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Our Dog Days of Summer

By Christine Sneed

In my family, baseball season hasn’t truly arrived if there isn’t a dog in the house cowering under a bed. First, there was Zip, a curly-tailed, snowy-furred, German Shepherd and Husky mix who had a fairly high tolerance for my father’s curses and lamentations whenever the Cubs were blowing a lead, which in the ‘80’s when I was a kid, they often were. As the game grew darker and the once-reassuring lead was piddled away with pop-ups and double plays, my father grew louder and more disconsolate. Eventually Zip would pack it in, leave her uneasy vigil in the green bean bag chair we kept for her in the living room next to the TV, and head upstairs, soft white ears flattened against her head. There she would stay until my mother coaxed her back downstairs with a treat and the soothing voice she has perfected in her long career as a veterinarian, this voice as close as any of us could come to an all-clear sign. Zip would nervously descend the stairs on my mother’s heels an hour or so after the game had ended, after my father’s heart had stopped its frantic hammering and the ringing in our ears had partially subsided.

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Chicago Cubs Dog Bowl by Affordable Petable
Zip has been gone since 1989, and it took my parents almost nine years to adopt another dog. Perhaps my father worried about the damage baseball season could do to a creature who, as far as we know, has no capacity to reason through the Cubs-related auditory assaults and recognize that it isn’t the target of these outbursts. Eventually, however, my dad backed down, his vulnerability to cute dogs too strong to withstand the ambush my mother planned for his birthday in 1997 when she appeared with Lily on a leash, a birthday bow on her collar. Lily is an excitable and very smart Border collie, peppy where Zip was sanguine, a worrier and sometimes a moper, but also a tireless fetcher of balls and stuffed frogs and geese and woolly sheep, a whole assortment of baby toys the pet industry has convinced us normally sensible people that our dogs must have. My father, in any case, was determined to control his anguished outbursts during baseball season and overall, he has been much calmer, but Lily’s tolerance level is close to zero when it comes to any man-made shrieks and shouts. After the first rumblings, very minor ones compared to previous living-room storms, she is either trying to crawl under my mother’s feet, or else upstairs under my parents’ bed, waiting for the weather to clear. Sometimes you can hear her pacing, her rabies and ID tags jingling, a nervous music she also makes during thunderstorms and Fourth of July fireworks.

It is a good thing she wasn’t around during the era of Leon Durham, Ron Cey, Lee Smith, and Ryne Sandberg. That playoff game in ’84 when Durham let the ball slip through his legs set my father back for weeks – spontaneous cries and howls emerged from between his clenched teeth quite a few times after the Padres greasily won that gut-wrenching game. Lily might not have recovered if she had lived with us then. Zip withstood it all stoically, as my mother and I did too, and my paternal grandmother June Webb, who had helped to turn my father into a Cubs’ fan at a very early age. She lived to 87 and never once saw them win a World Series. When she died in November of 2006, one of the first things my father said at the start of spring training a few months later was, “All of those years that she hoped they would win, but even in 2003 when we had really started to hope, they just couldn’t do it.” My grandmother was born in New Holstein, a small town in central Wisconsin; she married a man from Illinois and eventually moved to Evanston where she and my grandfather raised my father and my uncle. When I was a little girl, I was amazed that a woman her age, apparently reasonable and accomplished, a world traveler and a retired registered nurse, could adore so passionately what seemed to me the excruciatingly slow game of baseball, that she could spend hours and hours on a sunny summer afternoon happily watching the Cubs flop out or else squeak out a win, all the while cheering them on fondly, clapping her hands as she said, “Come on Cubbies!” She loved them well and felt a mother’s, not just a fan’s, disappointment if they lost. All of those afternoons over several decades that she had struggled with them, nurtured them, taught them to keep trying when things looked so grim.

Maybe it’s unfair to speak mostly of how the Cubs have let us down or how each season they have helped to disappoint grandmothers or terrorize countless innocent dogs. But on the days when they win, it isn’t much easier for Lily because even though the shouts in my parents’ household are ones of joy, to Lily’s ear, they are equally loud, male and therefore frightening. My father might be smiling, but Lily is probably too afraid to look at his face; she’ll skitter over to my mother in the next room or race up the stairs and crawl under the bed. I imagine that PETA would have some objections if my parents could take Lily to Wrigley Field to see what all of the fuss is about, to see Derrek Lee hit a grand slam, or Carlos Zambrano pitch a shutout. The roars in such force and number would undoubtedly cause cardiac arrest. But as far as I know, no dogs are allowed inside the friendly confines. It’s the ultimate strike zone as far as they’re concerned.

Dogs, of course, are very sensitive creatures. But then, so are Cubs fans.

Christine Sneed, who lives in Evanston and teaches writing classes at DePaul University and Loyola University, will appear at El Jardin May 7 as part of the next Lovable Losers Literary Revue. She has published short stories and poems in various literary journals including Other Voices, New England Review, Massachusetts Review, Greensboro Review and this October, a story of hers selected by Salman Rushdie will appear in Best American Short Stories 2008.
Posted on Sunday, May 4, 2008 at 04:02PM by Registered CommenterLovable Losers Literary Revue in , | Comments5 Comments | References2 References

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