I have a million poodle stories. When prospective customers come to see our dogs, I have this endless store of anecdotes from my close to 70 years with the breed. I was thinking, what I should do is just write them all down, then when people come to call, I can just refer them to the blog, and we can sit there in silence, or maybe discuss something interesting like world affairs. So, to that end, here is one of those staple stories...
In July, 1956, for my dad's birthday, I offered to take the entire family out to the movies - Moby Dick starring Gregory Peck. I didn't realize you had to pay, so the old man forked out for his own birthday. So be it. That's what being a dad's all about, isn't it? Besides, it was a great movie. Dare I say, a turning point in my life.
Here's a little detour. The next year when the family made its very first foray back to our ancestral home in Nova Scotia, and my father introduced me to our closest living relative, a real sea captain, Cap'n Simmie Boutilier, then 94, right across French Village Harbour from our little house. Cap'n Simmie used to sail his schooner from Nova Scotia to Africa and back via the Caribbean. The fact that I had a real Captain Ahab as my closest living relative absolutely consumed my 10 year old imagination and had a helluva lot to do with my moving to Canada permanently in 1967 at the height of the Vietnam War. See, my sisters and I were growing up in Baltimore. Baltimore?! What did we have in common with Baltimore. Nothing. Mother from Pittsburgh. Father from Boston, son of a Nova Scotian. Why Baltimore? #1 it was south of the Mason-Dixon Line, a southern state, bigoted, racist, where black people were lynched, people like our own precious hired help, like the Reverend Hezikiah Randall, part of the family, dearer to all of us than our own selves, who made up his own fabulous versions of Uncle Remus stories. "Booga-diddy-booga-diddy-booga diddy-boo-gie! Booga-diddy-booga-diddy-booga diddy-boo-gie! B'rer Rabit come down de road..." And so on. Baltimore was the south, the south was backward, and we had nothing in common with Baltimore. Nova Scotia was where we were at, kith and kin, and here, that summer afternoon in '57, sitting across his oilcloth-covered kitchen table, the old man tapping his Canadian quarter on the table top, first one edge, then flipping it over, the other - the tap, tap, tap of a senile old man. But he was a real sea captain, a captain of sailing vessels no less, the pure laine - my ancestor, Cap'n Simmie Boutilier, my own Captain Ahab!
So, the profound seeds of that formative moment were sown one year earlier, in 1956, in a darkened movie theatre in good old Baltimore on my father's birthday.
And when we got home from the movie, we discovered that one of our bitches had not been idle in our absence. She'd had a litter of pups on the old man's bed, green guck and all. Thrilled as only he could be, oblivious to the damage to his bed, then and there he picked up one little male puppy and, inspired by the movie we'd all just seen, held it aloft quoting grandly the first line in Herman Melville's famous classic: "And this one shall be called, Stonewood Call Me Ishmael!" Little did he know...
Ishmael was positively THE most water-friendly, nay, possessed retrievers ever known to Man. Look:
Here he is leaping off a 20' high railroad bridge to retrieve an old boat bumper for our mother. Ishmael was a fantastic if a bit eccentric dog.
Okay, so a few years later, 1961 to be exact, a young photojournalist named Walter Osborne contacted my father and said he wanted to do an article on retrieving poodles. He'd pitched the men's magazine, Argosy, and they were game - a story on how this guy in Baltimore was training wussy frou-frou poodles to retrieve dead ducks from the freezing waters of the Chesapeake Bay. What a great idea. Against the grain. He was to call the article "The Hairy-chested Poodle." I used to tell people, here's an article about my dad, and they'd snicker. "Your dad's a hairy-chested poodle?" they'd snicker.
So, anyway, Walter showed up and followed my dad, me, and the dogs around as we put them through their paces. I remember it well. We were out in the frozen clearing where the garden used to be. Ishmael was incredible as usual, retrieving every thing in sight. Walter fired off photographs like thee was no tomorrow. At last the show was over. He took out his notepad. "What's that dog's name?" he asked. My father told him. "Stonewood Call Me Ishmael." Walter almost dropped his camera. "No! That's the first line from my grandfather's book!" Lo, how the mighty had fallen. Herman Melville's grandson was now writing for a trashy men's magazine.
Well, in fact, Google tells me the connection was actually more interesting than that.
Walter was in fact Herman's great-grandson and fell heir through his mother to a fascinating collection of Melville memorabilia including the old man's treasured pocket compass. Walter's son gave the entire collection to Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas where it now resides.
The other thing about all this that Wikipedia told me, Argosy in fact, particularly in its later years, published the work of a host of famous writers. Early on it featured Upton Sinclair, Zane Grey (a distant relative of ours), Albert Payson Terhune, and Gertrude Barrows Bennett, and later the likes of P.G. Wodehouse and Earle Stanley Gardner of Perry Mason fame. So, I guess it can be said, Stonewood Call Me Ishmael rubbed shoulders with some pretty significant literary giants.
There. That's done. First blog entry in the can. Now let's talk about world affairs.