29 August 2009


In L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, we are intro­duced to Toto, a funny little dog who makes the heroine, Dorothy Gale, laugh – despite her grey surroundings. That dog and that laughter, Baum says, are the only color to be found on Aunt Em and Uncle Henry’s farm.

While many parts of the Oz books are fantasy, this part is not: there is nothing like a cute, funny little dog to brighten the day. That’s why I came to value Mac, my parents’ Maltese, who died this week after a sudden illness. Their days can use a little brightening, most of the time, and Mac was good for that, reliably so (albeit for very little else). He was only four years old.

It’s not easy to come home and discover, in your mid-40s, that you have been a neglected child all your life. Yet the facts cannot be ignored. Your parents have had another child: a pampered, terrorizing infant in whom they see not the slightest need for discipline, or even potty-training, who enjoys the run of the house, yet is not house-broken, and who has transformed every one of your relatives (even your aunt Letitia, one of the most sensible people you've ever met) into fools and suckers. Such was Mac.

You couldn’t stay angry with him, even when he habitually shat under your bed, because he brought such pleasure to everyone in Goliad. My dad, in particular, enjoys few pleasures any more, yet he was truly happy when Mac was in his arms; my female relatives turned into little girls in Mac’s presence, crawling around the floor after him, taking him for walks, dressing him up, and lavishing on him far more toys than I ever had.

Mac lacked the heroic qualities of Dorothy’s Toto, though he seemed unaware (like the rest of my family) of this fact. He never killed a Wicked Witch, though he harassed the squirrels in the yard; he couldn’t speak, though he did his yapping damnedest to join in every phone conversa­tion, including Transatlantic calls. As far as Mac was concerned, he was a paragon of wonders, and not one member of my family ever disputed with him.

If the universe were indeed guided by a just and loving power, Mac might have lived longer, while he went on making old folks happy. But no. Such was not to be. You may draw your own conclusions as to what this means, in terms of the cosmic order, but I will tell you this much: it is easier to face hard truths when you’ve got a puppy to play with.

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