Before I was born my parents took in a local waif, a part spaniel mutt they named Patches, for her black and white patched looking coat. Patches had lived on the street as a puppy and had acquired street smarts, as some creatures who have to live by their wits do. My mother told me Patches had adopted them, rather than the other way around. She was a very smart dog, I remember that.
“Yeah, she was very smart,” said the skeleton. “And when you were little you used to try to ride her and pull her ears. She wanted no part of that shit. When you came into the room, Patches and Pop would immediately head to the other side of the room. You used to sit on Pop’s lap and start pulling his nose. They both quickly learned to avoid you. It was funny as hell to observe: as soon as you’d toddle into the room they’d both get right up and move as far away from you as they could.”
Shortly after I was born my parents moved from the garden apartment in Arrowbrook to the house on the tree-lined street where my sister and I grew up. Patches had the run of the new neighborhood. She wore a collar with a vaccination tag and a tag with my parents’ name and address, but never a leash. She didn’t need one. My mother would let her out, if the weather was good, and Patches would make her rounds, the metal tags clinking as she went.
She used to visit the dumpster behind the bar where she would occasionally score part of a chicken carcass she’d drag home with her. She found other delicacies from time to time, there was butcher shop nearby, and they liked her there. She was a friendly, likable dog, like the Artful Dodger.
On summer days, when the Good Humor truck came down our street, she’d run with the other kids at the sound of the Good Humor man’s bell. As the kids ordered their ice cream the Good Humor man would set out a cup of vanilla ice cream on the side of the street for Patches. As the dog lapped up the ice cream my mother would come out and give the Good Humor man a dime, or send my sister or me out to pay Patches’ tab.
She was a good dog and truly part of the family, rather than a pet. My father sometimes pointed out that she had been there first, before me, the first born. Patches had been their trial run for raising a child. As a street smart waif she was able to give them a lot of help in that sometimes tricky endeavor, whereas my sister and I were not so independent.
I have no idea what Patches said or did to Eli’s ferocious Boxer Taffy that ended her up with her entire head between the big dog’s jaws. Eli leaped into action, grabbed Taffy by the neck, cuffed him with one of his hard hands and pulled Patches safely away. I remember Patches was covered with slobber, and my mother was hysterical, but Patches was unhurt and did not seem overly concerned afterwards.