It was the ending of one of George’s letters that caught my eye. He wrote, “A moment of silence for Sherman. Maybe you and I will have to pick out a new pooch for your Xmas gift.” While I read his letter, once again, a memory came flooding back. A memory of my mother, our dog Sherman and how George tried to make a painful situation better.
My mother was the epitome of refinement. Every soft-spoken word out her mouth became music to the ears.
Helen O’Toole was one of twelve children in a proud dirt-poor Irish American family. Upon completing the eighth grade Helen worked at a neighborhood five and dime to help supplement her father’s meager wages.
Still, night after night, by the glow from a candle’s flame you could see Helen’s silhouette through a small bedroom window and, with her head bent forward, she’d read and reread her most recent library book. There is no doubt, the desire to learn was burned into that little girl’s delicate soul.
During the late 1920′s Helen set aside her struggle to survive when she fell in love with Charlie and married him. The realization that she was no longer shackled to the past allowed her to be the admirable person she dreamt of being.
Back then, Helen would often be seen hobnobbing with the Bay Village intelligentsia or as a stellar member of the Bay Village Garden Club.
Each Spring, we’d find my mother sinking her beautifully manicured nails into the soil surrounding the colorful flowers, bursting into bloom, in front of our city’s stately Town Hall.
In everyone’s eyes this gentile lady was a, well-intentioned, force to be reckoned with.
Right here, I’d love to say Helen never stepped out of the character she, so diligently, created for herself but, AFTER ALL, she was a mere mortal.
Her troubles began when my father appeared at our front door carrying an adorable Cocker Spaniel puppy. On the surface, bringing home the puppy seemed to be a great idea except Charlie knew, as a child, Helen had been bitten by a German Police dog and, since then, she was terrified of dogs. But following long hours of pleading to let the puppy stay and a list of stipulations mother acquiesced.
By now, the puppy had wiggled out of my father’s arms and with his floppy ears and waggily tail he made a bee-line to mother and started to sniff her shoes. Then he laid the side of his face on her soft leather shoe and fell fast asleep. If, for whatever the reason, mother wasn’t sold on keeping the dog that dear little animal had just sealed the deal.
As soon as he became the newest member of the Elster family we asked my mother to name him. At the time I did wonder about the strange expression on Helen’s face when she gave him the grand title of Sherman of Bay Village – soon to be shortened to Sherman of Bay, anyhow, our lives went on until that horrible day.
That day seemed to be running along smoothly until Helen locked Sherman, who had grown considerably, on the back porch so mother could enjoy her afternoon ritual. Then, in her all together, she’d take a relaxing bath. And, as always, with her eyes shut and her head resting on the back of the tub she’d submerse herself beneath a blanket of bath oil and bubbles but, suddenly, the unexpected happened. She felt something wet on her cheek and it wasn’t the bath water.
Sherman had escaped from the back porch, found Helen and was, happily, licking her face.
My poor frantic mother, in her confusion, instead of pushing Sherman away she pulled him into the tub with her and the two of them nearly drowned. If you haven’t guessed, from that moment on, it was goodbye Sherman.
In the ambulance on the way to the emergency room, where mother was examined and released with a prescription for tranquilizers, she told us why she named the puppy Sherman of Bay. Because the first letter in the three words Sherman of Bay are SOB.
Yes, it’s true, mother was a mere mortal like the rest of us.
post script – When George heard what happened he suggested we give Sherman to two brothers, Mike and Bill Taylor, who were his friends. Which we did. Unfortunately, a month later, Sherman ran into the street and a car hit him. He died on impact and that’s why George offered to get me a new pooch for Christmas. I said no so he gave me a white cashmere sweater and golden cross on an intricate gold chain. While I was admiring the cross he said, “There’s not a lot of gold but there is a lot of sentiment.” Oh well!