A few days ago I met a couple of Labradors – one black, the other golden. Being the friendly dogs that they are, they greeted me in time-honoured Labrador fashion by licking my face, which brought back fond memories and was all the incentive I needed to write this post about my dear old friend Blackie.
When I left the New Zealand Navy back in 1967 and became a civilian once again, I worked for two years as a postman before becoming a mail sorter for a while in the mailroom at Hamilton GPO. Eventually I went back to sea as a merchant seaman for several years. But that’s a story for another time.
I can’t exactly remember when it was, but I decided I needed a pal to take with me on my frequent trips into the bush to get away from civilisation. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was suffering from all the early signs of post traumatic stress disorder. A lasting legacy of war for many ex-servicemen, not just my generation…
So I went to the nearest pet store and soon arrived back home with a wriggling bundle in my arms, and my face licked clean. At the time he was four months old. Like all pups sold in pet stores, he was full of worms. Once he had been dosed he was fine. It took another six months for his body to catch up with his paws which were already full size.
Blackie was the jet black boisterous canine version of a dizzy blonde. A bag of nails has more intelligence than he ever did, bless him. He was the only water dog I have ever come across that hated getting wet. I took him to the beach once. When I let him out of the car he began by chasing all the seagulls he could find, until they ganged up on him. He spent the rest of the couple of hours we were there trying to bite wavelets, swallowing foamy seawater in the process.
Back at home, where he spent all of his time while I was at work, he never once left my mum’s side. When he needed to go into the garden to answer the call of nature, mum always had to go with him simply because he had become extremely wary of the neighbourhood cats whenever they turned up mob-handed. Mum said that they knew when he needed to go out, and used to line themselves up on the top of the garden fence, constantly growling and hissing at him. For some reason known only to felines they didn’t appreciate being chased up trees by a four legged jet black juvenile delinquent who just wanted to play…
When mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the larynx, like a lot of dogs, Blackie knew somehow. He used to make a point of sniffing and licking her throat trying to make her better.
Whenever she baked, his eyes followed her every move. On more than one occasion whole trays of hot scones vanished behind her back whenever she put them on a bench to cool. I was home one day when she was in the process of making a fresh batch. I suggested that she place one tray in the middle of the kitchen table and cover it with a tea towel. We then went into the sitting room to wait on either side of the connecting door.
Sure enough within a couple of minutes of us leaving the kitchen Blackie began working his way closer and closer towards the table. We both had to stifle our laughter as we watched him peer over the top of the table. His nose was twitching like mad as he was driven to distraction by the delicious smell. The amount of slobber on the table and floor was growing fast. With one last look in our direction he raised himself up and reached across the table to get a grip on the tea towel with his teeth. Slowly but surely he pulled the entire tray closer to him before pushing his head under the tea towel to extract a scone. At that point both mum and I quietly came back into the kitchen behind him. Have you ever seen a guilty look on a dog’s face? His was absolutely priceless.
When mum finally passed away a couple of months later both Blackie and I were devastated on the day of her funeral. I cried my heart out and Blackie howled incessantly. A week later Dad was told by our landlord that we had to move. All landlords back in New Zealand then were not keen on dogs living inside a house. So Blackie had to go. I couldn’t do it. Could you? Dad got rid of him, something I never forgave him for to his dying day.
A day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about Blackie, even though it was forty-four years ago now. What I don’t miss about him are my legs going numb from him lying across them on the bed. Or his silent but deadly farts which he always accused me of in that way all dogs do after they have fluffed, when he turned to look at me in disgust before moving away from the smell.
R.I.P old mate…