“When Mary Carol was about five and Cathy eight we got Brownie. Cathy was afraid of dogs and we decided it would help if she had one at home. So one Sunday afternoon we rode over to Sunflower where Rudy [Russell’s half-brother] was farming because he had told us that he had some puppies to give away. When we spotted Brownie we knew right away that she was the one we wanted. Flipper [Rudy’s son], who was about two years old, would soon have done away with her if we had not arrived when we did because he was squeezing them too hard and had already let one or two of them drown in some nearby water.
“Brownie’s mother was a mongrel but she had been courting with a boxer down the road, so we were always sure that Brownie had some good blood in her. She was put in the fenced backyard the first year so that she would not run off or get run over, and then we let her out. Everyone in the neighborhood knew her, and she did not bark or chase anyone except Mr. Poland, the mean postman.
“She was a wonderful pet and just like a member of the family. She and Mary Carol had a very special relationship. Cathy always wanted a kitten but did not get one until she was eighteen, when Gray picked up a little kitten by the bridge and brought him home. She named him Russell Grubbe for her daddy and her boyfriend, Mickey, but after she went to Mississippi State we left him out one night and never saw him again. Russell felt bad about his namesake and had one of his Heinz friends pick up a stray by the Crystal Grill one night. We named him Ed Moore for our friend Ed up at Ole Miss. He [the cat, not Ed Moore at Ole Miss] was covered with fleas and we put talcum powder on him to try to clean him up. Brownie was with us for thirteen years and Ed Moore for about as many years.”
I remember that Sunday in Sunflower when we picked out Brownie, and how horrified I was that Flipper had been allowed to drown those puppies. And how excited I was as we drove home and I held that little fuzzy, fleabitten dog in my lap. I named her Brownie in a five-year-old’s homage to Hite McLean’s dog of the same name, who had died a few months before. She was buried in their backyard in a small side garden, and I knew even then that there is a bond between some dogs and some owners that is exceptional.
Brownie and I had that bond. I’ve had many, many more dogs through the years: Sam and Cinnamon and Wheezer and Princess and Spooky and Edgar and B.D. (briefly) and Peanut (even more briefly) and now Terry and Chester and Jack and Finis (on permanent loan) and Lucy (on temporary loan). And they’ve all been special in their own way, some more than others. But there’s something about the dog of your childhood, if you’re lucky enough to have one, that stands apart. Brownie was the one who saw me off to school each morning and greeted me each afternoon as if her whole existence had been on hold until I appeared again. She was the one who slept on my bed and chased my bike to Little Red playground and never quite accepted those two nuisance cats. And she was the one who made me cry when I left for college and who never took another bite of food after that September 1971 morning. Sara and Russell, who were just as devoted to her as I was, begged and cajoled and offered up every treat under the sun before finally giving in to the inevitable a few days later. It took them almost a month to break the news to me that Brownie was gone, and I sat in the hallway of my dorm and cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. A friend that night gave me a short Reader’s Digest article by Eugene O’Neill, which I’ve kept for these forty years. When you lose your best friend, the one with the tail and the paws, I recommend it, but only after a bit of time has passed. Google “The Last Will and Testament of an Extremely Distinguished Dog.” It could have been written for Brownie.