“Well, Bonnie, if my children had given me a present like THAT, I would have given it right BACK!” said my pretty friend, Anne, in her sweet Southern drawl.
What she was referring to was the birthday gift from my children, given to me without my prior knowledge– or consent. I should have known something was up when my daughter- in- law, Susie, said she wanted to bring her children to watch me open my presents. But it never crossed my mind that they had such a surprise planned for me.
I had planned a birthday dinner party to celebrate the day with my family and friends. All five of my children were invited with their spouses along with a few of my grandchildren. The party was held at the wonderful house, Barrsden, on Route 20 North, where I used to live.
My family arrived a little early and before the other guests. They told me to sit on the sofa in the living room, which I did. My old dog, Lord Byron, a Jack Russell, sat beside me, looking perplexed. Murdoch, my youngest son, handed me an old- fashioned wicker fishing tackle box. It had a big bow on it. He surprised me by setting the tackle box squarely in my lap.
“What am I supposed to do with this? Do you want me to take up fishing?” I asked, truly mystified; I do not know much about fishing.
“Open it, Mom!” they all chimed in. Even then, I did not get it. I was completely in the dark.
I opened the wicker lid. Though the lighting in the room was somewhat dim, I saw two bright little eyes looking up at me out of a black furry face.
A PUPPY!!!! A real live puppy, and it was for me!
“Oh, My Goodness! It is a puppy. I have never been so shocked! Oh my God!!! I already have a dog! I do not need another one! This is unbelievable! ” I was totally amazed and nearly speechless. But also horrified! I had already begun going to spend long periods of time in Washington, D.C. with my aging mother. The very LAST thing I needed was another dog. And a puppy, of all things, not a trained dog, a PUPPY!!! What was I going to do with a tiny puppy that very weekend? I was supposed to be leaving the next day to go, first, to The Plains, Virginia, for a party, then on to D.C. for a week.
My original reaction may not have been very gracious. I really thought it would be impossible to have a new puppy. My disbelief was real. But a puppy is hard to turn down.
My Jack Russell turned his back and ignored the tackle box and its contents. But, of course, I took that little fur ball out of the basket and into my arms. At eight weeks, he was still very small, and his fur was still smooth. They told me my present was a mid-sized (not miniature) long- haired dachshund from a local kennel near Ruckersville. He had brown markings in all the appropriate places and huge front paws, which surprised me. He had a truncated tail. I asked what happened to his tail and they said, “Oh, it will grow.” I have had dachshunds all my life, and I knew that tail was NOT going to grow. This puppy’s tail ended in a sort of hook.
I was still in shock and still holding the puppy as my other guests arrived. They were all surprised that my family had given me a” live” present. But my family knows me very well. We are a doggie bunch. And they knew I needed something else to love. I was spending so much time dealing with my mother. I held him close and cuddled him against me. I held him all through dinner, too. He sat in my lap quietly and peacefully and never made a sound. By the end of the meal it was pure and mutual love.
My five children were all “in on it.” Those wretched children thought I might need another dog. They realized the Jack Russell, Lord Byron, was aging. I had usually had at least two dogs at a time. They had all talked it over (behind my back). They felt it was time.
Well, I am not so sure my older dog, Byron, thought it was such a good idea. But, over time, he accepted that puppy and loved him, too. In fact, I believe the puppy helped extend Byron’s life.
My first son, Charley, lives near Earlysville with his wife, Andrea Matheson and their blended family of six children. They have the wonderful wine tasting and event venue, Chisholm Vineyard. My daughter, Helen, an artist, lives near Crozet with her husband, David Hilliard and occasionally, some of their three children. Helen hunts with Farmington Hunt. David owns the Lodge at Old Trail. My daughter, Lilla, a sculptor, lives in The Plains, Virginia with her husband, Christopher Ohrstrom; most of their four children have grown and gone. Lilla hunts with Orange County Hunt where my husband was President of the hunt for many years.
My entrepreneur son, Robert, father to Jack Matheson-Bradley, has a house in Charlottesville, which is also a some-time Air B & B. Murdoch, my youngest son, is married to Susie and has three children. He is a broker with Frank Hardy Real Estate, and Susie started the Scout Guide with her partner, Christy Ford. They hunt with Keswick Hounds.
It was Susie who went to the breeder and bought the dog. She kept it for one night so that it could be presented to me exactly on my birthday. She is the culprit. She is also a loving, helpful and thoughtful daughter- in- law. And I thank her now all the time for understanding how important it was for me to have a new dog, and granting my unspoken wish. This puppy, who is now a mature four- year- old dog is the love of my life. Lord Byron died at 16, more than a year ago, giving up the place of the Alpha dog. Thank heavens, I had Magnus to console me. Everyone who can should have a dog (or two). There is simply nothing like them for companionship, unconditional love and in most cases, stress relief.
Magnus is a black- and- tan, long- hair– supposedly mid-size Dachshund- who should have been drowned at birth. His tail is only a half the length it should be and there is a pronounced hook at the end of this truncated appendage. It grows a great fluff of tail feathers where the long hair of his coat makes a multicolored plume, to make up for the lost length of tail. His coat is shiny and full, with King Charles curls at the back of his neck. The nose, which should be long and narrow, is way too short and rather wide, giving him more the face of a spaniel than a typical dachshund profile. His ears dangle appropriately and give him some gravitas. His front paws are huge, much larger than those on his rear legs. I have never seen this on another dog before. Normally, the front feet match those of the back feet.
Everyone feeds Magnus snacks. Once a sleek and agile puppy, by the time he was a little over one year old it was clear that he was gaining too much weight. I tried in vain to get people to cut back on the snacks. There are many caregivers here at my mother’s house in Washington, D.C. They all insist on feeding him treats. He is, you might say, tubby. As for his personality, there is none better. Magnus loves everybody. He enjoys other dogs, and other places, and other people. Above all, he loves me, best. He basically follows me everywhere when he is in the same house. If I am gone, he generally stays in our room. He must be enticed out of there to eat, and he is very shy about coming downstairs without me. Dandy Dude, who is mother’s small “intact” male dachshund, has taken the Alpha dog position from Magnus. Magnus has been neutered, you see. And he seems to recognize this lack. At least he is nowhere near as aggressive as young Dandy, who is two years younger.
Magnus has taken the place of Lord Byron, who left this world the day before Thanksgiving a year ago. I miss Lord Byron every day, but my love for Magnus grows exponentially. He is a dear boy and his devotion is touching. It is as if he knows he is solely responsible for my happiness now that he is the only dog and Lord Byron is no more.
The very first night when we went to bed, Byron slept at my head and Magnus curled up near my chest, but not touching me. Magnus is not a “touching” sleeper. He will allow me to put him next to me in bed and lie there for a while, but then he will quietly move away to his own space, normally closer to the foot of the bed. The nice thing is, most mornings when I wake, he is snuggled against my back on the outside of the covers. This pleases me immensely.
Magnus snores. Sometimes loudly. He has a strange black spot on the edge of his tongue towards the tip. I have no idea why. His nails are long and go clickety click on the hard wood floors and the black- and- white squares in the long marble hall leading to my end of the house. We live a strange existence here, now, in my old house with my elderly mother, who just turned 101 years old last Friday. Who would ever have thought this would happen? Because of her age and the fact that someone must come and run this house, I have upended my life and now Magnus and I stay here with Mother, full time. It is not the life I would have chosen, but I have determined to make the best of it. And I am happy here, now.
The year after the one when my children gave me the dog, I did not invite all of them for my birthday. It was not meant as an insult. I was just trying to make room for more guests. But the outcry from the children was tremendous. They thought it might be because I was afraid, they would give me another puppy. There may have been some truth in that. I don’t quite trust them, not to do it again.