I’m sharing a memoir this week, Dog Gone, written several years ago in response to my writing friend’s “dead dog story.”
The photo is an old house in Baton Rouge circa 1930’s; However, not the one in this story. The house pictured is indicative of the student slum neighborhoods our children occupied while attending college, but the original “crack house” was larger with peelng white paint. (If you use your imagination, you can see the corner of it in the photo.) Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture and the place was demolished to put up a Dollar Store.
Rundown and dirty with hardwood floors and plenty of parking, it was situated on the edge of LSU and the Baton Rouge city slums. Scheduled to be torn down, the apartment’s future sat between some political cross-hairs in the middle of a city and school dispute over local development. It was one of several similar old structures in the neighborhood of student slums and coveted for their proximity to the university. Built in the 1930s, this particular two-story white rectangle contained four apartments. The fashionably bohemian antique box appealed to our son, George, and the price was right for his fifth year budget. It was a landlord’s dream. Why fix up something scheduled for destruction, yet rentable?
We drove to the back of the huge dilapidated apartment, a place George and his friends referred to as “the crack house.” As we exited the pickup truck, he stood smiling on the back stoop, tanned and ready in his sleeveless wife-beater T-shirt and jeans. It was moving day, and we were his usual crew. Bucket and vacuum in tow, we trouped up the five or six steps to the ancient raised clapboard and noticed a peculiar odor.
“I think the last tenants boiled crawfish on the porch and dumped the water.” George pointed to the gray peeled paint floor. I looked at the worn wooden slats and cringed. This was definitely the worst place yet.
George proudly showed us around the rambling downstairs unit he was to inhabit by himself. He liked the idea of space and solitude; something not usually afforded a college student. With lots of six foot windows there was plenty of natural light to see the mold spores drifting toward the twelve foot ceilings. It was time to get the dust pan and mop moving. Sheetrock was nailed over a hole in the bedroom closet, providing some climate control, and I hoped some measure of rodent restraint. I bagged and vacuumed while the men threw out trash and furnishings from the previous tenants. George insisted on saving a cheesy purple and gold sombrero leftover from the last fiesta, hanging it on a nail in the living room. We had moved our four children multiple times over the course of their college careers. I knew the drill. The challenge was to be satisfied removing the top layer of dirt, ignoring years of wear and rot, and disinfecting what was left.
When the guys were leaving to retrieve furniture from another location, George handed me a Louisville Slugger. “Here, Mom. In case someone tries to get in while we’re gone.” His voice echoed with his steps through the empty living room. “The front door’s nailed shut.” He proceeded to show me his unique lock and two-by-four safety system on the back kitchen door. “Throw the dead bolt when we leave.” He opened a drawer designed for silverware. “If you need it.” To my fascination and angst, our youngest son pulled out a large handgun.
My mouth lay agape. My husband and I had never owned guns. I was the neighborhood mom who wouldn’t allow her children to play with toy pistols. As his dad waited in the truck, George buffeted my protest. “There are drug addicts living on the streets around here. But don’t worry,” my long haired, Easy Rider wannabe wrapped his muscled forearm around my shoulder. “You mostly see them after dark.”
Terrific. Our son’s roommate was a revolver.
The day progressed without incident, and we got our third child nested into his new digs before we left. Years of grease had been scrapped from the range top and the cracks in the porcelain sink smiled farewell. I had thrown out multiple buckets of soapy ammonia water and broomed the back porch to eliminate the smell, but as we exited, my nose still detected the foul bouquet of something fishy.
Concerned about George’s safety, I called regularly, and we scheduled another visit. Moving day gave us a point of reference, so I asked about the smell.
“I think it’s getting worse,” was always the response.
The day before our planned visit, the phone rang. “Mom, I found the smell.” George sounded peculiar. My heart jumped into my throat.
“I crawled under the porch – there’s a dead dog.”
At least it wasn’t human.
“Can you guys bring a shovel or hoe? The city won’t come get it, unless it’s out to the street.”
The trip to college town included lunch at a nice restaurant and the men dragging a rather large, yellowed, long-haired carcass from under the porch. I didn’t watch. Too big and awkward for a garbage bag, the guys laid the animal at the curb.
In true Southern time the city didn’t pick up the dog for two months. The smell abated as did my concerns. The apartment always filled with friends, the dog became a sick joke that I think only men can truly appreciate. Without a bark, our son’s dog kept vagrants and derelicts at bay.