groucho

thursday 19 may 2011

He belonged to my parents, ultimately, but that’s not how it was supposed to be. He was born in the basement of our house during the first semester of my senior year at college, 1974, or maybe even during my junior year in 73. I wasn’t at home for the blessed event, but when I got there for my Christmas break, my brother’s dog Nipsy was installed in the basement with her new children. The father of this bounty was, I think, a dog called Alex who belonged to brother’s friend. The mom had been named after the comedian Nipsy (Nipsey?) Russell, a favorite of brother’s at the time.

At the time that I arrived on the scene for a month’s break from academe, negotiations were going on between Dad and second brother about keeping second brother’s favorite puppy. My parents already had one dog (I’m pretty sure it was the little Scottie), and didn’t want to go through puppyhood again. And you can’t blame them. They were past 45 and had raised a bunch of puppies in their lives, and it’s a lot of work. Back and forth it went, and while my father protested every single time, dragging out the list of reasons to veto (a list that included brother two’s lack of track record for taking care of any animal), I knew by my father’s tone of voice and the slight twinkle in his eye that he wasn’t going to deny my brother this, no matter how effective a battle he pretended to wage.

Black lab-mix puppy was kept. Was called Groucho after brother number two’s favorite comedian, Groucho Marx. In the cement-floored cellar of our house far from Hollywood, Nipsy Russell had given birth to Grouch Marx. Or Marks. However they spelled it.

Groucho lived a long and storied life, dying on 18 May 1990. He was pre-leash-law days in our town, so he chased cars and rabbits and kids and whatever else. He was hit by drivers of cars twice. Yes, my father had a weakness here about young labs: he felt they needed to run. And though Groucho was hit twice and was lucky not to have been killed, my father did not begin restraining him on a dog run until he was at least several years old. He was a big, sloppy, frisky, absolutely harmless lab, like so many of that breed. He chased kids because he loved them and wanted to play, and while most kids around us understood this, a few did not.

Groucho was special for another reason too, in that he was my daughter’s childhood dog. We lived with my parents for her first five years, and she was a dog person from the time she was still in diapers. She and Groucho were great pals for the ten years they had before he died.

And what of brother number two? It was the same old story. He didn’t take care of, even halfway, the animal he’d asked for. Lost interest in training pretty quickly, and as I was away a lot for school and couldn’t help much, the work of the puppy fell to my parents. For all the years that Groucho lived, my father would pull out at every single family gathering, large or small or important or not, the refrain brother number two had used in his campaign to keep the puppy: You’ll never know he’s around, Dad. It became part of the family lore to the point that we would all say it, both to brother number two himself and to each other when he wasn’t even around. Every time Groucho came home covered in mud,  or chased a car halfway across town and Dad had to get into our car to go fetch him, or brought home a snout full or porcupine quills, and all of his other mischief, at least one of us would say it: You’ll never know he’s around, Dad.

Well, he hasn’t been around now, for twenty-one whole years. I remember him with laughter and affection, and with gratitude that he was the first dog who ever showed my very, very small child how great it is to know a dog.

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read…   All my stars…     Stolen stars…    Mugsy’s book

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2 Comments

  1. Jenny said,

    September 24, 2011 at 9:30 pm

    Great story! Made me go back in time to my childhood dog, a border collie named Lady

  2. mishibone said,

    December 3, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    Jenny… I’m only nearly three months late finding your comment. that’s how long I haven’t been working much on my website. thanks for liking groucho’s story.


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