The following is a true story. And the kind of incident that occurs frequently enough so as to prompt my sister, Becky, to say, “Why do those kinds of things always happen to you?” I’m not sure, but as a writer, I’ve been blessed with a fate that has been sprinkled with unusual and tempered with bizarre. I’m also lucky to be alive (as I’ve been told).
So I’m on my way to visit my mother and Pete in northern Michigan, my boys buckled in the minivan and deeply engrossed in a highly educational DVD. I was bored. We were in no-man’s land – my cell couldn’t get any reception, the boys weren’t fighting and even the satellite radio keep going in and out.
I became obsessed with mastering the cruise control. Keep in mind that in the ten years we have owned a Honda, I had never used this feature, located right in front of me on the steering wheel. But as you may have guessed, I am also blessed with the ability to multi-task. So, not only was I driving a 3000 lb vehicle at 70 mph with my young children and a dog in the back, I was also trying to figure out the mystery of the confusing cruise control.
It was NOT my fault, I repeat, NOT my fault
Here is my disclaimer: Even if I had seen the bale of straw sitting in the middle of the road at the crest of a small hill, it would have been too late to do anything. I hit the bale bomb with a resounding “thud”, and though it’s half the size of a bale of hay, it still packed quite a punch. The car shuddered, the boys threw off their head sets and began screaming, the dog started barking and thick smoke obscured all the windows except the windshield.
So you completely understand the decision I made, I will outline the facts.
1. I was in shock! This is important to keep in mind.
2. We were in the middle of nowhere.
3. My phone didn’t work.
I couldn’t figure out the smoke thing. My car was still running and I didn’t detect any funny sounds, but the heavy dark smoke had enveloped us. I could hear other cars honking (as if I were unaware!), but I was afraid if I pulled over, I would be stuck. I thought I should try to make the Big Rapids exit, two miles up the road.
Suddenly, as I neared the exit, the smoke instantly disappeared. I looked out my rear view mirror and saw a small fireball rolling back down the highway. It came to rest at the side of the road where it promptly burst into a large fireball.
This is where I had my ah hah moment. I had been dragging the bale of straw under my car and the friction had caused it to ignite (the smoke!) and when it burned down enough, I had shaken it loose. I was instantly relieved that we weren’t dead, but I was still visibly upset and I needed to see what kind of damage I had inflicted on my beloved minivan. I pulled off at the intended exit and headed for the only gas station, a mile down the road.
Rule of thumb – Know your Audience
I got out to inspect my beat-up car and immediately started recounting my situation to the large tattooed fellow on the Harley Davidson, getting gas next to me. Remember, I was still in shock. As I was explaining my story, I noticed a smell, a funny smell, one that I recognized from back in the day – the guy reeked of marijuana!
It was just my luck that the biker dude was stoned to the beejezus! The whole area was filled with the stench of pot but I had already engaged him and I didn’t want to appear rude or insult the dope-fiend, so I finished my story.
“Well, that explains it,” he drawled.
“What?” I asked.
“Why you smell like Cheech and Chong.” He nodded towards the van where my two boys’ faces were pressed against the window.
“Me? What do you mean?” I turned around and smoke was still pouring out from every crevice of my van. Smoldering pieces of straw stuck out from the door jams, the windows and even the gas cap. It then came to my attention that the smell of burning straw smells suspiciously like you-know-what. He wasn’t the pot-head - I was!
“I’m a responsible mother! I only did that once,” I gulped, “back in college.”
“I bet you didn’t inhale, either,” he chuckled.
Just then, a small group of fire trucks and police vehicles, their sirens blaring, passed the station, racing out towards the highway.
“Looks like you have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy.” The biker/comedian pulled his helmet on. “Good luck,” he said sincerely as he roared off.
The Walk of Shame
I slowly walked in to the gas station and announced to the two gals listening to the police radio that I thought I might be the one who started the brush fire out by the highway. They looked at each other as if they had never started a fire and handed me the phone.
Later, as the police were taking my report, the officer mentioned, more than once, just how lucky we were to be alive.
“You know,” he said as he took my registration, “those gas tanks are made outta plastic. If you’da pulled over with the bale still stuck, the car probably woulda exploded. You’re lucky you hit it straight on,” he added, “most folks would have jerked the steering wheel one way or another, coulda hit a car or veered off the road.”
So, it was a good thing that I didn’t do as common sense would have dictated. By not seeing the straw bale in time and not pulling over immediately, I may have inadvertently done something right. . . by following some crazy, shock induced logic; I may have saved my family from, well, something not good.
“I could have been planning three funerals right now,” my mother commented when we arrived safely in Frankfort. “Four, if you count the dog . . . and this is a busy weekend.”
I do hate to put people out.
“Mom. . . Tanner pooped in the laundry room.” Max shook me gently as I opened my eyes and squinted at the clock. Six am. “It’s diarrhea,” he added.
I looked over at Craig who was holding his hand over his mouth and gagging. I shook my head in disgust and wondered how he would feel if I told him Tanner used his toilet as a water dish. Some things are better left unsaid.
We weren’t looking to get a dog. Craig and I had decided long ago we were not “dog” people (we weren’t even sure we were “children” people). So you can imagine my confusion when three years ago, an unknown man called and told me he’d received a message from me about adopting his dog.
“I didn’t leave you a message.” I explained.
“Someone named Gracie emailed me that she was interested in adopting a dog.”
“She did, did she. Hold for a moment, please.” I put my hand over the phone and screamed in that crazed-mother voice that Kate Gosselin would appreciate. “Gracie! Get down here!”
Why some animals eat their young
My daughter had always wanted a pet and apparently the thirteen year-old cat she’d had for two months didn’t count. Come to find out, behind my back my only girl had been emailing shelters all over the Chicago area just to “ask” about the dogs available for adoption.
“If you don’t take him we’ll have to put him down,” the very bad man threatened. He had shown up at our house, Tanner by his side. “We’re moving to Europe tomorrow and he can’t come.”
I thought the circumstances somewhat suspect, but that red flag got lost in the desperate cries to save him and the whispers that good mothers do allow their children pets. I was also going through a vulnerable phase in my life (the “Protein Diet”) and by instinct, my children found the crack in my armor and exploited my weakness.
Chow? Shepherd? Mutt???
Tanner was an interesting looking dog. He had the face and upper body of a Shepherd, and the tail, tongue and coat of a Chow. He was colored as his name suggested, and his owner must have warned him of his future because he sat there obediently as though he knew of the consequences if he didn’t.
I questioned him up and down about Tanner’s manners, his temperament, and his ability to use an outside bathroom. I was assured by the man-that-told-many-lies, that Tanner was a model citizen, was perfectly potty-trained, and got along well with anyone – man or animal. Against my better judgment I gave into offspring pressure and Tanner came to live with us.
Tanner started out on good terms. He stayed near the house, came when called and did his business in the business section of our yard. But soon his instincts crept back in and the craziness of a Chow combined with the protectiveness of a Shepherd made for an unpredictable mix.
He was not, I repeat not, friendly with other dogs. As a matter of fact he was diagnosed dog-aggressive by our vet after he jumped through our electric fence, attacked one of our neighbor’s Shelties (requiring stitches in the dog’s paw that cost us a couple hundred dollars) and jumped back through the fence taking the shock for the second time. My neighbor has just recently started speaking to me.
The vet recommended that we either put Tanner down or get the dog therapy. (I forgot to mention, Tanner also bit a hole in one of my mother’s dogs’ head, chased and almost bit a play-date as well as biting my nephew’s leg. Oh, he also got into a number of fights with any dogs he met while on his walks, chased cars as they drove by and stood in our door and growled fiercely at anyone who dared ring the doorbell)
But by this time, my husband was having a love affair with the dog. He would call and in a baby voice ask me how our little pumpkin was or if Tanner had had his morning poop. When he came home from work, he’d brush by me as I stood there mouth puckered, calling out “Tanner” and rolling on the floor and wrestling with the dog that he initially did not want.
Maybe he still has issues with his parents?
We decided to spend the $450 for an hour with the “behaviorist” as we just couldn’t bear the thought of a death-row dog. This is what we got for our money.
“How do you verbally respond when Tanner misbehaves?” The doctor held his clipboard, pen in hand.
“We usually say something along the lines of ‘Tanner, no, no, no. Bad doggie.’” Craig spoke up in his baby-voice.
The doctor raised his eyes at us as he scribbled furiously. “Do you ever hit him?”
“What?” Craig whispered, horrified.
The doctor shrugged. “I’m just asking.”
I couldn’t hold back. “I know it’s wrong and we shouldn’t compare him to other dogs, but last week after he chased the Fed-Ex man, I told him, in a very stern voice, that he was no Bo Obama, and I was sure that Bo didn’t act that way.” There I’d said it!
The doctor couldn’t write fast enough. “What was the situation when he attacked the Sheltie.”
I started to explain before Craig cut me off. “Those dogs are stuck-up. The prance by Tanner every day and they tease him. They’re like ‘Our dog dodo doesn’t stink’. When they bark it sounds like ‘ha ha ha ha’.” I looked over at Tanner, sitting nicely beside the vet and I swore he winked at me.
“I think I see the problem,” the vet answered as he put the clipboard down. His recommendation was eight hours of behavior modification, every day. We could put Tanner on medication and work with him but there were no guarantees. As a matter of fact, he told us, it may be too difficult to teach an old dog new tricks and we couldn’t, in good conscious, give him to anyone. Most shelters did not take aggressive dogs and we may be better off, well you can guess what he told us he would do.
We left in a bit of a huff, wondering why no one saw our dog in the same light we did. We would just have to keep him, literally, on a short leash. Now, when someone comes to the door, I ask them if they are afraid of dogs that bite. If they answer affirmatively, I put Tanner in another room.
He is getting older, we guess he may be around ten, and his bark has lost some of the vicious gusto it used to have, but he is our dog and we love him. We’ve been lucky to avoid a lawsuit so far, but we do we have an attorney in the family so in case of an incident, we got that goin’ for us. Which is nice.