On the night before my debut, in June of 1960, my mother went out into the night down the driveway to the street after dark. The florist, Walter Sharon, who helped decorate the tents wanted her to see how they looked lighted at night. The tents were pink, dramatically illuminated by glittering small lights. They were hung with birdcages filled with flowers and each had a fake bird or two, adding to the glamor. It was “other-worldly,” the way the pink tents seemed to float free as they were lit from within. It was a spectacle. Something so very theatrical and unusual in those days, and no nighttime photo exists, sadly. Focused on the beauty of the scene at night, she forgot that her two little dogs had walked down the long driveway with her.
Suddenly, her young grey poodle, Dandy, ran across the street to the little green park opposite our driveway. When the light changed cars sped across the intersection. Dandy ran back across the street, coming back to her. As she watched horrified a truck hit him as it accelerated along the street. She watched as his little body somersaulted through the air three times, away from the tires. She screamed as loud as she could twice, desperate screams, which my father heard far up the driveway. He was terrified that my mother had been hit by a car. She ran out into the street to pick up her dog. The florist, Walter Sharon, ran out too, stopping traffic so she wouldn’t get hit. Dandy lay still on the macadam bleeding from his mouth. She picked up her little dog. He was limp and appeared lifeless. She was grieving already. Mr. Sharon kept saying, “It’s over. He’s gone. He is gone.”
But Mother was numb. She walked up the driveway, carrying the dog’s body. People were trying to comfort her because many relatives were there. My aunts, Ava and Kat, my father, and maybe a couple of cousins all crowding around her. But Mother didn’t hear them or see them. She was in a daze. Her love for that dog was so total, so complete. Everyone knew how much he meant to her. It seemed like the worst thing that had happened to her in many years. She simply could not believe this would happen on this night, the night before the big ball when she wanted to shine as the mother of the debutante and enjoy the evening.
She went up the long drive to the house, past all the decorations, pink-dyed gardenia trees, and special lighting. Someone opened the front door and she went into her dressing room holding her limp pup to her breast. She wanted to look in the triple full-length mirror so she could see the dog more easily without moving him. As she looked at him, in the mirror, she had no hope. She thought, “It’s so amazing that he’s still warm and soft and not stiff like a dead animal.”
And as she looked hopelessly at his little corpse, he opened one eye. She gasped. My aunt, who was standing beside her, said, “Look, he’s alive! You can see his heart is beating!” Mother noticed the slight rise and fall of his chest, so slight that she had not noticed. He was not dead after all.
He was alive! They called the vet. The vet said, “Bring him over immediately.” The animal hospital was only a few blocks away. My old friend, Robin Freer, drove them. They stayed there for an hour while the vet worked on the dog, giving him a transfusion and intravenous drugs, including pain meds. He had several seizures which the vet said was because he probably had a serious concussion. He said that he would keep him there. They would see what else was wrong later if he lived through the night. He said that it was possible that he would survive. These words gave mother hope.
When I came home from the movies where Charley and I had gone that night, they told me what had happened. I cried and cried. Being a teenage girl I acted hysterical about the horror of the dog being almost killed in front of my Mother. When I was a little girl, I saw a truck kill a dog on the highway. It took years to get over that sight. This brought that incident back to my mind and reminded me of how it affected me for years afterward. There were a lot of pent-up emotions swirling around my teenage head. And then I said, “Oh! poor mama!” I realized that she must be devastated. She had been planning my debutante ball for months. It was supposed to be a happy time, and now this, TRAGEDY!
Mother had a lot of trouble going to sleep that night. She kept seeing that truck hit Dandy over and over in her imagination. She took two different types of sleeping pills. The next day, the day of my party, the sun was out, and she felt that things might be all right. But she was afraid to find out. That trepidation one feels when the answer to the question might be too sad to be bourne. She felt paralyzed with dread.
So on the day of my debutante party, my mother was afraid to call the vet to hear how Dandy was doing. My friend Robin called and talked to the vet on his own. He knew Mother was suffering by not knowing. The vet told Robin that the dog had a badly broken pelvis along with a serious concussion. He was partially paralyzed in the rear. He hoped it was temporary. He wired the pelvis together and he put a halo of steel around the outside of the dogs’ hindquarters which held the hardware in place. When Robin told this to her it was good news for Mother. If only she could have known that the dog would recover fully and live 12 or 13 more years. Though she did not yet know the extent of the happy ending; like the trouper she was, she went on with the preparations for the party.
After all, she believed the “Show Must Go ON!” And that is the way she lived her whole life. She was a great role model.
I miss her.
Copyright©. 2022 Bonnie B. Matheson