The Adventure of the Beagle and the Pilfered French Bread

It’s funny, the things we remember.  There are the big things, of course–weddings, funerals, graduations, disappointments, loves, rejections, triumphs.  But there are little things, too, small details that live on in our consciousness like echoes reverberating through the decades.  Sometimes it’s hard to figure out why we remember the things we do.  At some level, some things–even what, on the surface, appear to be minor things–affect us in such a way that our minds hold onto them, tightly, as if grasping a precious jewel.

 

And these memories are not buried, hidden beneath the surface, like trinkets in a dusty attic chest.  They whisper into our ears, make subtle suggestions when we least expect it, and, for those who create stories, they sometimes weave their way into our narratives–not always exactly as they happened, but close enough to inspire a scene or a chapter.

 

One such memory for me involves our dog when I was eight years old and a loaf of French bread.  I don’t believe it’s ever worked its way into one of my stories–but it likely will.  And it is the focus of this post.

 

First, allow me to back up.  For years, going back to before I was born, my mother always named the family dog “Poopsie.”  Don’t ask me why–I don’t know.  And I never asked.  But “Poopsie” was a given in our family.  If we got a dog, male or female–didn’t matter–we didn’t have to wonder what the dog’s name would be.  The first two Poopsies were before my time. But when I was eight years old, we adopted a beagle and named her Poopsie III.

 

Now, Poopsie III was athletic!  And naughty!  She spent much of her time in our backyard, which was fenced.  We figured this would keep her safe and prevent her from running away and exploring the neighborhood.  We were wrong.  Almost every day, it seemed, Poopsie would hop the fence, spend a couple of hours doing we could only guess what–and then come racing back down the street, usually cresting the big hill in the distance and sprinting down its slope, eventually reaching our driveway and hopping the fence again to head to the rear corner of the yard, where her doghouse was situated.  She sometimes dug under the fence, too, and crawled underneath–just to mix things up.  A lot of times, we’d keep her on a leash so she couldn’t get out of the yard.  But Poopsie was a dog built for running.  So my mother was adamant that she shouldn’t always be constricted to a ten-foot-by-ten-foot circle of yard.  That didn’t stop my mother from scolding Poopsie, though, every time she came back home from one of her adventures through the neighborhood.

One such adventure stands out above all the rest.  It was a pleasant summer afternoon back in the 1980s, and, looking out the back window, I stated, “Poopsie’s gone.”  Indeed.  Her doghouse was abandoned, and she was nowhere to be seen.  Evidently, she had hopped the fence and was out in the neighborhood, somewhere, doing something.

 

About an hour later, we learned what she’d been up to.  My parents, my siblings, and I were all out front–I’m not sure what we were doing.  Maybe peering down the street, wondering when Poopsie would be back.

And then, sure enough, there she was, cresting the hilltop up the road.  She then raced down the hill, heading straight for us.  But . . . was there something in her mouth?  There was!  Though she was still too far away to discern exactly what it was.

Seconds later, as she raced closer, closer, we all saw it.  A large, long, full loaf of French bread.  She carried it dead-center, the loaf sticking out half a foot on each side of her mouth.  And as she neared us, running the whole way, she was undoubtedly smiling.

 

“What did you do?” my mother yelled at her.  And then, as she often did when Poopsie came back from a neighborhood run, she pointed to the backyard and commanded that she “get in [her] house.”  Poopsie didn’t hesitate.  She raced to the backyard fence, and like Superdog, bolted over it in a single bound.

 

We were all shocked.  How had she gotten hold of an entire loaf of French bread?  There were no grocery stores in the direction from which she’d come–not close enough, anyway.  But there was a small, family-owned bakery up that way.  Had she entered the bakery and pilfered a loaf of their bread?  Or had she taken the bread out of the hand of a pedestrian walking home from the bakery?  We never found out.  Certainly no one was chasing Poopsie, attempting to reclaim the bread.  It was a mystery.

 

We all had a good laugh about it, right there in the front yard.  My mother, even while yelling at Poopsie, was laughing.  We decided to go inside and see what the dog was up to.  Looking out the back window, we saw Poopsie trying to enter her doghouse, but she couldn’t.  She still carried her loaf of bread in her mouth, and as she tried to enter through the small opening in front, the bread would ram up against the front of her doghouse, pinning her in place.

Eventually, she dropped the treasured bread directly in front of her doghouse and then went inside.  But she’d left the bread close enough to the open doorway where she could lean out and take large, gluttonous bites of it.  In just a couple of minutes, she ate the entire loaf.  She had a good nap after that.

 

And still to this day, all these years later, I can recall the smile on her face as she ran down the street, bread in mouth.  It will stay with me as long as I live, the memory like an old friend ready and waiting to cheer me up whenever needed.

“Thanks for the memories, Poopsie.  You will not be forgotten.”

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

 

 

The Curious Case of the Beagle and the Purloined Loaf of French Bread (Or, You’ll Never See Unless You Look Up)

She’d been gone the entire morning, and I was worried.

“Mom, we should go looking . . . in the car.”  I’d already walked the neighborhood, without any luck. I didn’t see our dog anywhere.  And, at eight years old, I couldn’t very well drive myself.  I needed someone else to step up.

“I’m sure Poopsie will be back soon,” Mom said.  “You know how she is.”

To step back, yes, you read that right.  Our dog was named Poopsie.  Well, Poopsie III, if you want to be precise. Don’t blame me.  It was a family tradition.  Every dog we ever had, my mother named Poopsie.  She wouldn’t have it any other way.  We had four in all, and number four would end up being my best friend throughout my teen years and beyond.

 

But Poopsie III was a good friend, too.  She was a beagle, who spent most of her time in the fenced-in backyard.  My father built her a doghouse, and she would hole away in there for hours on end, only to reemerge ready for food and play.

 

Play, indeed.  Poopsie III was a high-energy dog, often running around in circles chasing her own tail, hunting birds, and playing fetch with the stamina of superdog.

And, oh, yeah.  She liked to run away.

We tried to prevent it, but it was a losing proposition.  We didn’t want to keep her on a leash 24/7–she was too rambunctious and full of energy.  And we hoped the fence would keep her safe and secure in the yard.  It didn’t.  Not only did Poopsie III have the stamina of superdog; she had the leaping ability of superdog, too.  She jumped the fence with ease.  (She also dug underneath it, burrowing down and crossing into the neighbor’s yard via her hastily constructed subterranean path  The neighbor had a poodle, Satch, and when Satch was in his own backyard, Poopsie would invariably tunnel under the fence to go play with him.)  Of course, I recommended that we just let her in the house and have her live with us inside.  My mother objected (though Poopsie IV, a cocker spaniel, would indeed be an indoor dog).  What could I do?  I didn’t have the necessary clout as an eight-year-old.

 

And on that day, that overcast, muggy August morning, Poopsie was missing.  When I checked the clock that hung above the sink, the hands told me it was nearing noon.  And Poopsie had been gone since before eight–four hours ago!  She’d never been gone this long.

“Mom!” I protested, unwilling to let this go.  But my mother stood firm.  She gave me a two o’clock deadline.  If Poopsie didn’t show up by then, we’d head out in the car and search for her.

Those two hours crawled by like a tortoise lugging a piano.  Finally, though, 2:00 p.m. arrived–and still no Poopsie.

“Okay,” Mom said.  “Let’s go.”

 

We headed out to the driveway.  But rather than entering the car directly, we decided to walk into the street and peer into the distance–just in case.  By this time, there was a break in the cloud cover, and a warm summer sun shone upon the neighborhood.  I shielded my eyes with my right hand and peered up the road.  A few seconds went by, and nothing–only a few neighbors milling about in their front yards. The street was empty–not even a car. But then, I saw movement–a shape emerging atop the hill that lay beyond the stop sign at the nearest intersection . . . could it be?  I took a few steps forward.  I sensed Mom did the same, though I didn’t know for certain as my focus was 100 percent on the tableau playing out before me.

 

As the shape in the distance grew nearer, sprinting down the hill, closer, closer, running faster, I knew.  Poopsie!  There was no doubt.  But where had she gone?  Why had she been missing for so long?  And . . . what did she have in her mouth?

Indeed, as she bolted through the intersection, now on flat ground, and approached us, we could make out what she had: a long, full loaf of French bread.  She hadn’t taken a bite out of it–and it had to be two feet long.  She gripped on tight, careful not to drop her catch.  When she finally reached us, my mother and I burst out laughing.  How could we not?

 

“Poopsie!” Mom shouted.  “Where did you get that?”

There was a bakery way up and over the hill, two miles up the road on a different street–Ricardo’s.  We went there sometimes to acquire fresh bread and other delectables.  Had Poopsie gone inside the bakery?  Or had she hid in the shadows nearby and waited for an innocent customer to emerge with a loaf of French bread?  I tried to picture the theft.  How had she managed it?  And why wasn’t anyone chasing her?

 

Before Poopsie could settle in and partake of her ill-gotten bread, my mother yelled at her for running away and for stealing the loaf.  Instantly, Poopsie–still with a vice-grip on her prize–darted toward the backyard and hopped the fence.  We went back in the house, looked through the window, and there she was . . . trying to enter her doghouse with the loaf of bread.  But the bread was too wide and kept barring entry.  She’d plow ahead, but the bread would catch on the wood of her house, rebuffing her time and again.  Finally, Poopsie solved the riddle, dropping the load and nuzzling it into her doghouse with her nose.  When she vanished inside her abode, we knew she’d be there for a while.  We just hoped she wouldn’t get an upset stomach!

 

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Have you ever felt desperate for an idea?  Have you ever experienced writer’s block?  Do partial ideas come your way, tantalizing in their promise, but frustrating in their incompleteness and the many gaps that still need to be filled?  The muse isn’t always in a giving mood.  Sometimes, we just need to wait.  Because I know that, at least for me, ideas cannot be forced.  Creativity cannot be coerced.  I can think about a skeletal idea, I can attempt to build muscle and sinew and attach them to the bones, but, in the end, the full flower of the idea, the complete telling of the story, will come when it comes.

 

And this happens a lot.  More times than I can count, I get fragments, partial inspirations, intriguing scenarios and what-ifs.  But until those scenarios can be expanded, until characters and subplots and layers upon layers of story can be added to the initial idea, until a palette of colors can be applied to the sketch, I am stuck, in an embryonic state of the process, waiting on a capricious and too often shy muse to come to call.

 

And there are times when it all feels so hopeless, when the lack of workable ideas rises up like a taunt, when it’s easy to wonder if the literary well has gone dry and the pump forever malfunctioned.  But in those moments, after searching and cajoling and overthinking and obsessing, when characters and dialogue are silent as the grave, be sure to look up.

To believe.

To survey that hill in the distance.

Because maybe, just maybe, the answer, like a jubilant, rediscovered dog with a purloined bakery prize, will come dashing toward you with the answers you need.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

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