November 11 is a special day: a day of magic! For on this day Jeanie celebrates her birthday.
She was born in the den just off from our dining room. I’d been kicked out of prep school after four years, had begun public school, and had no friends. On a towel across my bed she lay, in the afternoon and evening when I practiced my electric guitar. The puppy was black as the night, a wee Scottie, eyes still closed. And when her eyes opened, she stared at me with a black intensity that was almost scary, her unqualified love for me bottomless. Unqualified love was a rarity in my life back then.
Her kennel name was Woodhart Wajeana: Woodhart from my father, Heywood Hartley, and Wajeana from me who wanted to call her Jeanie. To a handler in New York she was flown and showed until the dog world declared her a champion. Jeanie was pure royalty. She didn’t give a damn about being a champion; she just wanted to show ‘em she could do it.
Over the following years I was gone most of the time, but returned home for a few months during the winter. Barking sounded in the kennel before my feet touched the ground of our driveway. Jeanie always seemed to “know” of my homecoming.
Almost every afternoon four dogs were freed from the kennel: Jeanie, a German Shepherd, and two more Scottish Terriers. One of the two was a movie star having played Falla in a movie about Franklin Roosevelt. Through our woods, around by the pasture, and back up to the kennel the dogs ran and played and sniffed. Jeanie always led, followed by the German Shepherd, and the two Scotties, the movie star invariably lagging behind.
My parents were seldom home on weekends, so Jeanie and I enjoyed the house to ourselves. She was never our “house dog” for Mother did not trust her around strangers.
One Saturday afternoon, I let the dogs out in the back yard which was fenced, checking on them occasionally from a window upstairs. The phone rang and when I answered it, an old lady who lived on a paved road on the other side of our woods said, “Your dogs chased my chickens!” “Impossible!” I said. “They have chased my chickens all over the farm!” I went and checked the window: all four dogs were in the back yard. “A neighbor told me they were your dogs.” “Ma’am,” I said, “can you describe the dogs?”
“A little black dog leading a German police dog and two more little black dogs!”
A place was found, where a post leaned against the fence in such a manner that it was theoretically possible for dogs to walk up the post and hop over the fence. How Jeanie got them back in I was never able to figure out.
One Sunday night, after a long trip, I returned home, letting the dogs in the house. They were irritable and restless having been shut up all weekend, and I was tired and made a stiff drink and sat down. Just then the German Shepherd nipped at Jeanie who turned on her immediately. A vet managed to keep Jeanie alive that night at the veterinary hospital where she remained several days, her hide sewed up from nose to tail.
Wednesday, when the vet brought Jeanie out and showed me how to treat the suture, her black eyes screamed—Let me the hell out of here! Her sewed up hide was in the car before I had the door all the way open
“Maybe it’s not a good idea to take on a German Shepherd,” I suggested to Jeanie standing on the front seat looking out the window. She wasn’t listening. Well, hell, it’s the same kind of thing I would have done.
Jeanie died the fall I was hospitalized following an airplane crash. Because of the inexplicable magic of Jeanie, November 11 is the most mystical day of the year for me. My third book The Royal Road to Thebes is dedicated to her. Oh, one thing I almost forgot:
Jeanie liked to bite!