Now that I’m in my sixties, I have to work a little harder to remember that snow has provided some of the best moments of my life. When I’m out walking our dog, Daisy, after a heavy downfall, the beauty can leave me awestruck and feeling young again. The smell of the ozone goes straight to one’s pleasure centre and the skin tingles. When all is fresh and virgin white, no Christmas card can capture the moment.
Daisy is the best dog I have ever had the good fortune to share my life with. She has the nicest disposition and she’s also a ranking beauty on any creaturely terms. Her face is what a doggie angel’s must look like, if there is a heaven for her kind.
But she will never be the one dog that is all entangled with my memories of youth and fresh-faced fun. That distinction is reserved for Caesar, a lab and boxer cross that was my family’s pet when I was a teenager.
I am reminded of this because snow was Caesar’s element. He and I would go out into the yard on a wintry day and I would throw snowballs he would chase and catch.
Caesar was an Olympic-calibre athlete. He could jump up, contort and snare just about anything. On days when we’d stay indoors, he was my goalie in the basement. I would fire tennis balls at the wall with a hockey stick and, most of the time, I couldn’t get the ball-puck past him.
In summer, at the cottage, Caesar would actually dive under the water to retrieve rocks. Everybody up and down the beach knew him. He was a local character with a stature far above my own.
As much as he was a personality, there are also the memories of what we unintentionally did to him. He was too exuberant. There was no way he could stay out of trouble. Plus my father was a persuasive argument or two short in his dog-whispering skills.
Late at night, if we’d stop for gas on a road trip and most of our family (comprised of dad, mom, my younger sister Anne and me) was asleep, Caesar would manage to escape undetected from the car and we’d leave him behind. An hour later after reversing our journey, we’d return to find him sitting by the side of the road. He never lost confidence that we would come back.
We set him on fire a couple of times. I know how horrible this sounds, but it was easier to do than you might think. Our cottage in the 50s and 60s had a wood stove that regularly needed cleaning. Dying embers would spark out onto Caesar’s back and singe off patches of fur. Then we’d have to chase him around with a blanket to smother the budding flickers.
He was his own worst enemy. His outrageous behaviour with some canine lady friends would often get him into trouble with the neighbours, who would report him to the police. This crimp in his lifestyle is probably why he nipped a couple of non-relatives. We were lucky he wasn’t taken away from us. That kind of behaviour simply isn’t tolerated anymore.
There were also the times he was sprayed by skunks or rolled in dead fish along the seashore. Those occasions necessitated tomato juice baths in the tub or the lake. And he contracted the canine version of bronchitis a couple of times. When that happened, his coughing sounded like someone was re-arranging the furniture over a stone floor. Or like the fog horn of a freighter trying to feel its way to safe harbour.
We inherited the name Caesar from the humane society when we picked him out as by far the liveliest among an otherwise hang-dog crew. When we got him home on the first night, he did something I’ve only ever otherwise seen in a cartoon. He stood on a long throw rug in our hallway and pumped his legs while the carpeting bunched up behind him. For a good ten seconds, he carried on like this and never moved an inch.
Like his namesake, Caesar was imperial and, at least in his own mind, mighty. “I came, I saw, I conquered” was his approach to everything. He had several legendary fights with a local dog named Rex (pronounced RRRex, with a lot of rolling Rs). Rex was a pure-bred boxer and while Caesar never backed down, the cost was always high. He’d come out of these encounters needing to be shaved and sewn up. Then he’d go around for a couple of weeks half hairless until his wounds healed.
I simply do not have the time to spend with Daisy that I did with Caesar. Just the same, that one special dog in your boyhood years takes primacy of place forever. I hope and expect it will be the same with our children and their memories of Daisy.
Caesar is long gone but I can still see him in all his alert glory. For sure he’s not living on in any doggie heaven. He had too many flaws for that. But if there is a God for dogs, He would not send him in the other direction either. To deny Caesar what he loved doing most, chasing after one missile or another, would be too cruel. After all, snowballs don’t stand a chance in hell.