After my father retired from the army, we lived in the country outside Nashville. We had a big yard, a big garden, and I had a big dog, a Saint Bernard named Herman. For my birthday one year, my gift was a 3x5 index card on which my dad had written, “This card is good for one puppy dog.” We always had dogs, and had one then, a taffy blonde cocker spaniel named Tina. But I had been wanting a dog of my own. I was torn between an Old English Sheepdog and a Saint Bernard. We went to look at a litter of Saint Bernards. My decision was made. The breeder pointed out Herman’s markings and other good points, but I picked him because he seemed sweet. He was the one who came over quietly and was friendly but not pushy.
|Herman and me in 1983|
My dad built Herman a dog house that was the best one I’ve ever seen. It was wood, painted white, with a black-shingled, pitched roof. It had a covered front porch for lounging and a rear window for cross ventilation. Herman and Tina shared the house and a large fenced area, partially wooded, at the back of our yard. Tina was the boss of the pair. She snapped at Herman if he tried to eat from her bowl, and he always backed down. He was a big softie. Once my dad found him carrying a tiny kitten around in his mouth. When he put it down, it was covered with dog slobber, but perfectly fine. Herman was very gentle and loving. When I was in high school, I would race back and forth across our front yard with Herman in hot pursuit. I would pretend to fall down and lie flat on the grass, face cradled in my arms. Herman would immediately stop and “worry” over me. He would sniff and gently prod me until I got up to race again. I’ve had other dogs who ran right over me when I did the pretend-hurt act. Maybe they were just smarter and could see through the charade, but I prefer to think Herm was caring, not dumb.
I was quite a tomboy in those days, too, and loved to climb trees. There was a perfect climbing tree right beside Herman’s doghouse. Its first main branch was a long, strong, straight one maybe eight feet off the ground. I would walk out on that branch as far as I could while holding on to the next branches up. Herman hated that. He would stand under the branch and bark and “fuss.” I think he knew people didn’t really belong in trees. Or maybe he wanted to join me. When I climbed higher, into a tree crotch that was perfect for sitting, he would give up and lie down to wait.
He was a funny dog. One of his favorite games was to try to bite the stream of water from the hose when we filled up his water bucket. This was especially fun in the summertime. He also liked to carry around a punctured football. He wasn’t nearly as gentle with a football as he was with a kitten!
Herman lived his whole life there at my parents’ place. I was away in graduate school when my dad called to tell me that Herman was failing. He couldn’t stand up. I had to make the decision. The veterinarian was a good friend to my parents and their menagerie. She came to the house and put Herman to sleep there in his yard. My dad buried him in the shade of my climbing tree.