Taffy’s Turn

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As I round the corner to one-third completion of my 30-pieces-in-30 days project, it’s been fascinating to discover the seemingly-random stories that step forward asking to be told.

Today, Taffy has stepped forward to claim her place in history. Taffy was our family dog while I was growing up in what I call my “original home”, a 5200-square-foot brick house that was built in 1909, situated on the Seneca City Line in Buffalo, New York.

I’ve written extensively in my memoir about the impact this home had on my childhood development. Suffice it to say for now that I was forced to leave that home 50 years ago and my heart still longs to have it back.

The house had character, heart, soul, guts, space galore, and a clawfoot bathtub where I shared a bath with my brother, Kevin, every Saturday evening at 7:00 while we were still quite young.

My soapy-smelling can of spray-on bath foam was used to apply a pointy beard to my four-year-old chin and full-size “breasts” over my baby nipples, along with a little sample of things to come “down there”.

Kevin and I would giggle as I squished my ballerina’s foot into his 6-year-old crotch, filled with the mischief of knowing that some boundary might have been crossed but we were unsure as to what it was.

Once it melted into the water, that foam quickly dissolved, right along with our childhood innocence, sense of connection, and love for one another once our father left our family.

It was literally just yesterday that I actually remembered Taffy. How could it be that I could write a memoir replete with such clear and detailed memories starting from age four, while  completely forgetting about our family pet?

I don’t recall if dogs back then were as central to family life as they are now. Certainly, the term, “fur babies” didn’t exist. People didn’t spend gads of cash on food and toys and training. A dog back then subsisted on bagged kibble, occasional canned food, and, if they were lucky, some table scraps.

On Seneca Street, around the corner from our house, was a dog grooming salon (that sold the emerald-green and royal-blue nail polish my mother wore on her toenails, stymying all the neighborhood ladies as to where she procured it, when it was all the while hiding in plain sight right under their noses), so there were must’ve been some specially-pampered dogs in our neighborhood.

But Taffy wasn’t one of them. Taffy was an auburn-colored, skinny, short-haired mixed breed who walked with purpose and confidence.  She had to. She was an outdoor dog who had the run of the neighborhood and seemed to only show up at mealtimes.

I don’t recall anyone ever petting her, playing ball with her, kissing her, walking her, or snuggling with her on the couch.

One summer, our entire house was infested with fleas. Taffy must’ve picked them up in her travels. That singular incident probably got Taffy more attention than she had had in years.

There wasn’t a room in our house that was off-limits from a flea bite. No olly olly oxen free zone of respite from a bite from the tiniest creature on earth that packed such a wollop it might as well have been a shiv to the ribs.

After my mother exhausted a variety of options to rid our home of the infestation, eventually, an exterminator came over to detonate some flea bombs in our house. Problem solved.

Maybe before my father left, Taffy was more important to us.  Maybe Taffy, like all my mother and father’s six children, got caught in the crossfire of my family’s brokenness. Maybe my mother was happy that Taffy was independent and required no further withdrawals from her emotionally-bereft bank account. Laying out Taffy’s food and water dishes every day would have been plenty enough extra energy expended on my mother’s behalf.

How did Taffy leave our lives? I have no idea. I do know that she was already gone before the process server started coming around with the foreclosure papers on our house, a mortal blow to my mother.

All of us: my mother, my father, my four brothers, my older sister, got lost in the shuffle of those difficult and lonely years that shattered each one of us uniqely.

In so many ways, we became as invisible to each other as Taffy had become to us. And equally sovereign. Now that I’m able to see it, I’m not surprised that I recall so little about Taffy besides her basic appearance and an unsightly sore on her face that came and never went away.

I’m thinking of you right now, Taffy.  I want to say on behalf of my entire family that I’m sorry.  I’m sorry that we couldn’t and didn’t give you the love and the care and the attention you wanted and deserved.

With the passage of a lot of time, I can now see your purpose clearly. You were a sparkling mirror to us all, only we were all too traumatized to see.

Dogs, as I understand it, will do anything to serve the people they love.

Penultimate

Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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