Thursday, July 04, 2013

Two Score Years Ago

Toby, the Dog was born on this day in 1973, one of six German Shepherd-Labrador-Irish Setter-Spaniel puppies who came into the world next door to my girlfriend’s apartment in Charlottesville, Virginia. The litter ranged in color from golden to black with variations of black, red and gold in between. I had claim on the second pick and chose a dark, red-hued male. He was small enough to hold in my hand and lived in a cardboard box. Two months later, we moved to a cottage about five miles south of town where Toby had lots of room to run. By late fall, he was a gangly adolescent of an indeterminate reddish-brown. By spring, he sported a sleek red coat trimmed with black and tan.

Toby shared the adventure of a new marriage, new job and moving to Richmond during his first year. We learned how to walk on a leash and explored the woods in Bryan Park near our home. He also stood by nervously as the marriage became more difficult and tense as it slid toward dissolution. Throughout it all he was a constant companion and soon became my hiking partner. In order to avoid more popular trails where a dog was likely to be an encumbrance, we hiked Virginia’s western mountains and discovered the wonders of Ramseys Draft, Massanutten Mountain and Big Schloss. We spent many an hour together at Reeds Gap on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In 1982, Toby watched as I packed and packed and packed for my move to Arizona and then sat patiently behind me as we drove from Richmond to Phoenix. Arizona was a challenge for a hiking dog—far too many cactus, rattlesnakes and javalinas about for me to feel comfortable with him on the trail, not to mention the challenging terrain. We certainly explored the streets and alleyways of our new neighborhood and its environs. He and I did a couple hikes together; a grueling hike in New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness on the July Fourth holiday in 1984 was his last major trip. After that, he stayed closer to home.

He adjusted well to the changes life brought to us. He had come to accept Maggie’s two dogs, Mitzi and O'Leary, as she and I began to spend time together.  In 1985, I adopted (Maggie’s doings) a stray dog, Zona, who delivered six puppies in my back yard. Toby tolerated the encroachments although he never quite warmed up to his new companions. He’d been an only dog for so long that he wasn’t likely to change at age 13. Still, he was part of the pack when we loaded all four dogs into the car for trips back and forth between our homes.

The four dogs in the car became the four dogs in the household in 1988 when Maggie and I began living together. By this time, the young dog full of explosive energy was an old dog with failing eyesight and hearing, one who slept most of the day. He still had enough energy to take me for walks but they were nothing like earlier years’ when we ranged all over central Phoenix.

Toby died 30 December 1988, just shy of 15 ½ years old. I miss him still and cherish the memories of our time together.

[Editor's Note:  Originally published in 2009 but it seemed right for today as well.]


Sunday, June 30, 2013

All of the Romance. Little of the Reality.

Even non-history buffs are likely to encounter the Gettysburg Battle lollapalooza over the next few days(*) as the nation "celebrates" three days of carnage in 1863. No doubt this year's event will be less violent but it's far too much of a pageant for my taste.

Which re-enactors do you think will play the part of the Confederates who kidnapped free blacks in Pennsylvania and took them into slavery after retreating from Gettysburg?

Hat tip for this little known bit of Confederate gallantry: The Secrets of Mary Bowser by Lois Laveen. Secrets may be historical fiction but the the history is true.

(*)Update: Now that I look at the reenactment site, I see that the event won't even take place on the actual dates--July 1-3--of the battle. The reenactment will be July 4-7, no doubt a more convenient time for spectators, participants and maximum media exposure but another step away from reality. Hell, by July 4, 1863 the Confederates were heading south.

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