Daddy bought mother her prized RCA Victor record player when I was just five. Almost from the beginning, one of mother’s favorite songs was “How Much is That Doggie in the Window” sung by Patti Page. I loved it, too.
Fond memories of those times waft through my head anytime I hear a recording sung by Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, Doris Day, Kay Starr, Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Tennessee Ernie Ford and many other popular artists from that period. They remind me of the happy days of my early childhood when Daddy was still alive.
Perhaps the message of the song and the famous RCA Victor dog trademark imprinted on the standing cabinet were what inspired mother and her good friend, Loretta, to go shopping one day in Hobbs, New Mexico, just thirty miles from my hometown in Seminole, Texas. I was thrilled to go with them.
Our first stop was a fabric shop. This was no surprise, as Mother frequently made clothes for me, as well as apparel for herself. Next, we stopped for coffee for Mama and Loretta and a Coca-Cola for me. Then the unexpected occurred.
Mother pulled up to a veterinarian’s hospital. Loretta and mother grinned at one another as mama said, “Let’s see what they’ve got.”
As we walked in the door, mother asked the lady at the desk, “Do you still have puppies for sale?” I was sure it was the best day of my life. A puppy?
I was excited, but not like mama was. She couldn’t control her oohing and aahing as she gently handled each squirming bundle of fur. Loretta and I looked on.
“Mama, can I hold one?” I begged.
“Of course,” she grinned, handing me one of the coal black Cocker Spaniel puppies. The lady who worked at the desk asked if we were looking for a boy or a girl.
Mama didn’t pause for a minute, “A boy. The last thing we need is puppies at our house.”
Mother picked out her favorite male Cocker puppy. He was jet black, his eyes bright, his nose wet and his tail waggily. I’d never seen Mama act so much like me. She was like a kid, cuddling up to the puppy and letting him lick her face. The decision was made. We gathered up our new family member and headed home.
“Tyra, I think we should name our new doggy, Satin. He feels slick and smooth like the turquoise satin fabric I used to make your Easter dress last year. What about you? What do you think?”
Snuggling my face in Satin’s fur, I nodded yes, that was perfect.
“Your brother and daddy will have to agree, but your daddy said I could get this puppy, so I think it’ll be fine,” she said to herself, as if the naming was done.
Satin was an immediate hit at our house. My brother and I had sibling arguments over how much time each of us got with the new puppy, until mama rescued him and insisted he have some rest time in his cardboard house in the garage.
Our whole family loved Satin, especially mother. Daddy wasn’t as keen. He preferred the strays and mixed breeds he knew from his childhood on a farm. At times, though, I’d see him watching mama playing with Satin, his eyes sparkling. Even at five, I realized it made him smile to see mother so happy.
A few months later, we began noticing that Satin no longer had an appetite for his food, and seemed to want to sleep all the time. I’d sit by his cardboard box in the garage and pray to God he’d get well. Eventually, he would barely lift his head and lost interest in his puppy activities.
One Saturday morning, mother, my older brother and I drove to Hobbs, so the vet could examine Satin. The three of us were in the room while the doctor looked at him. I watched carefully as he tenderly poked and prodded Satin, moving the ear pieces of his stethoscope to his neck. I wondered if Satin’s doctor was sick, too. Everyone looked sad and gray. Finally, after a pause, he told us solemnly that Satin had contracted distemper, a very serious disease. He said he’d try his best to treat him even though most dogs who contracted distemper didn’t live.
We left his office in shocked silence. Mother drove us directly home to Seminole without Satin. We didn’t stop for a favorite treat like ice cream or coca cola, not even coffee for Mama. We didn’t talk much, but we did pray out loud for Satin.
The phone rang just before lunch the next day. It was Satin’s doctor. I eavesdropped behind my bedroom door.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. The kids will be so disappointed. Thank you for calling, doctor.”
Then, I heard the sound of Mama softly crying, the first time I’d ever heard that. As I waited silently behind the door for her to come out and share the news, tears began streaming down my own cheeks.
As I think about this story all these years later, I’ve come to realize that I was mourning not only the loss of Satin, but also the first loss of my own childhood innocence and sense of wonder about the world.
In the comments, I’d love to hear your stories about your most beloved childhood pets.
(c) Tyra Manning 2017