A beautiful, hilarious, tragic, true story my dad just told me when we were mourning the loss of my dog, Blossom:
When Timmy and Jubee were very young we lost our faithful dog Ginko. She was a black Labrador/border collie mix. She was beautiful and she had been a wonderful dog, always patient with the older six kids and always welcoming of each new baby as she watched our family grow from two kids to four (twin boys), then five, then six, then seven and eight. Ginko loved babies and children and they were hers and she was theirs.
We buried Ginko in a deep hole outside the fence line but well within our property. I found a spot high enough that it would stay above the rushing water during the rains when the ditch would turn into a creek. We placed a very large and heavy rock over her grave and it remains there today.
We loaded the kids into our 15 passenger robin’s egg blue van we had bought from the community college that had used it as a team bus and drove south into Kansas to a boxer kennel I had found in the paper. When I was four I got a four year old boxer named Pepper. He was a King among dogs. His legs were too straight for him to be a champion but he was built like a hero, tall and tremendously muscular, broad-chested and virile. He cost $1,000 back in 1966 dollars. Pepper would suffer no fools and he never saw or smelled another dog that he didn’t want to fight. He was tough and virtually indestructible and he loved his kids. Mom said he would wait at the door for us to come home from school.
He knew our number and would go around the house counting kids and making sure we were all accounted for. As a four year old and well in grade school I was a bed wetter. I just did not wake up in the middle of the night. At least not until after my clothes and the bed were soaked. So many a night, I would try to find something dry to wear and then end up sleeping on my huge dog because the mattress was wet. Pepper suffered me to do this, and I think in some ways he knew that he was being of service to his young master.
Pepper would drag me around the neighborhood scaring away every squirrel, cat or dog within sight. I was 11 when Pepper died. He couldn’t get up and he was in pain. He looked embarrassed to have made a puddle of urine on the hard-wood floor in the house. I told him it was OK and he wasn’t in trouble. Much as he had assured me on those many years of nights when I had wet my bed. When he died I was about as sad as I could be.
Pepper II came as a puppy of eight weeks with freshly cut and taped ears. It was very hard for an eleven year old to keep his surgically altered ears cleaned and well-taped. We never did anything like that with Blossom or Violet. I don’t really remember when pepper II died. I was smoking marijuana by then and it plays hell on your memory.
So we got down to Fort Scott and found the kennel on the back side of nowhere. There were quite a few dogs, all boxers. It was a big operation with raised concrete runs that could be easily hosed clean. The dogs seemed happy and healthy and well cared for. Violet was full of energy, vital and a go-getter from minute one. She picked us first. She was kind of like a tiger put inside of a dog, and she was overwhelmingly cute and cuddly. Blossom was sweet and kind and polite and a little unassuming. We planned on just getting one dog. It was $400 for an AKC registered pure bred. Their father was called Tasmanian Devil. I asked how much it would be for two dogs and he said, “$600.”
I asked the kids if they wanted one puppy or two.
I bought a book about raising boxer puppies when we were buying leashes and beds and dog crates and puppy toys and puppy food and harnesses and several hundred dollars worth of accoutrements. The book said under no circumstances to EVER try to raise two puppies at once. The theory is the with one puppy you know which one pooped on the carpet. With two the are both innocent until proven guilty. Even if the are two piles of dog doo.
Oh my goodness the little dogs were so cute. They were literally so soft that they were magnetically attractive to the touch and so sweet and cuddly and fun to play with. We had a thousand laughs and two thousand smiles. The two of them would fight over a stick and we have hilarious videos of them in the backyard connected like conjoined twins with a stick harnessing them together like a stock between a team of horses. For some reason our yard was so green that year it seemed to glow in the pictures. Maybe there were lots of spring rains. I had to keep the yard really nice or let it turn into a muddy dog pit. I kept it really nice. I even had a pooper scooper I found on the curb over in Leawood.
Luckily I used an argument with Heidi as an excuse to go to the casino. That was back when the had $500 limits. I lost $500 at the “King” boat in 30 minutes and another $500 at the “Queen” boat in 15 minutes. I went to another boat and at 2 AM the dealer lady told me to go home. I asked her why and she said, "Lots of people get up to $2,000 and they always stay and lose it. I told her, “I would go home, but my wife is angry with me and I have no place to go.” I woke up at 5 AM with my face in a big pile of black chips. They said I couldn’t sleep at the table and had to leave. I asked for a chip tray and it was two chips short of full. $9,800.
Back then if you won $10,000 they would take out taxes on the spot and $200 more would have put me over the limit and they would have given $4,000 to the government in taxes that morning. I walked out with a thick wad of 98 hundred dollar bills.
Our new fence was 320 feet long, four feet tall. That was for the back yard only. It required 48 post holes three feet deep for 48 fence posts. We rented a two-man auger and Norton and I augured for six hours which seemed like six weeks. We needed 48 bags of fast setting concrete that weighed 80 pounds a piece to set the posts. Sophie poured the water, two pitchers a hole, 96 pitchers full. The new fence with three gates never really kept the dogs in. I am not sure it even slowed them down.
Neither did the buried electric fence with the training video and the warning flags and the scary shock collars. But I loved that blackjack fence. I rigged up the top bar of the fence with 13 sections of Christmas lights one year. It was powered by four extension cords and lots of blown fuses. It was so beautiful. Blossom and Violet didn’t seem to understand what a big deal it was. I would go out back and admire my fence and my lights.
I had been pulled over on the way to the casino after I whipped a U-turn in my pearlescent white '84 Jaguar that looked like something Lady Di would drive. The policeman asked me if I had been drinking and I said, “Yes.” During the roadside sobriety test I tripped and fell flat on my face, barely catching myself with my hands. I told him, “I tripped on a rock.” That was true. So he had me do it again. My adrenaline was really flowing by now, especially when another squad car pulled up behind us. I passed the test and he let me go, saying “Don’t drink anymore tonight.”
That car had a real car phone. This was before cell phones. I loved my message for the answering service. “I’m in right now so I can’t take your call. Call me back when I’m out.” I sold that car to buy Hudson out of the nursery at the hospital so the installation dates on the fence don’t add up, but I did have a Jag and I did pay the hospital bill by selling it and I did get pulled over after doing a u-turn on the way to the casino and I did fall down during the test but still passed and then went to 3 ATM’s and got $500 off of three credit cards and did fall asleep at the table and did win $8,300 - after I paid off the cash advances, and we did build a fence and we did get Blossom and Violet.
Hudson got a Blossom tattoo on his chest, cherry blossoms. I don’t have any tattoos. But I have been thinking about getting a tattoo while I am in prison, for my “street cred.” I had been leaning towards a tattoo on my arm that said “Prison Tattoo.”
That way if anyone asked I could inform them, “That’s my prison tattoo.” I mentioned that around and got a lot of blank looks. So in honor of Blossom’s life and to memorialize her death, and Ginko’s and Peppers I and II, I decided to get a Violet tattoo instead of the one that says Prison Tattoo. Hudson’s is an image of a cherry blossom, but the color selections are not good here in prison. You can get hepatitis A, B or C here, but there aren’t any good violets, not really even a good purple, unless you count bruises from gang fights - ha-ha.
So I decided to go with writing. That cost a book of stamps. Stamps on the street are $9.40. They used to sell books of stamps worth $9.40 for $9.80, not reflecting the drop in price. That was a violation of federal law. But that’s OK because it is a federal prison. “Compound Stamps” are $6.00 for a book of 20. These are old stamps used as currency as cash is against BOP policy. So are books of compound stamps, but let’s not get into that too much. So my Violet tattoo cost me a book of stamps, at least what was supposed to be Violet.
He misspelled it. I am not sure if it was a focus on violent crimes in or out of federal prison, but he spelled out Violet accidentally as Violent. I didn’t even notice for a couple of days. I don’t read so well in the mirror. So now I am walking around with a $6.00 tattoo that says Violent on my arm. I asked for my money back and he said, “No!” I sort of wish I had stuck with the Prison Tattoo. It’s easier to explain.
I’m not really a violent guy so it doesn’t feel all that right to have Violent inked indelibly into my arm. Street cred wise it might be good, or it might be something I have to try and live up to. I think I have a pretty good fix worked out though. In tattoo parlance it is called a cover. If I add a few words in front of it and a letter at the end it will be more about peace than war. I want to change what should have been Violet and ended up Violent to “Make love not Violents.” This may be a workable solution.
Blossom’s death has me thinking a lot. We all grieve differently. I dug the hole for Ginko and Ginko died in my arms. Who dug the hole for Blossom? Who held Blossom in her last moments? I wasn’t there for my kids when their dog died. I couldn’t give them a hug and tell them Blossom was a good dog. She died well. She ran the good race and finished strong. I had hoped I would get out while she was alive but that didn’t happen. When I reported to the courthouse 3 years ago I pretty much knew I would never see my mother or my dog again. I had also hoped I would get out when my Mom was still alive, but my mother died while I was in prison. If you would have told me that I would not attend my own mother’s funeral I would have replied, “You’re nuts.”
But I didn’t go to my own mother’s funeral. I haven’t been able to comfort my kids and my brothers and sisters. It has sort of stunted the grieving process for me and maybe all of us. I want to go to Winfield to stand at my parents grave site when I get out. I want to visit Blossom’s grave too. I want to stop by Ginko’s burial site and put a dog treat on the big rock. Ginko and Blossom were both trying to be practicing vegetarians but they never really overcame their carnivorous instincts. I want to stop by Sarah’s grave too. I am glad Cindy puts flowers on her tombstone. I appreciate her for doing that.
Blossom’s death has reminded me of the day that Violet ran off. I was taking the kids to school and the 48 post, three gate fence once again did nothing to keep the dogs in. We were going to be late and I told the kids to go on to school with their mother and I would catch the dogs. I took Blossom in but Violet disappeared. I never saw her again. I kept thinking she would come back. I looked and looked and then the kids helped look until dark. We called for her a thousand times. We looked everywhere but across the big five land street, Wornall Road.
The dogs had always headed out to the woods off our back yard or the woods across the street. Somebody in the apartments across Wornall had caught Violet and put her in a dog crate. They kept her there all day and that night they let her out and told her to find her way home. I think they were well meaning. The next day Blossom and I and a kid went across the main drag into the apartments looking for Blossom. Someone said, “I see you found your dog. She was here all day yesterday. We kept looking for her owners.” I told them, “No, this is her sister Blossom. Violet is still missing.” We never saw Violet again. I have held out hope that Violet found a good home. I don’t know though. She got away.
Blossom was hit and run by a racing driver who roared around the corner past the Kids Playing sign and floored in on 104th Terrace. I was watering the grass. One of the kids came out to nbe with me and of course Blossom saw her chance and took it and bolted through the door. She had a good measure of her sister’s wanderlust. She ran across the street, probably to chase the deer out of the meadow. It was weird living on a major street in site of a major highway, yet having woods in front and behind of us. We saw fox, deer, owls, racoons, possums, skunks and crawdads.
She decided to cross back right about the time the neighborhood idiot floored his accelerator. He slowed down a bit at the thump and bump but hit it again and gunned it for the run.I went to Blossom. Timmy ran to get his mother and she showed up with the van and Sophie rode with me to comfort Blossom. Her leg was broken at the hip socket. That was the night President Obama was elected. Blossom lived more than eight years with the ball of her hip surgically removed. She had no hip joint but she could jump our brick wall and run well just using her spectacular Boxer musculature.
I miss Blossom. I miss Violet. I miss my Mom and my Dad too, and baby Sarah who preceded her parent in death. I think back to all the good dogs I have had.
And I think about my prison tattoo that said “Prison Tattoo” that I almost got and the prison tattoo that I did get that was supposed to say Violet but instead says Violent.
- Ted Young