Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Zip Greenlaw
I don’t own a dog. At the age of 50, just when I thought I was getting over the hump called mid-life, I developed an allergy to animal dander. Now, in my family ancestry, dogs are considered one of the staples of a happy life; and if not dogs, cats. So, in a sense I’m a black sheep among a clan of dog and cat lovers; namely, my Scots ancestors, the Greenlaws,  from whence my mother came. Growing up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we always had dogs around, tunneling holes in the backyard, sitting on the back porch barking all night, and, finally, one cocker spaniel named “Tee-Nap” that accompanied the family in a crowded Ford coupe all the way to Diddy Wah Diddy, my father’s name for California.
Great Uncle Ed Greenlaw was the consummate dogologist and ‘though he wasn’t a misanthrope, he was fond of quoting the maxim, “The more I know of man, the more I love my dog.” He immortalized his fox terrier in a pamphlet published on his own printing press entitled Zip Greenlaw, Autobiography of a Fox Terrier, that is now in the archives at Louisiana State University. Zip was a regular terror of a dog who often fought with the cat next door named Kitty Gamard and was taught to squeeze a water pistol loaded with water at grand nieces (mostly me) when Great Uncle Ed didn’t want to be disturbed. Great Uncle Ed also suffered from a disease called “children intolerance,” sorta’ like W. C. Fields. The water pistol incident is the only live memory I have of  Uncle Ed and his dog, which I immortalized (?) in a poem that I published in Grandma’sGood War: A Verse Retrospective of the Forties.
I try to avoid dog licks, pounces, and other shows of affection because such expressions usually cause me to sneeze, get teary-eyed, and itch all over. However, in cases of emergency I’ve been known to get within barking distance of short-haired hounds, namely dachshunds. These hounds exhibit a certain intelligence that Great Uncle Ed would appreciate and write about if he were still alive.
For example, the other day I visited a friend in my official capacity as a deacon in the Episcopal Church (an office which Great Uncle Ed wouldn’t have respected because he was an agnostic and spent an hour every Sunday parked in his Cadillac, waiting for his daughters to emerge from an Episcopal Church in New Orleans, Louisiana... or on some Sundays, he simply watched the trains go by until decent folk emerged from their Sunday pews, when he’d say “They’ll be all right on Monday”). Anyway, one Thursday, I put my Communion kit under my arm and took Communion to a close friend who has been confined indoors for a spell. Her constant companion is a miniature dachshund named “Gus” (oddly enough, the name of Great Uncle Ed’s cook!). Most of the time when we visit, Gus climbs into a basket in front of the hassock where my friend stretches out her legs and after playing “Man’s Best Friend Is His Dog” on his squeak toys (shades of the old water pistol), he goes to sleep for the duration of our visit.
On this particular Thursday, while I'm  preparing my miniscule altar and placing the vessels on it, Gus pulls the blanket over his head, I suppose, so that he doesn’t have to listen to the prayers – or maybe, smart dog that he is, he’s going into his closet and praying like Jesus enjoined us to do. I finally reach the part where I lift the paten with wafers on it and announce, “The gifts of God for the people of God.” When I moved to put the Communion wafer in my friend’s hands, Gus burst from his hideaway under the blanket and came over to the hassock, panting for his turn to commune. The most irreverent laugher ended our home Communion service. My friend explained to me that Gus appears at the card table on cue when the ladies put down their cards and bring out the dessert tray because they always include treats they’ve prepared for him. I had committed the sin of dog omission!
I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out of the Eucharistic Feast, even dogs to which I am allergic, so this morning after Eucharist at St. Mary’s, I asked for an increased supply of Communion wafers. Dogologists that the Sisters are, they approved an extra wafer for my next visit with Gus. I could hear Great Uncle Ed laughing up yonder.
Here’s a portion of the bit of doggerel from Grandma’sGood War:
It began with Great Uncle Ed who called himself a dogologist,
a man who perhaps needed the help of a skilled psychologist,
Great Uncle Ed whose favorite quotation
was the maxim of long duration,
“The more I know of men, the more I love my dog,”
a sentiment reinforced by the writing of a daily log
that became autobiography of a dog named Zip Greenlaw,
a fox terrier that would hold a water pistol in his paw
and douse children if they came near Great Uncle Ed,
more evidence that Uncle meant what he said
about not liking humans as much as those canine,
claiming Greenlaws could speak Dog, a language more divine
than, for instance, his son-in-law who spoke with vigor
about work toward a Ph.D., short for “post hole digger.”
“If one made a hole to let something out,”
Zip wrote, “then without a shred of canine doubt,
one has also made a way to let something in,”
citing his backyard hang-out as evidence of this spin.
Zip claimed that a Ph.D. impeded rather than protected,
that man could live a life more inner directed
without advanced degree, a hole in the yard being a feature
he could wiggle into but also be forced out by larger creature…”

That’s only a portion of the piece of doggerel, but you can imagine the rest of the dialogue. The above essay about dogs is what happens to poets on a rainy day on The Mountain, but doggone, it’s the closest I can get to a creature that the One Whom None Can Hinder keeps from my “spoliation” by endowing me with an allergy to our canine friends.

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