I loved the little greyhounds, Allie and Sammie, who lived next door. They both shook like leaves on a stormy day in their natural state. Their breed is specific. The closest match with human behavior would be Barney Fife, better known as Don Knotts, the eccentric police assistant to Andy Griffith in Andy of Mayberry—a series that would offer us classic characters we embraced as household names. Their stories represented American family and community at it’s finest.
Recently I learned that Don as a gangly teenager, plucked chicken feathers from a machinery belt—one degrading unsavory job. Allegedly, he was skinny and jumpy—bullied by a brother and father growing up. He saved his hard-earned money until he could invest in a mannequin to practice his passion as a ventriloquist.
He joined the military as soon as he could. Within weeks the army discovered his hidden talent —he could entertain a crowd of servicemen and make them laugh. What an asset! His popularity grew and launched a career. The attributes God gave him proved perfect for the roles he played before an even vaster audience on American television. Many of us boomers grew up in anticipation of hearing and watching the nervous little man who made us laugh simply by being himself— jerky and tremulous, unlike any other human personality most of us had ever encountered.
I had never been around tremorous, fragile Italian greyhounds, until I first met Allie and Sammie in my neighbor, Donna’s, kitchen. Curiously intrigued by their physical demeanor, their timid, sweet personalities soon won me over as they darted almost on tippy-claws, in and out, toward and away as I stood and watched—like a circling disappearing act.
It seemed they could be quickly overpowered and bullied by a big dog. I wasn’t worried about my fifteen pound mini schnauzer, Benji, but I was a bit concerned how they would fare around Sam, my rambunctious clumsy 120 pound Lab. Even one wrong step and he could crush their little legs.
The inevitable day came for their introductions. Since Allie was a rescue and mending from past abuse, Donna decided we would introduce her dog, Sammie, to my Sam. How would my Sam respond to her 8 pound Sammie? Would he dare to attempt to bully him as easy fare, just as young scrawny Don had experienced from older bigger males. Smiling, speaking softly to little Sammie, Donna carried him trembling out to our property line. I waited with my Jolly Red Giant.
What would they do?
Sam stood next to me, the top of his head at my diaphragm. His big pink nose sniffed Sammie’s tiny paws dangling from Donna’s arms.
Eyes bulging, face riveted toward my Sam, Sammie bent forward. A little red tongue appeared and swept over large pink nostrils. Friends. Laughter from us. Declarations and the same kind of pleasure we felt as children watching Mayberry episodes.
Even though we all live in a sprawling metropolis, maybe dogs with peculiarities as vast as their masters, still bring a wholesomeness to life and neighborhoods that remind us a little bit of a place we always wanted to live—a safe, pleasant community where people care and share… like Mayberry, USA.