by Kris Kline
Original seen in Dog&Kennel Magazine
"I think I found it," my dad shouted as he burst through the door of his elegant Florida waterfront home, shadowed by my mother, Evelyn.
I turned from the kitchen sink where I was concocting my renowned martinis - shaken, not stirred. My smile of expectation collapsed when I saw my mom's expression of disbelief. My 70-year-old father, Clarence, clutched the real estate section of the Tampa Tribune in his suntanned hands. For as long as I could remember, he had been talking about relocating to a ranch in Alabama, but so far no one had taken him seriously. As he held the classified section toward me, I noticed a hastily drawn line circling one of the ads.
"What's this?" I asked, looking down at the paper.
"It's a nightmare," my mother informed me. "Your father has finally gone over the edge."
My eyes quickly scanned the ad. It read: "Alabama/4-year-old bulldog, $98,000, with extras including modern brick home on 48 acres."
For once I was tempted to agree with my mother, but I kept my mouth shut. I poured the chilled gin equally into each hand-designed glass. Following our weekend ritual, we toasted each other and took a sip.
"Perfect, as always," my mother beamed. "Not really on my diet, but that's the beauty of being our age."
"Shall we adjourn to the lanai?" I offered, leading the way through the dining room and out onto the screened porch that wrapped around the back of the house overlooking the Manatee River at one of its widest points. The view rivaled any and never failed to elicit gasps of awe from anyone seeing it for the first time.
"Dad," I said, skeptically, looking over the rim of my glass directly into his intense blue eyes. "I don't want to take sides, but look around. Are you sure you want to trade all this in on an acreage in the boondocks of Alabama?"
"Of course not," he said, as though I had lost my mind. I could feel my mother relaxing for the first time since they had walked in the door. "I want to trade it in for a bulldog."
With those words our lives would change forever. Within two months I had purchased their home and moved my art studio down from New York, packed the folks off to Alabama, and was well on my way to losing my position in the family as Mom's favorite child. I was being replaced by a mangy, independent, bullheaded canine named Bulldog.
My loss of title wasn't immediate. In fact, it took a while before Mom would even let Bulldog into the mud room from the garage. His previous owners had kept him as an outdoor dog without manners or decorum. As time went on, it became apparent to me and everyone else that the furry interloper was moving in, and Mom no longer liked me best. Bulldog ruled. He was allowed to do all the stuff I'd wanted to do when I lived at home. He got to go outside whenever he wanted to. Mom always took him with her when she ran errands. She gave him ice cream any time of the day and night. He never got yelled at for being cross with strangers, and worst of all, Dad and I no longer got first dibs on the restaurant doggy bags. Mom spoiled that big, burly pet unabashedly and defended him steadfastly when others dared make derogatory remarks about him or his vicious-sounding growl.
They were inseparable, and then one sunny fall day Mom died unexpectedly. It had been just two weeks before that I had come up from Florida for a long weekend. We had all picked turnips in the field together. Now, sadly, she was gone.
I came back up for the funeral and stayed on as long as I could, but eventually I had to return to my studio and my work. As I pulled the car out onto the highway headed south, I glanced into the rearview mirror. There, standing in silhouette against a backdrop of open sky and sweeping land, stood a man and his dog. Suddenly I was filled with the knowledge that together they would help each other through their shared loss, and I knew that $98,000 for Bulldog had been a bargain.
As the weeks passed, I felt a need to write a tribute to him, but I am no wordsmith. I am an artist, and so I wrote his name into his image. Every time I create a new drawing of a dog, I think of Bulldog, and I am reminded that Mom liked him best.
Kris Kline, is a freelance writer, and her husband Stephen Kline is an artist living in Tampa, Florida, whose work has been exhibited in the United States, Russia, Germany, Great Britain and extensively in Florida.