We always had Weimaraners, which Daddy pronounced “Vy-mer-I-ners.” On a boat trip on the Rhine in 1971, Daddy was gallantly holding forth with what he remembered from his 1940s language courses. A petite, polite, blonde guide grinned and said he spoke “courtly German,” which we interpreted as “Old English.” That was the same boat ride where another guide turned to my sister, who had been eating a ton of dried apricots in the VolksVagon van, and stoutly pronounced, “On boat, you have good fahrt!” My sister flamed with embarrassment as the rest of us held our sides laughing, not knowing “fahrt” was German for “trip.”
Mo (short for Moses) was there when I showed up in 1962. Mo died in ’65, the semester Daddy had sabbatical in Palo Alto. My mother awoke in the night feeling Mo lick her face. The next day, the call came.
When we returned to St. Pete, Daddy bought a female whom I named Winnie, after Pooh, of course. I remember the breeding rituals. A strange and aggressive Weimaraner male stalking my Winnie around tighter circles on the pink concrete backyard. The mounting. The yips, the yaps, the nips and groaning. I watched and did not understand.
One Thanksgiving, a table of family, friends, and random students from the college – at least sixteen strong – watched eight-week pregnant Winnie clear the five-foot chain link fence just off the dining room. The flesh of her disgorged belly scrapped the top and bled, but she was free. There’s no keeping down a determined Weimaraner.
We kept a puppy from that particular litter, born a week later. Joe was an exceptional specimen of male, much less dog. Daddy would have removed his own testicles before he let a scalpel touch Joe’s. As a result, Joe would disappear regularly when the scent wafted over the fog of orange blossoms and DDT mosquito spray. One time, Joe chewed a hole in the vet’s office, through drywall, studs, and plaster, trying to get free after a night in for some procedure. “We thought it was a burglar,” the vet said in wonder. They didn’t ask Daddy to pay the damages.
But my favorite Joe story I only heard recently. My mother recounted in vivid detail: “We were at that stoplight where you either go down 9th Street or you turn right into Lakewood Estates. Bob looked over and saw a woman with a Weimaraner in the backseat. He shouted out the window, ‘Male or female?’”
“Female,” the woman confirmed, a bit puzzled – according to my mother.
Flashing his million-watt smile, my enthusiastic but ultimately naive father shouted back, “How about mating?!”
In the recounting, my mother said starkly, “I’d have liked to drop my teeth,” which may be a southern expression but one I’ve heard all my life.
Mama and I laughed and laughed. That was so typical of my dad. Always looking out for his best boy. Never shy to make a scene or drop a wink. But at the beginning and in the end, always a gentleman.
He once refused to sell a puppy to a man looking for a “Wee Mariner.” He loved his dogs, all of them. More than any other, he loved Joe.
And Joe’s prodigy were not “wee mariners.”