Several folks have asked me if I’ve ever had a pet die. Yes, I have; however, my first dog, an American Eskimo, died when I was about two or three years old, and my second dog, Pokey, died my senior year of high school. It was winter, and Grandpa took care of burying Pokey, so there was no official, ‘good bye.’
In September 1970, I was walking home from Washington Elementary School and stopped to look in the large plate glass window at Burger’s Dairy Mart (Linders or Taylors to the younger Elwood folks). I noticed a little puppy standing on the step of the store. It had no collar, and seemed excited to see me – a typical puppy trait I was to ignore forty years later when I first met Navi and Chief. I waited a few minutes to see if anyone would claim him. Mary, the stout, authoritarian who worked behind the counter stepped out with a dish of water. Mary’s burly frame, dressed in a white work dress that resembled a nurse’s uniform, bent down to give the dog some water. Her chestnut hair, bunned up tightly, reminding me of the Burl Ives Snowman in RUDOLPH, never moved an inch as she bent over and rose again.
“He’s been out here all afternoon. Probably a stray.” She watched the pup lapping up the water, seeming to speak to herself more than to me.
Once Mary returned inside the store, I picked up the puppy and walked the remaining block and a half to 825 Main Street – the tall white house on the corner, and on one of the largest hills in Elwood. Once I got to Dick & Betsy’s hedge that separate our yard from the Herndon’s yard, I set the dog down, and coaxed him to the steps. Since he could barely make the ten steps that cut into the hill, he quickly figured out he could just run up the hill.
I do recall walking through the front door with the dog, and greeting Mother. I know, according to Mother, that I elected to go with the story that the puppy had followed me home.
Mother said she could tell he was a stray, and placed an advertisement in The Elwood Call-Leader. If no one claimed the dog within two weeks, he could stay with us.
Two weeks passed, and the Alpo eating pup became a fixture at the Jolliff home.
In honor of my good kindergarten friend, Debbie Poynter, who lived one block over between the Mangas and LaPierre families, I named the dog, Pokey, which was Debbie’s nickname. Now, the older Poynter sisters claimed the nickname was prompted by Debbie’s slow nursing habits. Naming my new pup after Debbie, who was jokingly nicknamed ‘John’ by my grandfather, was a compliment to my childhood friend.
Pokey was a young boy’s true pal. He slept with me, went on walks with me, protected me, went nuts if I got a spanking, and was always at my side, much like Flyer, Navi, Chief, and Logan have been. Whenever we’d leave the house for an extended amount of time, we’d return to find Pokey sleeping on my footie pajamas he’d pulled from beneath my pillow. Of course, we would also return to find chewed up gloves, shoes, gnawed table legs, and other articles we’d not planned to abandon so soon. One particular item was a young member of my Johnny West action figures who lost his feet to Pokey’s boredom. From that point on, Jeff West was simply known as “Crip.”
After about two years, a neighbor’s huge German shepherd, Lance, began coming into our yard and attacking Pokey, once biting into his neck. Poor Pokey, when going on walks, was terrified. After those attacks, Pokey was afraid of all strangers, and nipped at the mailman. Grandpa hated seeing Pokey chained up in the yard, and offered to keep him out at their home in the country.
Off Pokey went to live two miles north of Lapel. And there he remained for the next ten years. Since we spent so much time with Grandpa and Grandma, Pokey was not missed.
My senior year of high school I could not return to the country as often due to marching band. By this time, Pokey had become quite aged, and he could barely walk. Grandpa built him a deluxe dog house with so much insulation you could feel the warmth in the coldest weather. By Thanksgiving 1982, Grandpa or Grandma had to lift Pokey off the porch so he could go potty.
When I arrived to Grandpa and Grandma’s for Thanksgiving dinner, Pokey spied me getting out of the car at the end of the drive. With great energy, and determination, Pokey rose to his feet, and carefully walked down the steps, and out to the car to greet me. I will never forget that moment of dedication shown me by a beloved pet. It was the truest affection, and devotion.
Later, it was time for my senior musical, OKLAHOMA!. I returned home for opening night to grab a bite to eat before returning to the high school for make-up and to get my hair curled. As we sat down to the table, my 8 year old brother, Destin, and I got into a quibble. Without dropping a beat, Destin said, “Your dog’s dead.” Mother, to this day, claims she will never forget the look on my face as I turned to her for confirmation. “Grandma found him in the garage this morning. He was dead.”
Mother, while trying to offer sympathies to me, was also trying to shut up Destin who seemed to thrive in the one-upmanship of his 18 year old brother.
Grandma Donna had entered the garage that morning to find her dog, Duchess, cuddling Pokey’s warm body. Duchess was crying out as she wrapped her paws around the dog that had gotten grumpier with her the past year.
That moment in 1993, punctuated with “your dog’s dead,” has become a family staple in our cupboard of humorous, memorable family moments.
This afternoon, I prepare for the departure of another pet – or rather, a fury family member – my wonderful cat of seventeen years, Logan. The day has practically shut down with this tender, loving vigil of farewell, and I am so grateful to the many, many friends who are sharing in this moment, reminding me that they, too, think of their pets as members of the family.
Pokey saw me age six to eighteen, and Logan was with me from age twenty-nine to forty-seven. All together, I’ve had pets over half my years living, and I cannot think of a more wonderful companion, or gift.
Continue to rest in peace, dear Pokey. Thank you for being a boy’s best friend…
And thank you, Debbie Poynter, for graciously allowing me to borrow your childhood nickname!