children and Punky went up to Fairmount (2 ½ blocks) with me – I had completed my business and decided to get an ice cream cone for each of the children. When I went outside I saw Dan feeding his to the dog. So I got him another. From then on I bought enough for Punky – Ice cream was his favorite treat (They were 5 or 10 cents then and very good). I saw Punky knock a cone out of a little girls hand once. Just now I don’t remember what I did about that. I really felt bad.
Another time I remember was Punky wanting to get up on the lounge – I told him no and he started crying, tears running down his face like a person. I just sat down beside him and talked to him, but I still didn’t let him on the lounge.”
Okay, I‘ll have to fact check whether a dog can cry tears. I concede it appears that Punky was not exclusively my dog. I guess Punky was a family dog; my mothers’s and mine primarily. My sisters will have to weigh in on their percentage of ownership.
Fast forward a couple of years. Punky’s rib cage had filled out on table scraps. He never got much bigger but he got more aggressive and territorial. He was still afraid of bigger dogs, but cars and trucks were fair game, especially big noisy trucks. He began chasing them. He would yip and bite at their rotating tires. I tried to stop him but Punky had his own agenda. A leash never crossed my mind. A leashed dog in our blue collar neighborhood was unthinkable.
Punky finally succeeded in catching a truck, right before school, right in front of Mom Hopkins house next door. It was a big clunking slow moving truck that Punky tangled with. I think Mom Hopkins’s husband helped bury Punky. I’ve never figured out why we called her Mom Hopkins. She was no relation.
Staying home and grieving was not an option. My mother was already at work. I had tried staying home alone before. It had precipitated a lie about a man with purple shoes offering me candy. I was on the principal’s radar.
My mother writes this:
“Finally a car (truck) killed him and Dan saw it happen. I was already at work and didn’t know until evening – His teacher said he laid on his desk and cried most of the day.”
My second grade desk was in the middle row halfway back. I couldn’t have been more centrally located. Teachers are woefully underpaid. I disrupted the class beginning with the first school bell. I stayed at my desk and cried through recess and lunch. After about six hours of non-stop crying it was the last straw for Miss Straw. She finally lost her patience. Her voice had an edge to it. The voice of an exasperated Saint.
“Danny, would you please stand up and tell the class why you are crying.”
I stood up. Thinking about Punky ignited a new outburst of blubbering. It’s impossible to talk when you’re blubbering. Without any explanation I sat back down exhausted. I put my head on the desk, and slept until the final school bell rang. I think Miss Straw thought I had been orphaned.
I guess it was Punky who had the last say on whose dog he was. I cried buckets over his passing but it was mother that he came back to for a final farewell. Here’s the last paragraph my mother wrote on Punky in her notebook.
“A few days after his death I had an odd experience – I was upstairs and looked down the steps and I thought I saw Punky, body and tail wagging with eyes shining and ‘I’m glad to see you look,’ and then nothing.”