I outgrew the climbing a few years later, but I didn’t outgrow the tennis courts. They continued to be a popular place for kids to gather. It was there I discovered that Betty was half-blind.
Betty was our beagle. I had to lobby for years to get a pet better than the tropical fish Dad was always nursing through ichthy-whatever (I learned that tropical fish are sick all the time with something or other, and I used to wonder what made the tropics so great, if those blue lagoons were filled with sick fish). I was almost thirteen when Mom finally relented and let me have a dog.
She was a beautiful purebred puppy, with velvety long ears and lots of white on her, and she matured into a lovely animal. But she seemed a bit stupid at times. One Saturday I walked her to the high school, off-leash, and when I left the tennis court she lagged inside. I called her to me and she dashed straight into the fence. I knew then she wasn’t stupid; she just couldn’t see.
My family moved to Northern California when I was fifteen, and I had to give Betty away. That made no sense to me then or now, but my parents required it. I didn’t have another pet until I set up a household of my own.
And there was Mom, with disagreeable advice.
I was twenty-five then. Into my first house, and pregnant with my daughter. I adopted a retriever.
Mom wanted me to have a monitored alarm system. I told her the dog was a better solution to that kind of security issue. She insisted that I fence in the front yard. I refused. The yard was small and right on a pedestrian thoroughfare. It wasn’t like we needed it to be private; we did all our relaxing in the relatively large (and fenced) backyard. As far as I was concerned, a wall fence just invited graffiti. And I was put off by those run-of-the-lumber-mill pieces of paintable picket fence. Until we could afford a beautiful low stone wall or something, I declined to accept her recommendation.
It wasn’t that she wasn’t helpful. After my daughter was born Mom was often with us, cooking and freezing meals and making me rest. It’s more that she had an overly strong urge for physical safety. As if a fence or an alarm were going to do it.
All in all I would have done better without her help. She got overly upset about any kind of diaper rash, and when my daughter was about a year old and discovered how much she liked rolling on her stuffed sheep in her playpen, pushing her plump little pudenda against the sturdy stuffed animal and grunt-moaning a little, Mom seemed to freak out and tried to get me to “make her stop that.”