Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Dusty (or the dog that got away)

From the cat who literally swallowed the canary (and then threw it up on your aunt's antique Persian rug) to the dog who ran away, we at the Stiletto Gang put our collective heads together and thought: what could be better than walking down memory lane with thoughts of some of our favorite--and not-so-favorite--pets? Join us for the next two weeks as we reminisce about the animals we loved and those who loved us.

For most of my childhood, my mother didn’t work.  Then, one day, she went back to work at an office in the Bronx, leaving just before I and my three siblings left for school in the morning.  Fortunately, my grandmother had just left her job at the local convent and was burdened with the task of getting the four of us off to school.  But if you’re a regular reader, you know that Mom and grandmother had a great system for lunches (all made on Sunday; grab and go from the freezer on each weekday) and the bus stop was only across the street.

What could possibly go wrong?

Enter Dusty, the recalcitrant golden retriever.  Lovable, yes.  Obedient?  Hardly.

My grandmother opened the door of the house one lovely Fall day in the mid-1970s and ushered the four of us, all clad in our plaid Catholic-school uniforms, across the street to the bus stop, watching us from the protective comfort of the storm door.  As the door slam started to slam shut, Dusty emerged from whatever hidey hole he had set up for himself and ran past her, taking all hundred pounds of her with him, racing down the steps.  It was bus stop time!  The best time of the day for a two-year-old golden retriever.  Nothing would stop him in his quest for a place at the bus stop with the kids.

Maga, our grandmother, lay prone on the sidewalk in front of the house.  This was a woman, however, who had left the comfort of her Irish cottage in the early 1920s and sailed for America, forging a new life and new family for herself, so this was not a woman to be trifled with.  She made a valiant grab for Dusty’s collar but he wasn’t wearing one and off he took, down the street, our collective groan no match for the sound of the bus trundling down the street. 

I looked at her in horror.  She looked back at me.  The mission was clear:  get Dusty back in the house before the bus reached our stop.

Did I mention that Maga couldn’t drive?  Hence, the horror.  If I missed the bus, I would have to walk two miles to school.  If I had to walk two miles to school, I would be late.  And if I was late, well, Sister Loyola would not be pleased.

I dropped my book bag and took off down the street toward the lawn where Dusty frolicked; when he saw me, he was overjoyed at the thought that I would skip school to play with him. He ran and jumped and chased his own tail, all the while I stood in one spot in the middle of the street, my pleated wool plaid skirt and weskit not suited to playing with a dog.

After a few minutes, Dusty wore himself out and came over to me, throwing himself to the ground at my feet, his tongue lolling out of one side of his mouth.  I looked up the street and saw the bus pull to a stop, everyone else getting on, staring at me wide-eyed from their seats as the bus pulled away.  My heart sank.

I grabbed the dog around the neck and pulled him the entire length of the street, his back feet digging into the asphalt as I begged, pleaded and cajoled that he help me get him to the house.  It took the better part of a half hour, my hysteria mounting the whole way, my grandmother standing by the driveway, helpless.  We finally reached the house and I dragged him inside, my grandmother swatting his behind with a copy of the Daily News and screaming at him that he had made me miss the bus. 

He didn’t care.

I ran outside, gathered up my book bag and looked around frantically hoping to spy a neighbor on their way to work or the grocery store.  The neighborhood was desolate and I was at a loss.

Next door lived my favorite neighbors.  They had five sons and one daughter, and their youngest son was my best friend in the whole world. His older brother, second in line, was not.  To him, my best friend and I were just snot-nosed kids (by this time, he was in his twenties and we were tweens), something that he made crystal clear when we were admiring his brand-new, all white Ford Mustang.  “Don’t touch anything!” he hollered when we got close to the vehicle, the one that would take him to his new job as a high-school teacher.  As I stood on the front lawn that day, I heard the familiar rumble of the Mustang’s engine as he revved it, preparing to peel out of the driveway and head to school.

I tore across the front lawn, throwing myself in the direction of the car, screaming “please, please, please!” as I got closer, hoping that he could hear my frantic cries over the roar of the engine.  He looked up and saw me and while I could see a threat of indecision cross his face—should I or shouldn’t I—he decided to stop and see what I needed.  “A ride,” I gasped.  “I need a ride.”

Of course, he was late for school.  Weren’t we all that beautiful day?  I put my hands together and begged him for a ride, something that took far longer than it should have, given the circumstances (crying tween girl, non-driving grandmother).  He finally relented and opened the door for me with one condition:  I couldn’t touch anything in the car.  So, we rode to school, me sitting on the edge of the white leather bucket seat, my hands crossed on my lap, desperately trying to hold on as he sped toward St. Catherine’s.

I made it to my classroom just before the first bell. (And by the way, Bobby—I touched your dashboard.  Three times.  When you weren’t looking.)

Dusty only lived two years (he died of a congenital birth defect) but he had two years filled with such capers.  He was not a dog for the faint of heart, but he lived life to the fullest, taking any opportunity to frolic and roam and wander.

We all need a little Dusty in our lives.

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Dusty made me laugh this morning, so his capers and love for life lives on, even now, some 30+ years later.

    As for touching Bobby's dashboard--LOL. Good for you!

  2. What a gorgeous story, Maggie! Dusty was obviously one of those dogs who lives large. And I hope you put your whole hand smack against the dashboard each time you touched it!

  3. Your stories are just delightful;I'm glad it worked out sort, and you got that ride in the Mustang!

  4. Dusty sounds like one or two of the dogs that lived with us. Great story!

  5. Hold on a minute: are these reminiscences simply re-run on purpose by the gang that is Stiletto or did you already tell us this glorious story of Dusty a while back, with different words?

    Don't get me wrong--it's a good story and is worth repeating. I'm just trying to figure out if you revised and rewrote or is it just being re-issued for good use and fun?!

  6. Thanks, everyone! Dusty was special--if a little crazy. Although we only had him two years, we still talk about him and his exploits. Vicky, this blog is original; it took me two weeks to write as I wanted it to hit all of the high notes of what really happened that day. Maggie