IMITATING THE DOG–My Father’s Humor, Part II


Pumpernickel trotting happily behind me.

My dad, you understand, was short too.  It’s in the Menasche genes (or jeans).  I mean, my Aunt Mary was a head shorter than my father, and my father in his old age was a head shorter than I am (30 years of dentistry did NOT help his posture—or his height).  And I am only 5’4”. 

So it’s a short family.  We look up a lot.  We exchange glances and sardonic comments when tall people enter our domain.  For example, when I told my father about my new 6’4” boyfriend, he said: “That’s obscene; there needs to be an upper limit to these things.”

“Be nice,” I warned him.  “No tall jokes, please.”

“Would I do that? I don’t discriminate against people for being too tall,” he returned, dead-pan.  Then: “When I stand up to shake his hand, just tell him I’m sitting down.”

As it turned out, when Dad met my new 6’4” boyfriend he acted politely and graciously.  He only started in with the one-liners the moment after the tall person in question had gone from the premises.  “Ah, the Have’s,” my father stated, sighing dramatically, “and the Have-nots!”

You see the theme.  My mother was once, long long ago, engaged to a TALL blond man named Murray.  My father followed in Murray’s oversized footprints.  “Murray was dashing,” my father liked to quip, always in my mother’s presence, “but I had nice eyes.”

But I digress: back to the dog.

Pumpernickel is even shorter than Aunt Mary.  Pumpernickel trotted into my parents’ house, white-tipped tail wagging, all love and cuteness—and my father’s face lit up.  “She’s short, but she’s awfully cute,” he beamed.  And so began the never-ending litany of dog comments, observations, metaphors, descriptions, jokes, and imitations.

I guess we also have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) in the Menasche genes…

Pumpernickel is now 8; we adopted her at age 1.  This means that the dog witnessed the joy of my father’s humor and exuberance, then his decline into illness and depression and death.  But in the meantime…oh, in the meantime:

“How come her expression never changes?  She’s got kind of a poker face.”

“I can’t pet you all day, Pumpernickel; I’m a married man.”

“Hi, Pumpernickel!  Where’s Rye and Sourdough?”

“Pumpernickel is a good listener.  She doesn’t talk much.”

“Pumpernickel doesn’t know she’s a dog; nobody told her.”

“Why do you have such a long name for such a short dog?”

“She’s dreaming about chicken.  Pumpernickel, too much chicken is no good.  You need variety.”

“Pumpernickel, you’re getting fat; you need to go on Weight Watchers.”

“Pumpernickel’s a lady; she’s dainty-like.”

“Pumpernickel’s so cute I wanna eat her with a slice of cheese.”

“Pumpernickel shakes a lot; she’s the sensitive type.”

AND, let us not forget the caption for the attached photo:

“Why are her paws bent like that?”

Later on, when my father was bed-ridden, the dog would jump up onto his bed (against my mother’s rules) and lay her head on my father’s hand.  Of course this dog didn’t care that he was fading away.  She didn’t mind that the room was dark, the ambiance sad.  She gave him all of her shortness and cuteness, and he gave it back.

“Take care of Pumpernickel,” he told me quite a few times.  “She’s a special dog.”

He’d already told me many times to take care of his grandson, a fellow scientist and humorist and the apple of his eye.  But Dad had to mention the dog.  Again.

And though he hadn’t asked me to take care of his wife, my mother, I promised that too.  I understood that some things can be said, and some can’t. 

My dog, Pumpernickel, helped him express so many things.  Like: “Isn’t life funny?” and “I notice everything” and “Life never gets boring” and “I will be a good sport, even when I’m trying to ‘kick the bucket.’”

Pumpernickel helped him say, “I love to laugh, I love to tease, I love my family.”

Imitating the dog gave my father permission to play.  Imitating the dog kept him young.

His imitating the dog, even toward the end, gave us all courage and strength and perspective.

It also gave us some awesome memories and ridiculously funny photos.

I’m so glad that Pumpernickel is short…  

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