When I first met my husband, a field-trained black lab owned him. Rebel was one an intelligent beast with a once in a lifetime personality. The retriever and man enjoyed a rustic bachelorhood at Meade State Fish Hatchery. Dog and owner led an idyllic life hunting, fishing, and working fishponds set far from town and people.
Once Rebel decided I was an asset to his meal schedule and ability to lounge on the couch, this big, black dog made room in his Labrador heart for another human. When our jobs changed and we transferred from the lake to Ellis, Rebel accepted another difficult adjustment to a previously perfect life. He traded working fishponds for retrieving evening papers and supervising a garden.
While he missed the freedom of roaming fish hatchery grounds where he could roust game birds and help my husband feed and move fish, Rebel discovered new delights. We had a mulberry tree, a pear tree, and two apple trees. You ask, “Why would fruit trees be a bonus in a retriever’s life?”
This particular lab loved mulberries, pears, and apples—especially if they had dropped to the ground and fermented for a few days. Yes, our lab was a lush during a fruit drop.
I’d find him sleeping soundly amidst mounds of fallen mulberries. His distended belly rising and falling rhythmically as he breathed. I laughed to see dark purple mulberry stains circling his muzzle after one of his binges. When he awoke from his snooze, he looked at me with unfocused eyes and wobbled as he rose to greet me. A perpetually happy dog, these fruit indulgences didn't alter his loving personality.
In early fall, if I called and Rebel didn’t come running, I knew I’d find him, head on paws, sleeping off a toot under our pear and apple trees. Fermented fruit scent permeated the air surrounding this tiny orchard. Low flying, inebriated wasps fed on yeasty pulp or circled above over-ripe yellow and red orbs and Rebel. To my surprise, these relaxed insects never stung me as I collected fruit they crawled upon. Their tranquility explained my dog's relaxed state.
Certain I didn’t want to encourage dipsomania in our beloved pet, I found myself racing him to fallen fruit when I got home from school. He’d give me a hang-dog look that nearly broke my heart as I tossed his beloved apples and pears in a bucket. We’d taken him from the freedom of the fish hatchery and moved him to town, and now I was depriving him of the one pleasure he’d found that made city life worthwhile.
Rebel has been gone for decades, and we moved long ago from that house surrounded by the pear and apple trees. Despite passing time, the dog days of August and slow moving wasps remind me of that black dog that made room in his heart for a new member of the family and relocation to a neighborhood with paved streets.