Black dog destiny.
MY FATHER GREW up the son of a hunter and gun enthusiast. Recently, I stumbled across a few photos of them together after a morning duck hunt. Dad never spoke of Grandpa in glowing terms; actually, I can't remember a time the two of us ever talked about him. Chalk it up to the times, I guess.
Since his own father was somewhat absent, my best guess is Dad wanted to pass as much knowledge onto and spend as much time with my younger brother and me as he could, which he absolutely did.
Much of that was playing and watching baseball (the Chicago Cubs and White Sox were always on the old Zenith), plowing snow in the winter and partaking in our version of America's Greatest Pastime--waterfowl-ing. I can remember the day he picked up Dyna, a pudgy black ball of a Labrador, from my uncle.
She didn't have a drop of championship blood in her, but she was free (I hope), and we needed a retriever. Dad spent the winter and spring "training" her. When I think back on it, he was pretty clueless. Any breeder/trainer worth a lick would have scowled at Dad's every move. One of the first things he did was buy a cap gun, shooting it behind Dyna's pen. Welcome to shotgun introduction, little girl! You haven't been properly socialized yet, but here's a bunch of loud noises to scare the bejesus out of you just to ensure you're gunshy.
Next came a dummy with wings tied to it. I'm not really sure what kind of bird they were from, but it definitely was not a duck. Dad would chuck it and Dyna would break immediately before he could even pull the trigger on the trusty cap gun. Maybe 50 percent of the time she brought the dummy back. The others she grabbed it and ran around the house, or took off for parts unknown. Dad went on a lot of walks so long the pack of Marlboros in his jacket pocket never made it back.
But opening day of dove season came and he was sure Dyna was ready. For what reason I still don't know. We went to a gravel pit and saw nary a bird for hours. He finally managed to scratch one down over the deep end of a gorge. It was a tough but definitely makable retrieve, only Dyna had the nose of a turkey.
She just looked up at him while he yelled at her incessantly to fetch it up. Sweating and exasperated, Dad pushed the heavy Browning BPS into my tiny chest and grabbed Dyna by the collar. He dragged her down the side of what looked like a mountain to me. What's impressive is he actually found the bird (he was apparently half retriever), picked it up and shoved it in her mouth.
It was official; Dyna was a washout. The only hunts she went on from that day were for loaves of bread and T-bone steaks my unsuspecting mother left on the kitchen counter.
I sometimes miss that old dog, but not hunting over her. Now having a I son of my own, I hope there'll soon be another black dog at my side. She doesn't have to be a champion, but I'd sure like her to be the best darned pup he will ever have.
Passing Shots From the Associate Editor