Mimi, the boys and I wanted to thank you for Twinkle. Her great run ended yesterday, and it closed with the grace and peace and comfort that she seemed to enjoy embody. That little girl you had to hand-feed in a fur-lined shoe box wound up living large. Twinkle saw nine countries and raised a family of adoring humans.
We counted the places she'd been yesterday at the vet's - The USA, Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy and Luxembourg, which barely counts since it took about 15 minutes to drive through. France was a favorite, however. She had just had cancer surgery, three summers ago, and we took her in a van with my parents to Provence, where we spent 10 days among the buzzing cicadas and swirling lavender breezes. She liked France.
Italy provided one of her funniest memories. We were in some Tuscan hill town, and Gordon was leading us with his nose, looking for a place to have lunch. He found a promising trattoria, but I wasn't sure whether Italians were cool with having dogs at tables, so I summoned my best Italian - I had gone there for a week in 8th grade - and asked "Mangia con cani?" The man shrugged. Why not? and we sat down for a good meal. Later I was told a fair translation of what I'd said was, Can we eat our dog?
Some cold thief reached over Twinkle on a train to Prague and picked Mimi's wallet. In Switzerland we stayed a week in Zermatt opposite the Matterhorn, and Twinkle romped in the deep snow, laughing off the frigid temperatures.
Denmark provided her one close encounter with a cow. We stayed on a little island our first summer, and there was a farm across the road. Lots of very big black cows grazed there, and Twinkle was drawn to them. And they to her. It was almost as if they realized they had some sort of genetic role to play together. She walked up to one of them, a little uncertainly, and it started walking to her. She stood in place. Quickly she attracted a crowd, and these cows move very fast. When the first let out this deep bellow, Twinkle almost melted. She turned away, and was done with that. I had this funny feeling our cowherd of Flanders was afraid of cows.
It was in Germany, though, where she was in her element - it must have been the German you used to speak to her. Her special treatment began almost instantly. Yesterday, a couple of scenes stood out: that first morning, when we found a place for breakfast near our apartment, and a waitress brought water for Twinkle before she asked what we were having. How everyone in the neighborhood fed her - the couple who owned the vegetarian restaurant rescued Spanish dogs, and would produce a fresh piece of baguette for Twinkle every time she poked her head in the door, which was every time she walked down the street, of course. The mailwoman, who carried treats in her uniform pocket - a very civilized practice, I must say. The only problem, was that Twinkle started approaching every man or woman on the street and sticking that big bottle-stopper nose in their pockets.
She really was our ambassador in Germany. For the first month I was there, and I went there alone, no one made eye contact with me, let alone began a conversation. As soon as Twinkle arrived, gruff Berliners would drop to their knees, grab her face and whisper to her. Little teddy bear, lots of them called her. Hairy giant Schnauzer? They’d ask me. No, Bouvier des Flandres, a Flemish cow dog. Ah. She bite? Only dinner. My favorite story about her in Berlin has to do with that famous Bouvier aroma. We had the boys' bar mitzvah in our apartment, and invited lots of friends over for the ceremony. Twinkle was a guest of honor, having just had surgery. We dressed her in a peach-colored long-sleeved surfer's t-shirt. She had stayed by the door, barking every time the bell rang, and it rang throughout the ceremony, so Twinkle had a vocal role. The party afterward went long into the night, and Twinkle was at the center of it. Some time after midnight, she let out a fragrance that cleared the room. A doozy. An Australian friend, a diplomat, said dryly: "the French serve orange juice." Apparently, when it's time for your guests to leave, French hosts bring around trays of juice.
That Australian friend and his family visited us here in Philadelphia last month. I'm glad they got to see the girl again. Twinkle was now the grande dame, gray at the ears and beard. Slow to move. Mimi did an amazing job keeping that girl going. For more than a year she'd made her chicken and rice or chicken and sweet potatoes. Twinkle's last meal was Sunday. She went through a pound of hamburger, a half of a loaf of challah and nearly a whole bag of Pupperonis. The boys and I were on an 8-day college tour of New England. Mimi and I feared the dog would be gone before we returned. The last two nights, Mimi slept on the floor next to Twinkle, rubbing her belly. When Mimi would drift off to sleep, Twink would paw Mimi's head, and she'd keep rubbing.
I didn’t want to tell the boys that Twink was in trouble before they had their interviews. We were sitting in an information session for Wesleyan when I looked over at them and couldn't stop thinking about how much I was going to wrench their lives in a few minutes. They were nine when I brought her home.
I was amazed how they handled the news. "I knew there was something," Nick said. The night before, we’d asked them to say good night to her over the phone. Gordon said he’d always thought it would happen when he was in college. "At least she won’t die wondering where her boys are," he said, searching for the silver lining. Maybe, he said, she would perk up when she saw them.
As we drove, more stories rushed back. I told about the day eight years ago when I pulled up to your farmhouse in a rented 4 x 4, having flown to Chicago to meet this girl I’d read about on the Internet. I remember your words were something like, "You can take her home if she likes you." If she likes you. You’d kept her back, the runt of the litter. She was a fraction of the size of her brothers, and so fragile that when the vet gave her anesthesia to cut her ears and tail her heart momentarily stopped. How you named her Twinkle because she was the littlest of your Star Bouviers. She’d also been busy lady, having eight babies after jumping two fences to get with Buddy. It was a perfect match: You were looking to give Twinkle her own a home and we were looking to adopt. You described her over the phone as not beautiful. Humble, but tough. I remember pulling into your place, past a herd of these thundering woolly beasts, all barking wildly as they followed my car. I regretted not wearing my liver-scented coat. Then you came out of the house with Twinkle, her leash dragging behind her. She bounded straight for me, planted two paws on my shoulders and kissed me on the mouth.
A few hours and an Arby's burger later, we were driving back to Philadelphia, listening to a book-on-tape: "Dogs Never Lie About Love." That night, we watched ESPN in a roadside motel in Ohio. When it was time to turn out the lights, I opened her crate and told her to jump off the bed. She just looked at me. No way. Finally, I picked her up - she was about 70 pounds then - and deposited her onto the floor. She flew back onto the bed and peed right where I was about to sleep. Agility, indeed.
She was prey-driven in her younger days, once going two feet up a tree after a squirrel, before realizing she couldn’t climb. Gordon remembered the time he called Nick in for hot dogs, only there weren't any by the time they got to their seats. Twinkle was standing on the table, licking her lips. She did love to eat.
We got home yesterday just when Mimi did, and Twinkle was waiting for us. She couldn’t get up, but she moved her head and offered a paw as we piled on her, hugging and kissing and crying. There really wasn't any decision to make.
A room was ready for us at the vet's. They'd laid out a fluffy blanket decorated with hearts. There was a candle, some new age music. A statue of dogs and cats playing ring around the Rosie. There was that story about the Rainbow Bridge, that gentle place where beloved pets go and wait until they're united with their families. Francie, the vet, swaddled her in a second blanket, decorated with puffy clouds, and within moments it was done. Twinkle, the littlest Star, sleeps in hearts and clouds.