Peaches had a reputation.
“Stupidest dog I’ve ever seen,” my Dad said. “Has a brain the size of a pea.”
I’m not sure why we named her Peaches, or if the name had anything to do with its first three letters – pea, as in pea-brain. Probably not.
We spent most of the summer of 1956 at our lake cottage, where Peaches caused a ruckus almost every day. My Dad consistently frowned his best “shame on you” look and shook his head. “That dog … (long pause) … should be shot.”
I knew he didn’t really mean it. He liked Peaches’ beagle howl when she threw her head back, rolled her eyes, and belted out a “woo – wooooo – woo – woooo.” Her howl reminded him of his childhood hunting dog, who, according to legend, was smart as a whip in contrast to Peaches.
I felt sorry for this clueless, tail-wagging, lick-you-all-over dog and decided to honor her with a middle name. So one evening I dubbed her Peaches Sue, and ever after that called her by her full name. At least “Sue” had a feminine sound, as well as a down-home-in-the-hill-country connotation fit for a beagle. It stuck.
One day Dad came in from a morning of fishing. He parked the boat, left his bamboo pole, and hurried up the pier. Oblivious, I hunted for pretty rocks and shells in the shallows as Peaches Sue trotted past Dad in the opposite direction.
All of a sudden loud clattering, accompanied by shrill yipping, forced me to look up from my treasure hunt. “What’s going on …?”
Peaches Sue decided to investigate the still-wriggling worm on Dad’s fishing hook – only to hook her own nose! As she ran toward shore the awkward pole lurched behind her like a violently jumping (and yet straight-out-paralyzed), oversized snake.
“Peaches Sue! Come here, girl! STOP!”
Up the hill she ran, through the thick cover of myrtle, and around the log cabin. I raced behind her, barefooted. Both Mom and Dad, holding half-eaten bologna sandwiches, hurried to the porch to see what was causing the commotion.
My parents took off in the opposite direction to head her off, but she ran right past them with the pole bouncing behind. I sped around the corner of the cottage, still in hot pursuit, and barely dodged them. Above the din I could hear my Dad exclaim, “I’ve said it a million times – that dog is just plain STUPID!”
After several near escapes, the three of us finally cornered the quivering, wild-eyed canine. I muzzled her terrified face; Mom confined her squirming hind legs.
Dad was elected to do surgery and remove the hook that was now deeply embedded in one nostril. He pushed it all the way through to the other nostril while Peaches Sue writhed. Then “snip,” he cut the barb with pliers and pulled out the hook.
Not long after the fishhook incident, Peaches Sue began to seek solace in comfort food and developed an eating disorder. Every Monday after the weekend crowd came and went she glutted on leftovers.
In those days, each property owner around the lake burned trash in big, old, rusty barrels beside the road. Many sported holes near the bottom. Peaches Sue figured out she could dine on blackened T-bones and other charred delicacies, and would come home Monday nights with her belly literally dragging the ground.
“Dumb dog …” Dad chided her every week and showed no compassion when she couldn’t eat for days after a binge.
Peaches Sue’s liver failed just as school started in the fall. “No surprise,” Dad said. “She gorged on ashes all summer.”
She lived only a few weeks, during which time I tried to console and love her well. No more baying howls, no more snooping with her hunter-nose. No more awkward or hurtful discoveries, no more ridicule. She lay stone still and thumped her rope-like tail in greeting only occasionally.
Dad and I watched as she breathed her last breath one Monday evening. “Maybe she’ll enjoy some juicy, raw T-bones tonight in doggy heaven.” He spoke softly and tenderly to console me. “She was quite a dog, wasn’t she?”
“A regular worm-sniffing, pole-dragging, trash-eating mutt of a dog, Dad.”
His arm wrapped around my shoulder. “A hound-baying, free spirit.”
“A go-for-the-gusto dog.”
“Just like me.”
“I think that’s why she drove me nuts.”
“I just want you to know … I’m going to miss her.”
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