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The Little Man Who Wasn’t There – Living With Brownies
I’m not sure if Grandma brought the cookies in the coal pan when she came to visit us. Perhaps it was the buildings at 145 Madeline Street in Pittsburgh. I know he was there until we moved, and I imagine he’s still insulting the residents of the house unless he replaces the old coal stove with a new gas heater.
All winter long I could hear her skipping to the coal pan as she played over it in the living room, and on very cold days the draft from the stove never strayed far from the hot air gauge that warmed me. My invisible friend Dalia Brown also heard the cookie. We never got close enough to talk to him, but when we surprised him by gently descending the cellar stairs, the shadow of his peaked hat bounced across the cement block wall and disappeared into the depths of the coal bin.
Every morning I would faithfully serve her a plate of cold milk as my grandmother had instructed, and when I returned in the evening I would rub her as clean as a whistle. Grandma was an expert in cookie rituals. With a large number of brownies, she knew that she would be lucky to have a family that treated them kindly and shared their home in harmony.
Brownie expressed his displeasure to my family when he had to share it with the dog. The first pet we got was Pal, a collie puppy. Pal was friendly the day he arrived in a box from my aunt’s farm in West Virginia, but it didn’t take him long to turn into a monster.
To be neat, Mom tried to put Pal in the basement at night. As soon as she took him down the stairs to the cellar, closed the door and left him in the dark, the cookie began to torment him mercilessly. By morning, Pal was in perpetual motion. The moment the cellar door was opened, he burst out of the depths with a scream, and began to throw himself across the living room, as if trying to shake off the invisible little man who had fallen on his back.
As Pal grew older, he became wilder. My father built a rugged, twelve-foot fence around our backyard. Couldn’t contain Paal. After encountering a night sparrow, he became so alarmed that he fled, tearing down his fence and destroying the surrounding area. On his third escape, he found a friend in the local Reo
Reo chewed a large piece of tobacco. I mistook them for Hershey’s chocolate bars and happily nodded my head every time he offered me a “chow”. He was happy to give Pal a corner in his greasy garage and couldn’t understand why we had trouble with such a calm creature. We knew brownies were a problem.
Our next dog, a beautiful Dalmatian, came into our home when I was six years old. Rex first appeared one winter evening when Dad was putting out his ashes. Rex approached her shyly, tail wagging.
“Hello, friend,” my father said before returning to our warm home.
The snow was still falling, but the earth had begun to plow the earth haphazardly, and in one of those barren, muddy places, on a roadside strip, Rex had spent the night. The next morning my father saw him again and thought it strange that the dog had not come home.
He was there the next night…and the next day. By now, my parents were sure that they had deliberately dropped him nearby and that he needed a shelter. Money was tight during the Depression, and food for such a large dog was very expensive, which may have deprived poor families of their staple food. His father believed that the dog’s owners had taken him to our neighborhood in hopes that he would find a good home there.
During the day, Rex sat glumly, avoiding the ash man on our street, and the ice man and baker who peddled their wares in the kitchen doorway overlooking the street. Grandma and I watched him from our overstuffed chairs. I was sure he had chosen us as his family, but he was careful.
“We don’t know anything about him,” he said. “He could belong to someone on the next street.”
“Then why doesn’t he go home?” I protested.
Grandma thought for a while and went to the kitchen cupboard and took out a burlap sack. “We put it on the back porch and leave the door open. If the dog wants to stay, he’ll come into the yard and let us know.”
From where he was in the cold, Rex watched as Grandma placed her sack on the porch. As soon as he was inside, he walked through the door and into the hall, wagging his tail.
Better give him something to drink, he thought. He found an unused cup, filled it with water and placed it by the door. He made it dry.
Roughly, we can see the outline of his ribs. “That dog needs some food,” said Grandma.
He found scraps in the icebox. As soon as the girl took them out, he ate them. When Dad came home from work, Grandma and I decided it would be a good idea to bring the dog home. His mother was less convinced. She said the dog was tough from battling the elements. He couldn’t tell what kind of bacteria it contained. Her mother considered germs to be mortal enemies. Sometimes the mere mention of germs silenced any conversation, but now, with my jaw shaking and tears welling up in my eyes, she asked Dad for help. No one came from that direction, so she put her hands on her hips and decided that the dog would not enter our clean house unless it was bathed.
There were smiles all around again. It wasn’t too much trouble for Dad to let the dog into the basement through the basement door. Moments later, she carried Rex into the bathroom, where her mother, dressed in her oldest house dress, washed him down. After Rex dried off by the hot stove, he proved to have a sleek, handsome coat, and after a few weeks of regular eating, his ribs disappeared, and he had a unique air, not unlike a royal trainer. came down.
Rex was a kind and gentle dog who wouldn’t hurt the bronies in any way, but he remembered how Pal had invaded his sanctuary and was disgusted. In his sly ways, he worked on Rex until morning, and when his mother opened the cellar door, he found her sad-eyed and foaming at the mouth, as if to say, “Brownie did it.”
Our next dog traveled by B&O luggage coach from Parkersburg, West Virginia. She was a birthday present from Aunt Jen, who visited us twice a year when she was getting her hair done at Joseph Horn’s department store.
Aunt Jen, the “grass widow” (grandmother’s word for “divorce”), was oblivious to the time. He would sit up all night reading books on astrology and underlining key prophecies. During this time, he called us at three in the morning to inform us that the puppy was on his way.
“He’s full blooded,” she assured my sleepy father. “His mother was a full-blooded Scottie and his father was a full-blooded Bulldog.”
Aunt Jen never realized that her assessment of the dog’s pedigree was wrong, but Bruce was of mixed stock, but mostly black, a skinny little Scotsman, the only traits he inherited from his faulty parents were short hair and bowed front legs.
Ever since the day he brought her home from the train station, Bruce refused to stay in the basement with the cookies. He gained his freedom by scratching at the door and chewing a little on the top step. Terrified that she would have to count the damage to the rental house, the mother gave in and put Bruce’s box under the chippendale leg of the kitchen stove. There he found peace, as bitter loneliness had given him.
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