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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Our First Dog, Corky

When our second daughter was officially out of diapers, we bought a puppy and began the whole potty training thing all over again. We named him Corky because he was the burnt-black of cork and half Yorkie and half toy poodle. A Yorkapoo the ad in the paper called it, but the name was cuter than this unsold runt that was five months old when we first saw him. (The rest of the litter was long gone.) This poor little guy had the least marketable features of both his tiny parents. His hair lacked the length and markings of a Yorkie, and his pointed ears flopped down like a poodle's. We bought him anyway.

Fully grown, Corky never weighed more than eight pounds and pretty much jittered his way through life. His toenails clicked incessantly on the hardwood floors like a tap-dancin’ Vaudevillian, a canine incarnation of Sammy Davis Jr. We kept hoping he would turn cute (because when you’re that small it’s the only adjective left to hope for), but he just stayed scrawny and got more jittery with time. To our girls, he was their adorable puppy who never turned into a dog.

All day you could find him wherever the girls were, and at bedtime, he watched 'til their bedroom light went out, then scampered to his own woven-wicker bed under the bookcase in the hall. They loved to play outside in sunshine or snow. We didn’t have a fenced-in yard at the little blue house, but Corky never left their sight. In fact, in his six high-strung years, Corky went AWOL from the boundaries of our small world only once between 1989 and April of 1995.

I’ll never forget the Saturday night when I pulled in the driveway after shooting a late wedding. As I unloaded the trunk, Julie met me there in the dark with the sad news that Corky was missing. They’d searched for hours to no avail. The thought of seeing the little guy dead along the road on the way to church prompted me to drive the streets for hours. Eventually I was a mile away on what would have been a busy road were it not the dead of night.

There in front of me I saw him, a little tangled mass of black fur and blood. I pressed the break and inched forward, aiming some light on the dreadful task at hand. “God, help me,” I exhaled in true need of strength. There was no traffic in sight from either direction. I walked toward our little pup who’d been hurt beyond recognition. I am not a casual user of the Lord’s name, but I kept sighing “Oh, God. Oh, God,” in genuine grief that I had not prepared myself to feel.

I used a stick and the flap of a cardboard box like a spade to lift the little creature from the pavement. It was an awful chore. I could barely tell it was Corky, but I finally rolled him onto the improvised bier and held it directly in the bright light. “What do I do with you now?” I thought. “How do I tell the girls, Corky? They can’t see you like this. God, help me,” I sighed once more.

Kneeling there, I looked closer at the black fur through the blood. There was something white mixed in the mire. Or was it a damp reflection in the glair? I lowered it from the beam and with the stick, I rubbed the fur in the opposite direction. It was definitely white….it was a patch of white fur covered in clotted blood—all the rest of the fur was black. Corky had not one strand of white in his coat.

As my blurry eyes finally focused on the facts, I dropped the soggy cardboard. This wasn’t Corky—it was a dead skunk! I examined it further with less attachment—this was for sure a very dead skunk! I leaned down and sniffed at it. There was not one hint of “skunk smell” (which I cannot explain to this day), but the fact that we picked up Corky, alive and well, the next day at the Humane Society happily confirmed that I had not picked him up the night before.

That’s how scrawny our first dog was.

That night was the only time Corky ran away in all his years with us until that first week of April in 1995, when we were unexpectedly called back to Michigan for my father’s funeral. Again I had come home late after shooting a Saturday wedding. Around midnight, the phone rang, and I learned my Dad was gone. The rest of the house was asleep, I sat alone for hours before waking Julie to tell her. Even now, after all these years, my throat hurts as I think about it, but this post is not about that week. It’s about the fact that while we were gone, our dear friends took care of Corky at their house a block away.

Sometime during that long week, through no fault of our friends, Corky went missing for a day. They looked and looked and the next day finally found him at the back door of our little blue house, sitting like a statue, staring up at the doorknob, waiting for it to turn. Our friends described the sight when we returned home.

It's an image that has stayed with me. For six years, he had learned the pattern: human opens back breezeway door; dog gets fresh air and takes care of business; dog stares at doorknob; doorknob turns; human says "Good boy!"; dog goes inside and feels like part of a family again. It had worked that way about 6,000 times in a row. Why would it not work this time? It would. It must. And so he sat there through the night and morning hours. It's a sad but beautiful picture of watching and waiting with unquestioning faith.

After that forlorn experience, Corky was not the same. Sure he had learned to wait when he was alone (and wanted back in), but before getting to that place he had also learned to wander. He now knew he could leave the security of his small world and return at the time of his choosing.

A few weeks later, Corky traipsed off again, and I began a search very much like the time I was “up close and personal” with a dead skunk. This time, however, my search ended the next morning in the shadow of the water tower a few blocks from our house. A little black dog appeared to be sleeping quietly on a neatly trimmed lawn beside the curb. It was unmistakably Corky.

I waited for a pausing school bus full of children to continue on its way, took Corky's woven- wicker bed from the back seat, and placed his still body on the plaid cushion. That was how the girls last saw him. We buried Corky in the Hostas along the path behind our house. So soon after my father's interment at Lakeside Cemetery, the simple re-enactment was surprisingly hard to do.

The next day was Saturday. I was sweeping the back patio when I saw my seven-year-old daughter beside the path by herself, kneeling down to put flowers on the grave. She was smiling and talking, unaware that anyone was watching. The next morning, I wrote the following:


Blogger Nancy said...

I had a dog named Corky and he sounds just like your family pet. My story has a sad ending too but I was blessed (just as your family was) by the short time I had him for a best friend. You are a great writer, I enjoyed the story and the poem.

28/10/06 7:04 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

I've never heard of another dog named Corky. Ours lived to be six. We now have a Westie who turned eight on Labor Day. He is a sturdy lap dog--not nearly as jittery as Corky.

28/10/06 9:23 PM  
Blogger Jody said...

Our next door neighbors (a Lutheran minister and his wife) had a Fox Terrier during the early 80's, and his name was also Corky. SO, maybe it's more popular than you think. I personally have had too many dogs/pups to name...always had a soft spot for bringing home strays or "FREE PUPPIES" when I spotted the sign. I'm sure my love of animals was deeply ingrained in me the first year fof my life, when as a baby I spent many hours down in the barn on the farm my parents owned. However, with the birth of my kids, each successive birth has lessened my desire for a pet, so much so, that we have no plans for getting one as far as I can see. Unless I come across a 'Free Puppy' sign at a moment of weakness. Thanks for another heart-warming, thoughtful story.

30/10/06 2:44 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

As much as I enjoy our current dog, and as sad as it is when they're gone, we would probably get another dog like Kippy...but we are at a very different stage with our kids. I think you are wise not to give in to the allure of "free puppy" signs at this point in your life. Although I must admit, you could probably make house-breaking a dog sound like fun. Thanks for stopping by.

30/10/06 5:04 PM  
Anonymous Ben said...

Uncle Tom,
I appreciated the story! It's so important to revisit these memories! I never knew that Corky was a young as he was, it just seemed like he was there for most of the years growing up.

The poem was great too. I need to read your posts more often. It brings back the very things that I need to recall to grow wise in perspective and sensitive to life's challenges. Grandpa's death taught our family important lessons on faith, adjustment, and priorities.

God has blessed me with your writing. It's the closest thing to a visit that I can get out here in Seattle. :)

10/11/06 12:33 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Ben, I love that you read here now and then. I can related to that "closer to home" feeling. It was part of my life when we were in Iowa and part of why I write about those times. We'll miss you on Thanksgiving but are looking forward to seeing you around New Years.

12/11/06 4:59 PM  

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