Sunday, June 17, 2007

Why I Named Our Dog After My Father

About 8 weeks ago, Onkel Hankie Pants and I got our first dog. He's about 19 months old now, an English Springer Spaniel. His AKC registration name is Bessie's Sargent Dublin, and his former owner called him Dubie (rhymes with Scooby). We didn't like that name, so we call him Rusty.
My father's real name was Holman, and people from his family of origin always called him by it. He was named after his uncle, who was named for the Maine writer Holman Day. Because his career was as an NCO in the Army, some people called him Sarge. But to most of his friends, and to my mother's side of the family, he was Rusty, a name he got because of his many freckles.
Some of the reasons we named the dog for him:
  • Rusty the dog, like many Springers, has a freckled nose, like my father's
  • We got Rusty in Cundy's Harbor, a village in the town of Harpswell, Maine, where my father was born
  • Rusty (the dog's) father was Stonehaus Sargent Major. Rusty (the man) retired from the Army as a Sergeant-Major.
Since we've come to know Rusty better, we have realized some other ways in which he resembles his human namesake.
  • When he is in the house, you know it. Dogs are always present. If you find yourself wondering where the dog is, there's likely to be trouble. My father was the same way. He was an extroverted, loud, almost charismatic figure who filled any room he was in.
  • Rusty the dog tends to be a bit of a hell-raiser. He is headstrong, and if he is bored and lonely, he will find some activity such as chewing up candles to amuse himself. In my father's early years in the military, the tale is told that "he got awfully tired of sewing stripes on his sleeve and then having to take them off again." Daddy joined the 240th Coast Artillery of the Maine National Guard at 16 and had a lot of growing up to do his first few years in the service. By the time this picture was taken, in Inchon, Korea on March 3, 1953, he was 30 years old and much more mature.

  • Rusty the dog is loving and loyal. That's something we expect of dogs. Rusty the man was a loving and demonstrative husband and father. (I can still remember him embracing my mother in a tango-style move and saying, "Kiss me, you fool!" The quotation was slightly inaccurate but the emotion was genuine.) This was borne out during the last two years of my mother's life, as she was fighting (and losing to) colon cancer. For 38 years of their marriage, Mama had cooked his favorite foods, starched and ironed his uniforms *, brought him his coffee, and as we say in Maine, "tended out on him." When she became ill, it was his turn to do the "tending out on" and he rose to the occasion. Other family members helped a lot, but it was his doing of the daily chores, both pleasant and unpleasant, that enabled Mama to die in her own home, in the house she helped build. Just a few months later, he too died there, on his 65th birthday, both literally and figuratively of a broken heart.
* (After Daddy retired from the Army, he essentially refused to wear anything that had been ironed or starched ever again, so Mama retired from ironing.)

It's been nearly 20 years now since my parents died -- the first confused months of grief, the dreams where they were only joking about dying, are far behind me. But I still miss my mother and father very much.
When we were looking for a dog, we talked to several owners who'd advertised dogs for gift or sale in Uncle Henry's. Nearly every one of them described a paragon of dogdom, who never ran off, was entirely obedient, and was only being let go because of some great exigency beyond the owner's control. We were not thought worthy to receive any of those dogs. Then one morning I called a man named Frog who had this beautiful dog whom he just couldn't handle. We heard about his inclination to run off, the window he broke, and other havoc he might wreak. But Onkel Hankie Pants took him for a walk, we saw that he had a sweet nature, and our fate was sealed. He may not be perfect, but he's actually a pretty good dog, and he's ours, and we love him.
My father certainly wasn't perfect. But he was a pretty good father and a pretty good man, and I loved him. So that's why I named the dog after my father, and that's my Father's Day blog.


celeste said...

what a beautifully told memory. blessings to you both and rusty, the new dog.

Songbird said...

I love this story!
Did you know my husband grew up in Harpswell? His mother's people have deep roots there.

cordeliaknits said...

I think Grampy looks like Alexander in that picture. Doesn't look like me, but then again, no one does, except for Sisterknits, that is.

Michelle said...

Hello there. Thanks for your comment today. My dad's name is Rusty too, but my springer spaniel/border collie is Duncan.