After I came home form the hospital I spent a lot of time resting on my bed with my 2 toy poodles keeping me company, one on each side. Fluffy, an old fellow of 15 with only 2 teeth remaining, is no longer able to jump and has to be lifted on to the bed. Daisy, only 9, still makes it. Whenever Jerry came near the bed to help me with something or to give me a kiss, Fluffy growled and threatened a 2 tooth bite. Jerry, an old man too, invariably took umbrage and grumbled huffily at Fluffy.
I was reminded of a time my childhood when my grandmother had a poodle that looked a lot like Fluffy. He was a small miniature, grey. He slept on my grandmother’s bed. My grandmother was a grand lady. Her name was Julia but she was called Julie by her family, including me and my cousins. Granny or grandma did not suit her. Her hair was a steely white and had been since she was in her twenties. It was like a wavy cloud around her patrician face. The financial crash of ’29 had not treated her kindly but she maintained a life of precarious comfort by being so charming and lively that wealthy friends competed to have her stay with them. Sometimes she worked. In the second world war she worked in Washington and New York at the OSS, precursor of the CIA, as a translator and propagandist. She had spent most of her adult life (until the war) in Europe and was fluent in Italian, French, and German. Sometimes she was employed translating Italian books into English. She was cultured and elegant and she loved opera. Her poodle’s name was Papageno.
Julie had had a mysterious illness all her life. When she was young it was thought to be a form of tuberculosis and she spent time in the mountains in Switzerland taking rest cures in sanitariums. By the time she was in her 60’s medical science had advanced and she was diagnosed with pernicious anemia. She was never really well and she usually had her breakfast in bed. At bedtime she would take upstairs to her bedroom an egg, sliced bread, a pat of butter, a pot of jam and a cream pitcher with milk. Beside her bed on a table were a bowl of sugar, a tin of Earl Gray tea, a small electric tea kettle, a toaster (the kind with 2 doors — you had to turn the toast to expose it to the central electric element) and a little electric container to boil an egg. There was an egg cup, pretty china cups and saucers, silver spoons and knife and a linen napkin. She plugged the electrical things into an extension which she kept handy on the bed so as she prepared her breakfast while propped up on pillows the coverlets were crisscrossed with wires. Papageno guarded the foot of the bed.
Julie was an early riser and so was I. I loved her and the breakfast preparations interested me. Sometimes she made me a piece of toast and cambric tea (hot water with milk and sugar). Papageno was hostile. I would climb on the bed, avoiding the electric wires and Papageno would growl angrily and try to bite me. Generally he and I would establish an uneasy truce. I learned a lot from Julie at those early morning breakfasts in bed, but Papageno and I never became friends.
Papageno lived a long time. He was never a nice dog. His temper worsened as he got older and he barked constantly. Eventually his continual barking drove everyone so crazy that his vocal chords had to be cut. After that he barked constantly in a whisper. As I rested in bed after the operation caressing my dogs I thought about Papageno. He didn’t have many friends, but Julie had scads of them and since Papageno was always with her he was a well known dog. Besides Julie’s friends, our numerous extended family knew him as an increasingly peculiar nuisance with his ceaseless croaking whispered bark.
I emailed my cousins to find out if they remembered Papageno. My oldest cousin is 10 years younger than I. She and the next in line wrote back that they remember hearing about him — he was a legend — but didn’t remember knowing him. I got to thinking about that vanished world, all those people who had known and disliked Papageno. I’m the only one left.