OH, PURPLE MONSTER!

It turned out to be a quiet Fourth of July.

Aussie went on her twice weekly jaunt with Leeann, while I kept a wary eye on the traffic signs everywhere, reminding me that tomorrow, Saturday, the town of Leverett will celebrate its 250th birthday with a parade, communal meal, religious services, cake lighting, and parties. It’s a month of civic celebrations here in New England towns. The flags are put out to hang by streetlamps for Memorial Day and don’t come down till sometime after July 4. The fire trucks are cleaned and spiffed up for parades, there are floats, antique cars, scouts and Little League marches, veterans, police.

We all appreciate it, except for Henry.

His main human, Lori, was driven out East to see her family over a number of days for the holiday weekend, the first time she’s left this house in almost 4 months other than to see doctors and physical therapists. I was thrilled for her; she’d gone through so much since the accident.

Not so Henry, the Illegal Chihuahua. His spirits sank, he followed me everywhere, and on walks hung right at my feet. Yes, we played catch in the yard, yes, he slept on my bed. I’m probably as good a caregiver for him as any, short of his Peerless Leader.

But it’s now the morning of the Fourth and I’m wondering what to do. Ahead of us are an afternoon and evening of fireworks and firecrackers, not as bad as in the city but enough to frighten both dogs, and already he’s dogging my every step (sorry about that), as if preparing for the apocalypse. And then I remembered something.

Several months ago, shortly after Lori’s accident, I had bought him a toy, a stuffed purple monster, with the loudest squeak imaginable. He fell in love, swinging it right and left like a rattle, flinging it up in the air and catching it, juggling and jouncing it everywhere, unutterably and insanely happy.

You know how often we adult humans ask ourselves: Am I happy? What makes me happy? Henry didn’t have to ask, he knew: It was Purple Monster, with the orange ears and mini-elephant nose.

Unfortunately, the loud, strident squeaker was waking up the dead in all our local cemeteries. “What kind of animal is it?” asked Lori. “I don’t know,” I replied, “only it makes him happy.”

But Lori needed to rest and finally asked me to get rid of it.

I couldn’t get rid of it. Instead, I took it away, walked to my closet, wrapped it up in an article of clothing, and left it on a top shelf.

Everyone knows that dogs have a short memory, right? Wrong. Since that event three months ago, Henry goes to my closet every single day, sits back and looks up like some lovelorn widower, and cries: Oh, Purple Monster, I know you’re there! His grief is palpable, eyes opening wide with hope whenever I approach the closet, then the head and tail droop with disappointment when I retrieve a shirt or a pair of sandals and turn away, and he walks out, disconsolate.

Yesterday morning it hit me that I was alone with the two dogs, and the squeaking didn’t bother me much. If ever there was a day for Henry to be reunited with his love, July 4 was it. I went to the closet, Henry following me with great excitement. I fumbled around for a while while he started barking:  There! On the third shelf, can’t you see it? It’s right behind the black pants!

Found it, gave it to him, and you’d have to add up all the joy of all July 4 picnics, barbecues, swimming parties, parades and fireworks across the nation to get a sense of the celebration that took place in our house. Henry roared like a lion, then whimpered like a puppy in love. One hundred-per-minute loud, high-pitched squeaks echoed in every room upstairs and downstairs, Henry dashing from wall to wall, room to room, swinging Purple Monster in his mouth.

It is true that both dogs rushed indoors with the first big firecracker explosion at 3 pm. It is true that I spoke to friends in Poland and New York by phone and every minute was asked: “What is that?” It’s true I had to sit outside to do any work.

It’s also true that by the end of the Fourth, Henry had disemboweled his lady love, removing with surgeon-like precision every piece of filling, including the big squeaker at her very heart. It’s true that now we have thunderstorms and he’s back at my feet while Aussie is in her stormproof safe space in the back seat of the car inside the garage, and I’m told that we have this to look forward to for the next 24 hours.

Who cares? This historic July 4, with the nation fracturing into pieces, immunity for Donald Trump, and Germany out of the Euro, was the happiest day of Henry’s life.

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