Tuesday, December 22
On Tuesday we were at breakfast when Andy’s phone rang. He checked the screen and said, “Uh oh.” We listened as he answered. “Jesse? God, you sound terrible. No, no. Stay home. The girls can come help out. We’ll need you more on the 26th. Right. See you then.”
Chris said, “Jesse’s sick?”
“Yeah.” Andy said to Pete and me, “Jesse’s my main stock guy. We’ve got to keep the shelves full. Business is great but the merchandise has to be available for the customers to see.”
Stephanie said, “Sam and I will help.”
“Good. Some of those boxes are heavy, though.”
I said, “I’ll help. You’ll have to show me what to do, but I’ll get to spend the day with Steph and Sam.”
Andy’s expression lightened. “That would be great. You’re sure you don’t mind?”
“Not at all. It’ll be fun.”
Andy laughed. “Yeah, we’ll see if you still say that at the end of the day.”
Andy’s store billed itself as a feed and seed emporium, but in reality they had almost anything one could need for farm, ranch, country or suburban living. The only thing they didn’t sell was farm machinery.
We parked behind the store. Andy unlocked a padlock on a garage door and raised it. He and Stephanie went inside, turning on lights. I said to Sam, “You and Steph have done this before.”
“Lots of times. Come on, I’ll show you where everything is.”
We had an hour and a half before the store opened. Steph showed me how to use the inventory scanner and explained the organization of the huge storeroom. We did a quick survey of the shelves, restocked a few, then disappeared into the back while Andy and his brother opened the store.
Customers trickled in at first, but by 11:00 the place was hopping. By noon I was thanking God that I’d never considered a retail career. Steph and Sam were smooth saleswomen, helping customers while also keeping an eye on the shelves. When they needed something, they’d scan the barcode on the shelf and send it to me; I’d find the right area of the storeroom and bring them whatever it was they needed.
It was hard, dusty work, and by the time we stopped for a quick bite of lunch at 1:30 I’d used my inhaler twice. Steph had caught me the second time, on our way into the break room, and she frowned. “Is the warehouse bothering your asthma?”
“A little bit. It’s fine.”
Sam said, “Steph’s applying to nursing school. She’s already playing the part.”
I reached into the fridge for a Coke and one of the sandwiches that Christine had sent for our lunch. “Nursing school at the University of Arizona?”
“Yeah. I have to take a couple more prerequisites, but I’m getting my math and English out of the way while I’m in high school. This spring I’m taking statistics, and I’ll test out of Spanish. So when I start at the university next fall I’ll have almost all science classes.”
I said, “I can’t believe this has never come up – I assume both of you are fluent in Spanish?”
Sam said, “Yeah. Mom and Dad wanted us to grow up bilingual. So Dad and his family would only speak Spanish to us, and Mom and Aunt Ruth would only speak English. It worked.”
“That’s good. I wish my Spanish was better.”
Sam grinned. “When I come to UCLA, you and I can practice.”
“What are you thinking of majoring in?”
“Geophysics. I want to study earthquakes.”
I looked at her in surprise. “No kidding. How’d you get interested in that?”
She shrugged. “I’ve always been fascinated by them.”
“Well, you’re certainly coming to the right place.”
We finished eating and Steph checked her watch. “We’ve got a couple of minutes. Come on, Uncle Jamie, I want to show you the pet section.”
The girls walked me to the front corner of the store, which was a pet owner’s delight – everything from leashes to beds to books to food, plus calendars with different dog breeds, kittens, and even parrots. I said, “Wow.”
Sam laughed. Steph said, “Why don’t you take your time? Look around a little bit. See if there’s anything you like.”
I said, “Stephanie Fernandez, you are a very bad influence on me.”
She snickered. “Just trying to help Uncle Pete out.”
“Uh huh.” I grinned. “Don’t we need to be stocking shelves?”
“We can handle it for a few minutes.” She waved her hand at the shelves. “Browse.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I turned to the array of dog treats in front of me. How could you possibly figure out which was the best? I supposed I’d be asking Jeff questions of that sort. If we decided to take Ammo home.
But seriously – what was my hesitation? The biggest con on my pro-con list was having a very large dog in a fairly small space. But we didn’t have a lot of furniture; we had the floor space for dog beds upstairs and down. Our neighborhood was perfect for dog walking, with sidewalks everywhere. The airport dog park was not far.
I’d checked with Ali and Mel, who couldn’t wait to meet Ammo and had already promised to keep him any time we liked and to let him swim in their pool. Mel said that she certainly would take him to work with her. Kristen had also agreed that she and Kevin could take him to her house on the weekends when we were out of town; they usually spent the weekends there anyway, rather than in the condo, and it would give Kevin some dog time that he wouldn’t get otherwise.
When I’d talked to Dad last night, he’d said that so far Ammo had stuck to his toys in terms of chewing. He hadn’t even pulled a single bath towel off a rack, something that Ralphie was renowned for.
I wandered through the shelves of supplies and stopped at the display of collars and leashes. They had camo patterns, of course; the desert camo would go well with Ammo’s fur.
A voice behind me said, “See something you like?”
I jumped, startled, and turned to see Andy’s brother, who had a knowing smile on his face. I chuckled. “What size collar do I need for an 87-pound Lab?”
He took the second-largest sized collar off the rack and handed it to me. “There you go. It’s adjustable. And this…” He took one of the leashes off its hanger. “This is the right sized leash for that collar. You like the desert camo?”
“Yeah. It matches the dog.”
He laughed. “I’ll ring you up, if you’re ready.”
I stood for a minute, looking at the collar and leash in my hands, and smiled. “I’m ready. Do you have gift wrap, by any chance?”
Friday, December 25
We left Tucson after breakfast on Christmas morning – Pete’s surprise gift secreted in my luggage – and got to Dad’s by dinnertime. When we came to the door Ammo woofed, but when he saw us he got excited. Dad had told him to sit and he remained seated, but he was wiggling all over, his tail a blur. When we were safely inside I called Ammo to me, and he galumphed over and leaned against my legs. Pete knelt down to scratch his ears and he licked Pete’s hand.
Ali and Mel were visiting Ali’s family for the holidays, and they came over for dinner and to meet Ammo. In a matter of minutes, Ali was on the floor playing with him. Mel said to me, “If you guys decide not to take him, maybe we’ll consider it.”
The sorrowful look on Pete’s face at Mel’s suggestion reinforced to me that I’d made the right decision.
Dad had brought home leftovers from Christmas dinner at Val’s, and we had turkey and dressing sandwiches for supper. As we sat down Ali said, “Where’s Barb?”
Dad’s face was perfectly neutral. “She went home after dinner at Jeff’s. She’s had her fill of dogs.”
Mel was appalled. “She doesn’t like dogs?”
Ali said, “I don’t trust people who aren’t dog people. No offense, sir.”
Dad gave her a half-grin. “None taken. Neither do I.”
Ammo stayed on his bed while we ate, although he was watching us with drooling desire. I asked, “Has he ever tried to beg at the table?”
Dad said, “Nope. He’s been trained not to.”
“Have you taken him to Jeff’s to play?”
“Yes. He and Ralphie romp together without conflict, although when they tire out they retreat to their corners. I’ve taken him to the dog park, too. He’ll play fetch for hours.”
Pete said, “How many toys do you have for him?”
“A few – a knobby ball, a can of tennis balls, the rope bone you gave him, and a thing that you can put kibble in and it spills out as he rolls it. That’s a good way to entertain him while he’s alone at home.”
After dinner Ali and Mel went back to the Fortners’ house, and Pete, Dad and I gathered in the living room to open gifts. Dad had our presents from Jeff and his crew as well. I’d alerted Jeff to my decision, and knew that Dad had a small package for Pete, from Jeff, that he was holding until last.
As usual we both received a towering stack of books. We had new hiking socks from Colin and Gabe, and a colorful assortment of bandanas from Ali and Mel – a joke that went back to our wedding, when Ali loaned us bandanas to fulfill our “something borrowed” requirement.
When we’d unwrapped all the gifts in his sight, Pete looked around at the piles of paper and presents. “We are so fortunate.”
Dad said, “Yes. We are. Never forget that.”
We observed a spontaneous, unofficial moment of silence. Then I said, “We’re about to get more fortunate.” I handed him the box containing the leash and collar.
He gave me a suspicious look as he tore open the paper. “What’s this?”
He opened the box, took out the collar and leash, and held them in his hands for a minute, staring at them. I said, “It’s unanimous.”
“Oh my God! Thank you!” He lunged at me and we ended up on the floor in a pile, laughing. I untangled myself and sat up. “Ammo, come.”
Ammo trotted over, thrilled to be included in whatever fun the humans were having. I took off the collar he was wearing and adjusted the new camo collar around his neck. “There you go, buddy. Do you like it?”
Ammo shook all over then sniffed the leash. I said, “That’s yours too.”
He looked at me as if to say, “So why aren’t we using it?”
I laughed. “In a minute, buddy. Daddy Pete has another present to open.”
Pete had sat up and brushed himself off. “Another one?”
Dad produced the gift that he’d hidden under the sofa. “This one’s from Jeff.”
Pete opened it – to find a six-month supply of heartworm medicine, and a dog toothbrush and liver-flavored toothpaste. He laughed. “Okay, okay. I’ll brush his teeth.”
I got to my feet. “Come on. Let’s try out this new leash.”
We let Ammo out into the back yard to do his business then hooked his new leash and walked north on Tremont, looking at the Christmas lights. I said, “We should leave a bed and dishes here for him.”
Pete said, “We’ll need beds and bowls for Ali’s and Kristen’s too, if we’re not going to be transferring all that stuff around every time we go someplace.”
“It’s like having a kid, except everything won’t fit in a diaper bag.” I stopped and laid my hand on Pete’s arm. “You know that’s the biggest change. Everything we do now, everyplace we go, we have to consider Ammo.”
Ammo’s tail thumped against my leg at the sound of his name. Pete said, “I know. I finally get to use my paternal instincts.”
I didn’t let go of his arm. “And here’s the worst thing. In ten or twelve years, he’ll absolutely break our hearts.”
Pete nodded and scratched Ammo’s ears. “I’m not going to think about that yet.”
Saturday, December 26
The next morning Pete and I took Ammo to the back yard to do his business, then for a jog in the neighborhood. He trotted along at our heels, perfectly behaved, not stopping every few feet to sniff or lunging ahead to greet people or dogs. A very non-Lab-like Lab. The more time we spent with him, the more I appreciated his military training.
When we got back to the house Barb was there. She greeted us happily but didn’t look thrilled to see Ammo – and vice versa. Ammo ignored her. He ambled right past her, retrieved his rope bone from his bed, and settled down for a chew.
Barb said, “You’re taking him home with you, right?”
I said, “Right. He’ll be back to visit.”
She didn’t look pleased at that either. Pete said, “We didn’t know that you dislike dogs.”
Barb seemed to know that she was in trouble on this topic. “Oh, it’s not so much that I dislike them. I’m not comfortable around them. They’re so – dirty.”
Like litterboxes weren’t? I said, “No one ever got cat scratch fever from a dog.”
She frowned. “I suppose that’s true.”
We took Ammo shopping to buy new beds, bowls and toys. He lingered by the rawhides, but we managed to tug him away from those and toward the nylon bones. We got a spare collar, leash and car harness, and the largest bag of his brand of food that they had. We wandered the aisles, making sure we hadn’t missed anything. Everyone we saw stopped us. “Oh, what a beautiful dog.”
Pete, already the proud parent, said, “Thank you,” over and over.
Monday, December 28
We drove home on Monday, Ammo securely strapped into the back seat. He was good in the car, sitting up in the center of the back seat, watching the scenery. When we got home we took him for a leisurely walk so that he could explore the immediate neighborhood, then introduced him to the house.
He was fascinated by the stairs and spent several minutes trotting up and down them. We set up his primary food and water bowls on a waterproof mat in the kitchen and installed a second water bowl in the master bathroom. We put his main bed in our room and another in the living room, since we didn’t want him on the sofa. As soon as we placed the living room bed, he flopped onto it with his rope bone and gnawed himself to sleep.
We had a dog.