My Grandmother’s name was Patricia, or Pat for short. She was fun and feisty with a wicked throaty laugh that I can still hear clearly when I close my eyes and think of her. She had a lot of great qualities, none that stood out more than her bravery.
At the dawn of the 60’s, more than a decade before I showed up on the planet, she did what not many housewives at the time would ever dream of doing; she decided that she’d had enough of the physical and emotional abuse she was suffering at the hands of my alcoholic Grandfather, and she left him. Women simply did not do that at the time. It was unheard of.
Nana Pat had an adventurous spirit and she was always up for a fresh challenge. She didn’t get her drivers license until she was well into her 40’s, and the first time she drove to work she accidentally left the handbrake on and was passed by a kid on a push bike. She was never a very confident driver, which resulted in her keeping the glovebox of her poo-brown coloured Cortina permanently stocked with Kool Mints. She told me they were to calm her nerves when she drove, but she never balked at letting my sister and I eat some of her stash whenever we were in the car with her. That’s my memory of being in the car with Grandma in the early 80’s: My sister and I eating Kool Mints and being silent at Grandma’s request – “so that I can concentrate on my driving!” – as she rolled down the driver’s side window and chain-smoked.
She was warm and generous and well traveled. Not to mention hilarious. We had matching senses of humour, and I adored her.
In what would turn out to be my last ever conversation with her in 1998 we were chatting about this and that and I mentioned I was thinking of getting a dog, which she told me she thought was a fabulous idea. I then took a deep breath and told her what I was planning on naming the dog; Pat. Not, I emphasized, that I was naming the dog after her. It was more because I had figured out that Pat was a cool name for a dog, as in “Pat the dog” – she laughed that throaty half-a-pack-of-holiday-cigs laugh that I loved so much, said she was fine with me calling the dog Pat, and we said our goodbyes and I hung up the phone. A couple of weeks later, thanks I suppose in no small part to the aforementioned Holiday cigarettes, Nana Pat had a heart attack and died. I still miss her.
About six months later I was visiting my parents in Bathurst over the Australia Day weekend. This was no normal run of the mill visit. At the time I was living in Sydney, about three hours drive away, and I was planning on returning back to Sydney with a new and permanent traveling companion. Mum and Dad had already added a Jack Russell Terrier to their family, a jaw droppingly cute little dude called Jock, and Jock had, over the course of my previous couple of trips home, changed my opinion about getting a small dog.
I always considered lap dogs to be yappy high-strung annoying little fucks and until I befriended Jock I had no idea that Jack Russels are different. Simply put: Nobody has told this particular breed that they are a small dog. They seriously have no idea, and their personalities are full sized. Jock was highly intelligent, super interactive, and would bowl up to a Great Dane in a park as if they were the exact same size. After spending that time with Jock I knew without doubt that a Jack Russell was in my future.
So now here I was with my Dad on the way to the same breeder they got Jock from to go and meet her new litter of puppies. I can’t begin to describe what a beautiful experience it is to choose your puppy, or rather, to let your puppy choose you, because according to my own experience as well as that of just about everyone I have ever spoken to who has done it, that’s what happens – the dog chooses you.
The breeder (such a course word, now that i think about it – you straight readers do know that’s what we homos call you, right? Breeders!) took us into a pen with about half a dozen puppies running around. I stepped in, played with a couple, and started to feel overwhelmed. I wanted all of them! How could i possibly choose just one? I pointed to a pup in the corner who looked a little different to the others. His fur was neither short nor long, it was what I later learned to be described as broken coat. The breeder explained to me that this particular pup would never be a show dog because he is a broken coat, and that instantly made me like that pup more. I went and picked him up and he kind of melted into me immediately, and when i put him down to play with one of the other pups he stayed where he was, spun around, plonked himself down on my feet and looked up at me as if to say, “Pick me!”
I spent a couple of more minutes seeing if i connected with the other pups more than the one on my feet, but that little broken coated fella had already won me over. That face! I picked him up, turned to Dad and said, “His name has to be Pat, in honor of your mum, right?” Dad nodded, and possibly welled up a tiny bit, and I officially took custody of Pat the dog.
He spent our first night together at mum and dad’s place running around with his brother Jock – and then sleeping. He slept a lot to start with. As I put a snoozing Pat in a cardboard box and wrapped him in old blankets for the car trip back to Sydney, I casually mentioned to Mum and Dad as I pulled out of their driveway that Pat seemed like a mellow dog. Mum and Dad both burst out laughing.
“Good luck with that, son” said my Dad as they waved me off.
I drove back to Bexley North and brought Pat inside to check out his new home for the first time. He was a little timid to start with, but then he found his confidence and started darting around the place, practically bouncing off the walls. No wonder Mum and Dad laughed so hard over my comment about Pat being a mellow dog. I spent the rest of that day playing with Pat while he was awake and staring at him while he slept, smitten, utterly in love with that adorable little face.
I also felt the harsh jolt of newly acquired responsibility when I suddenly realised that up until that point in my young adult life I’d had two cats that both decided to run away – that’s a whole other blog – and the only other living things I had ever been put in charge of were goldfish or houseplants that I had managed to murder without exception. I needed to do better this time, and I think I did, but there were still plenty of what I now know were mistakes made along the way, starting with the sleeping arrangements on the first night I had him at home.
When it was time for bed I put Pat out in the Laundry in his little doggy bed, said goodnight and closed the door. Pat, not surprisingly, was not having a bar of it. The sound of your puppy crying, especially the first time you hear it, is just heartbreaking. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for this moment at all, and I caved within half an hour. The crying stopped instantly as I invited Pat inside. He proceeded to splay himself out on the bed and sleep in a position where somehow that tiny little body seemed to take up two thirds of the mattress, a habit that remained for his entire life. On one hand, next time I get a puppy I don’t want to repeat the mistake of the first night. I need to stay strong, ignore the crying, and keep the dog outside – train it – remind it that I’m the human… all that. But on the other hand I doubt I’d be strong enough to pull that off, and i did enjoy the feeling of waking up to the thump thump thump of his little tail, and opening my eyes to see that little face bearing down on me. We were already forever bonded.
I’ll continue the story of Pat the dog next week. In the meantime feel free to leave a comment below or on Twitter @gavindmiller