Grandpa and the Irish Setter

Santa Ana Register, California, August 12, 1937

Although I did spend time with him, I don’t actually remember my paternal grandfather. He died about 6 weeks after my second birthday. What I do know of him is anecdotal. The stories my family share about him keep him a part of my daily life. He’s animated by their enthusiastic retelling of his escapades and his voice is their chorus of laughter when they get to the conclusion.

Fortunately, there are lots of pictures of Grandpa. While I’m in some of the photos, the vast majority of them are pre-me. But somehow, I feel as if I had been there for all of them. Like when he and my siblings posed in the back yard with corn husks in their noses or while he sat on Salisbury beach with Nana when my father was just a lad. That’s how vivid other people’s memories have become for me. I can even tell the stories with all the original detail as if I had borne witness to the event myself.

And that’s exactly what I am going to do now.

Grandpa liked dogs. Back in those days, my father said there was always a litter of puppies up for grabs somewhere. The plethora of puppies notwithstanding, Grandpa had a tendency to bring home strays.

One day while walking down the street in Boston, a car struck a stray dog not far from where my grandfather stood on the sidewalk. Traffic stopped, people gathered, the animal was declared a goner. My grandfather was a very handy man. He looked at the bleeding dog and thought he could fix him. What did the dog have to lose? And the family was, at the moment, without a canine companion. He wrapped the dog up in his jacket and took him home to his workshop where he discovered that the dog needed a lot of stitches and a lot of nourishment. Grandpa provided both.

Friends who knew the story thought it was incredible, but as a result of many months of my grandfather’s careful ministrations, the dog completely healed and thrived. He was an Irish Setter. A stunningly beautiful dog that was, for all appearances, a faithful companion to my father and his parents. Until the day he wasn’t. He’d done a runner.

My father was heartbroken. My practical grandfather thought the dog had gone back to the life he had known on the street. The call of a wild heart and all that. The little family got used to not having the dog around and life seemed to go back to normal.

A few months later, Grandpa was walking down the same stretch of street where he had rescued the dog. A man was walking toward him. Next to the man trotted a beautiful Irish Setter on a leash. Grandpa shook his head wistfully as the man and the dog passed by. Until it hit him. That’s The Dog!

He called out to the man, “Hey, Mister, that’s my dog!” The man turned around, surprised. He asked how he knew he was his. Grandpa asked him if the dog had a long scar along its belly. He did, indeed! Grandpa proceeded to explain the accident and how he stitched the dog up and nursed him back to health. Then the man told him that a few months prior he found the dog outside his door begging for food and took him in. They both looked down at the dog who was blissfully unaware that he was the subject of controversy.

The man held out the leash to my grandfather with the intent of returning the dog to his rightful owner. My grandfather threw his hands in the air and said, ” No! You can keep him! That is the most ungrateful animal I have ever met!” He turned on his heel and walked off in the direction he was originally headed. My father got a Doberman Pinscher puppy shortly after. They were best friends for years.

And now I’ll share a little secret with you: I have no idea what the dog’s name was! I’ve heard this story dozens of times and for all of the detail my father gave me in his account, not once did he mention what they called the dog. Come to think of it, I never even thought to ask. It never occurred to me until today.

I’m beginning to think this story is more of a parable than an anecdote. The lesson is the practical reality that treating others with kindness is never a guarantee that it will leave a lasting warmth in their hearts. But even if gratitude isn’t offered, a good deed is still worth doing. When we think about how much someone means to us, we’re recalling how they make us feel. We remember those who treat us fairly and with kindness, and who lighten our heart. Those who don’t, well, they stand as an example of what we wish to avoid. Both types of people (or dogs) end up in the stories we hand down. We simply need to decide whether or not we want to be the one whose name gets lost in the telling.

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