Frederick Love Story
The story begins almost nine years ago on a lovely October Saturday afternoon, which I was enjoying on the front porch. It was in the old house, farther up North Market. A tall hedge still ran completely around the yard's outer rim, keeping out of sight both people and cars.
Aside from cutting grass, I rarely lollygagged around outside. But there was a great flurry of activity that day. Russian son Dima (Dr. Dmitry Kuprash) was joined by another friend; they were carrying antiques over the porch and into their cars. Again and again. I couldn't settle down to the clattering machine.
Admittedly, there might have been more than a little electricity charging my spirit; my birthday came Sunday. My then-wife had planned a festive bang-up. "Everybody" was coming. Friends, associates and Frederick politicians would be there to see me blow out a whole bunch of candles. Despite the gray beard, I was excited. Sitting down in a rocker or on the swing was out of the question.
And what to my wandering eye should appear...to crib a phrase from Clement Moore - but a pair of young people accompanying this bouncing black and white critter. The young man looked scruffy in the modern fashion; she was very pregnant out to here, as the saying goes. But my eye fixed on the roly-poly object between them.
They came into view when still up Market, crossing Ninth Street they disappeared behind the hedge; only when they paraded by the gate did I choose to let free my curiosity. I ran down to the sidewalk landing on a spot behind them.
"What a neat puppy," I said, "how old is he?"
The young man instantly swiveled and replied: "Twelve weeks. You want to buy him? One hundred dollars."
Not expecting the offer I was momentarily stunned. We already possessed a Walker coonhound that could bugle the neighborhood awake. That was Sweetwater. An Airedale rounded out the family: Boomer had demonstrated his breed's amazing engineering prowess. No fence could hold him if he wanted to get free.
Missing from the scene, English pointer Truman, who had to be put to sleep the year before. He was a dear, dear boy dog, but not very bright. He had come to us through the Montgomery County shelter where he had been consigned by his first owners; they simply did not know he was a hunting breed not fit for their apartment, and teething. Can you imagine the damage and destruction that awaited them on their return from work? He was hand-shy and ducked his head when loudly spoken to. He was, as I said, a very dear boy dog. (Emily made the move to Frederick. We had been here not very long when a brain tumor developed. She died in my arms.)
Impatient for a response, but understanding my silence as a positive in his favor, the young man attempted to sweeten the deal: "He has papers."
Credibility was not on his side, but I looked at the girl's anxiety and her swollen belly. She didn't want to lose the puppy but her coming baby rated first; between them they appeared not to have a dime.
Then I thought about the situation at home. Boomer and Sweetwater were in the patio, safely out of the way of Dima and the friend moving in and out. What would the lady of the house say? There was only one way to find out. Taking the metallic leash (the first and last I've ever seen) I marched the black and white bundle up to the front door, where Sharon was directing traffic. Figuring out instantly what was going on, she still said:
"What do you want?"
"The kids want a hundred dollars," I said, "I have the money in my wallet." An early birthday gift.
She looked back and forth, between the puppy and me. She later said I looked like a seven-year-old begging: please, mother. She said:
"Well, okay, take him out to the patio. If he doesn't make a mess on the way and the other dogs don't tear him limb from limb. We'll talk."
We returned the puppy intact, and she said: "Well, okay, I guess," which I took as a resounding yes. Before she could change her mind, we got out of there.
The boy looked very self-satisfied and smug, as I handed over the money; the girl's tears had already started sliding down her cheeks. But her new baby had the hundred dollars: when the boy proclaimed the price, I knew instantly it was subject to a counteroffer. Her pregnancy made all the difference.
One thing more, a name. In his former life he had been Freckles, because of his spots. That was too simple. At a family conference the next morning, Dima suggest Mitya, another Russian contraction for Dmitry, his real first name. As a scientist, he had come from Moscow for experiments at Fort Detrick; he had lived with us during the visits since 1987.
When my wife had difficulty handling the pronunciation of Mitya, the naming process came to a halt but only momentarily. Years earlier I had tried - with Duke Ellington's nephew Stephen James - writing a musical about Russia's greatest poet. He happened to be, like Stephen, also black and white, like the puppy.
That's how Pushkin came to carry his name. As I write he's on a couch sleeping away. In a few minutes, when I finish this, we'll take our daily promenade through the downtown business district. He'll receive biscuits as usual. Those in the know will wish him congratulations. This Monday he was nine years old.
Happy Birthday, Pushkin.