Monday, October 5, 2009

Auggie the termite

     This just might be a needlepoint day. It's pouring down rain and I am dreading the drive to school. Thank goodness on Monday we have classes all in one building, so Sissey won't have to put her walker in 4-wheel drive to wade through the muck and mud. As soon as we get home, I'm putting on a pot of coffee, hopping on the couch, whipping out the needlepoint, and hunkering down until the sun comes out again. I'm working on the very last cover for my dining room chairs, a project that has a history all it's own, and began with the birth of my twins.
     My children arrived three months early and would be spending several weeks in the NICU before coming home.  The rules of the hospital dictated that parents could not enter the ward until 11 am and had to leave when certain procedures were being performed on their pint sized infants.  In order to stay sane during those dreaded waiting periods , I started a needlepoint project destined to keep my hands and mind busy. It was an ambitious undertaking....petit point covers for my dining room chairs, patterned in intricate flora and fauna. That was 19 years ago, and I'm finally on my last one.
     After several weeks at the Medical College of Virginia, the children  arrived home and grew into happy toddlers. When they turned three, we decided it was time to add dogs to the family mix in order to teach the values of responsibility, compassion, patience, and respect.  Our first dog, Gus, was perfect.
Half-human, brilliant, obedient, protective, and gentle, "Augustus, Prince of Kensington" was loved by everyone who knew him.  When he died from pancreatitis, his death was deeply grieved by our family and friends. We received sympathy cards, flowers, phone calls, visits, and even had memorials given in his memory.  He was the greatest dog that ever walked on earth.
     Then came Auggie. "Augustus, Prince of River Road" was supposed to be the heir apparent to Gus the First.  Looks can be deceiving. Those two poodles couldn't have possibly come from the same gene pool. Gus was fiercely protective of our family. Auggie would personally escort  Jehovah's Witnesses to our front door at 8:00 on a Saturday morning.   Gus slept under Sissey's bed to protect her each night. Auggie would jump right in the middle, all 85 pounds of drooling fur,  completely take over and push her out of bed.  Gus would greet guests with a handshake. Auggie would knock them over and drop a wet tennis ball in their lap. 
       Normal dogs ate shoes. Shoes were easily replaced. Auggie ate furniture. He was an 85 pound termite, gobbling up anything made of wood that he could sink his sharp little fangs into.  Cujo with a wood fetish.  He chewed all the fringe off my oriental rugs.  He ate the legs off my drop leaf table. He chewed the knobs off my dresser. But he almost died the day he ate my dining room chairs. 
     I had gone to the grocery store that morning, leaving three peaceful poodles sleeping in the den. I wasn't gone long, perhaps an hour, just long enough to pick up  the eggs and cream cheese I needed to finish making a cream cheese pound cake. Upon returning, I  unloaded the car, put away the groceries, got the cake in the oven, and walked into the dining room to set the table for supper. That's when I saw my chairs, my beautiful walnut, Chippendale chairs, covered in my cherished needlepoint, gnawed down to stubs. Lying on the rug by the french window in a warm puddle of sunlight was Auggie, panting from his efforts, bits of wood clinging to his muzzle. Grinning. He was looking at me and grinning like he had just retrieved a brace of geese and laid them at my feet, waiting for a "Good dog" response.  I had 19 years invested in this project, and he had ripped through them like a box of Milk Bones. I sank to the floor in stunned silence. Just for a minute. Then rage took over, and I took off after him like the Orkin man.  I chased that dog out the house, through the flower beds, across the field, wielding a broom and screaming like a madman.  I chased him until neither one of us could breathe. He was lucky I collapsed before I got hold of him.  I would not have been responsible for my actions if that had happened. Guilty by reason of insanity would be my only defense.
     He disappeared for awhile after that, tail tucked between his legs, quivering under the bed, too scared to even come out to eat.
     I considered having him defanged, but realized he was just going through a phase, a latent termite phase, that hopefully he would outgrow before he got to my piano. If that ever happened, better have the sympathy cards ready. I didn't believe in second chances, and unlike cats, Auggie did not have nine lives. I cried over the chairs for awhile, then convinced myself that the gnawed-up chairs simply looked antique, with an aged look that would have taken more than 19 years to obtain.  I sanded the teeth marks down, added a little walnut stain and a fabricated story about how they had survived the Revolution and the Civil War.
     I bought a huge box of pig's ears for Auggie and started working on the last of my needlepoint covers. I plan to get that one finished before Sissey graduates from college.

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