(Photo Courtesy Rachel Aydt)
I brought home Edna, a Chihuahua/terrier mutt, when I was 12 years old.
She’d been living with a punk rock boy named Clay who hung out where I did on the Santa Fe Plaza. We were called the Plaza Rats (in our thrift store creations and Violent Femmes-blasting boomboxes), but this Edna “thing” was rattier than any of us put together.
Clay had been stealing Mighty Dog food from the Woolworth’s on the corner and didn’t want to get busted. I agreed to take her home for one night, and if my mom didn’t allow her to stay, I’d bring her back the next day.
She was handed to me on a ratty rope used as a makeshift leash. I slowly rode my rusty brown Huffy bicycle home to Alto Street; she trotted along beside me.
“Don’t name her!” my mother implored, knowing that to do so would be getting Edna one step into our little rental apartment, and into our lives, for good. I can’t remember whether it was my brother or I, but someone came up with the idea of naming her Edna after an elderly Aunt we’d never met. Aunt Edna lived in the Northeast and sent us birthday cards in the mail every year, without fail.
Edna gave birth to a litter of four puppies. Two came out with her coloring, and two came out huge and fluffy and white…. like Wally, come to think of it, our neighbor’s giant old white Labrador.
Edna had a black bandit mask and a brown and black calico coat that was wiry; she reminded me of an old man whose mustache had grown unkempt. She walked with a prance as royal as an Arabian Show Horse. When she got excited, her body would shake in a twist that would have Chubby Checker turn green with envy. She became our family mascot, and my constant companion.
In the same way that children were free range 30 years ago, so were dogs in Camino San Acacio, Santa Fe. Edna would walk me down the dirt road to school every morning. Along the way, we’d pick up a few other dogs; by the time I got to the soccer yard I’d be surrounded by a small pack of ratty looking barrio dogs, small and large. I’d pick up sticks and play fetch with Edna in the soccer field before heading to class, when I’d tell her, Go home, Edna! Go on, go home! Every day she’d be at our house waiting for me.
A handful of years later brought a cross-country move to Albany, New York. When we arrived from our long drive North, her belly swelled. Several months into our new frigid Northeast life, she gave birth to a litter of four puppies. Two came out with her coloring, and two came out huge and fluffy and white…. like Wally, come to think of it, our neighbor’s giant old white Labrador. Wally used to have his way with her, sending her home covered in slime. “Gross, Edna’s been slimed again!”
One runt didn’t make it, but the other three found homes nearby in lovely Berkshire country.
Years later, my mother fell in love with an Italian film editor who became our stepfather. He lived on a lake, and Edna spent her last years in the lap of Kinderhook luxury. As she grew older, and older and older, she grew senile, blind, and deaf. She’d walk up to a corner in the meandering house and bark at nothing; she’d pee on the floor, and her progressive age afforded her a patience that I marvel at, in retrospect.
In the end, she met her death by walking into the lake. She washed up on the shore of a neighbor, a veterinarian, who brought her home and said it looked like she’d probably had a stroke in the water. We buried her under an ornamental cherry tree, a gift we’d bought and planted for my mom on her wedding day.
Edna was cremated and buried with her red collar and tags. My mom placed her box of ashes over a bed of lettuce from the garden, because that had been her favorite spot to catch the sun. Edna has been joined by other beloved pets under this tree, this makeshift pet cemetery: Spunky, her beloved successor, and a slew of cherished cats, among them Charlie girl, my Chelsea love, whose tale I’ll leave for another day.
And you as well must die, beloved dust,
And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
This body of flame and steel, before the gust
Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
Than the first leaf that fell, this wonder fled,
Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
In spite of all my love, you will arise
Upon that day and wander down the air
Obscurely as the unattended flower,
It mattering not how beautiful you were,
Or how beloved above all else that dies.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay