Father’s Day gift reminds me of my father’s skill with dogs

Talking with my sister, Jane, reminded both of us what tremendous skill and love our father had for dogs

Ralph (Robbie) Robinson was a shrewd  entrepreneur. At one point in time, he leased lady shoe departments from the Sweet briar and Dillard Department Store chains in Cheyenne, Casper, and Laramie Wyoming; Logan, Utah; Greeley, Colorado and Rapid City, South Dakota. He also opened a children’s department in the Cheyenne stored called Robbie ‘ s Zoo, complete with a stuffed animal zoo and six foot tall, electric, nodding giraffe under the stairs.

The majority of his career he managed the Cheyenne stores and he had two male managers in Casper and Rapid City who stayed with him his entire 30 odd years in the business. He always said the managers made the business. He closed the other stores in Utah, Laramie and Greeley finding it difficult to keep his small shoe empire profitable without  key managers in place.

With the three locations, he provided us with an upper middle class life style. We belonged to the country club, owned a quarter horse, had lessons in a variety  of sports, traveled a little, had cars in high school and went to a private college. My sister and I were both in college at the same time so the private school was not a small bill to pay.  When I was young,  I didn’t think much about money or life style. We owned a store and when extra hands were needed, for example Christmas and back-to-school we worked at the store. In retrospect, I can see that maintaining our life style through economic ups and downs  was no small feat.

This blog, however, is not about dad as a business man but dad’s  life as a dog trainer. Knowing his business skills and take no prisoner competitive spirit in cards and golf, it is surprising  that he was an expert at training dogs.

The first dog I can remember was Hokey-Dokey, a red-gold cocker spaniel. I remember Hokey as big. Since I was 2 or 3 at the time, it occurred  to me writing this blog  that Hokey was probably cocker size and I was dimiutive, eye-level with the dog. Dad trained Hokey to jump through a hoop, dance on his hind legs, and sit up. Dad and Hokey would dress up in costumes.  Hokey wore a tutu, and dad wore a bow tie. They would  go to events to perform. I was always delighted to be included in the audience for the performance. I was in second grade when Hokey died.

Barney, the beagle, was dad’s one failure. The dog was adorable except for his baying voice and the fact that he ran away all the time, even though we had a brick fence. He would run up to my grandmother’s house three blocks away. When the animal control officer would come to her door because of a complaint, Barney woukd stick his head around grandmother’s leg and bark. Dad finally gave Barney to one of his employees.

Along the way, we had two more black cockers, one after the other. Dutchess and Princess. Dutchess was particularly adept at jumping from the ground to the saddle so she could ride on my quarter horse with me.

Probably the best example of dad’s dog training skill was Bumper, an extremely large, absolutely gorgeous, purebred Black and white English springer spaniel. Bumper was the last of dad’s dogs. My family home was dogless when I moved back to Cheyenne for a job after graduate school.

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Bumper looked like this when I brought her home. She quickly grew to the size of a golden retriever.

I saw an animal shelter advertisement with Bumper ‘ s picture. Bumper was about six months old and had been relinquished because she was afraid of guns. My family didn’t hunt so this wasn’t a problem. I asked mom and dad if they would like the dog. I wasn’t living with them so it wouldn’t be my dog. When they said yes, I went and got them Bumper.

I am not sure it was love at first sight. Bumper had acquired some annoying habits before joining the family such as jumping up on people. She was large when I got her but she grew to be as large as a small golden retriever, way over-sized for an English springer spaniel.  But Bumper certainly had her day when our family found her.

My dad trained her to walk from home to the store every day with him. She and he stopped at the post office each morning where she became well known. She stayed under his desk by his feet but would come out and greet children in the store when the sales clerks asked the kids if they would to pet a dog. Always polite when meeting children, she would sit quietly soaking in the attenton, jumping vanquished to another life time. But her greatest skill and one of my dad’s greatest joys was he trained her to carry the bank bag of deposits to the bank and stand up at the teller’s desk to deliver the cash. All the tellers’ had treats for her. She had her choice of lines. Dad and Bumper were featured in the bank’s print advertising as an example of the bank’s home-town, customer friendly service. Bumper and dad became known all over Cheyenne. They would be greeted as a team where-ever they went.

My dad retired when the Sweet briar stores went bankrupt. He was doing fine in his leased departments but had no base of operation. Fortunately, his business acumen held. He was able to support he and mom for many years on his investments. Bumper lived the life of leisure during this retirement period; going for rides, swimming for sticks in the country club lake, an activity she never tired of.

When my mom died, my dad remarried within six months to a woman who didn’t want Bumper. Dad asked me to take her. I declined because my job required a lot of travel. I had a sheltie, Ginger Rogers, who went with me everywhere. I couldn’t see taking two dogs all over Wyoming for work. With the perspective of age, I can see I could have been more flexible.At the time,  I thought Dad’s new wife should have been more flexible. Family dynamics after a death with a quick remarriage are complex. Finally, Dad found a friend who was down on his luck and needed a place to live. Dad let the man stay in our family home rent free as long as he took care of the house and Bumper.  Dad and I both regularly visited Bumper who seemed  fine with  this arrangement but I think missed her owner, my father. Bumper died two years after my mom. At that point, my dad emptied our family home (the family was now all living elsewhere) and sold it.

What did I learn from my dad about dogs. First,patience yields great rewards. Dogs love to meet their owners expectations and in turn a well-trained dog can bring joy to a family and in Bumper ‘ s case an entire community.  Second, dogs are pets not children. We gave Barney away when he was disrupting our family’s life style. Dad married his new love even though she didn’t share his passion for dogs. After dad died, she got two cats whom she was fanatical about. Third,there are solutions to complex family dynamics. Bumper had a forever home because she was a great dog with a huge heart.

Barney the Beagle–Paper Mache Replica of My Childhood pet

Papier Mache: French for chewed paper

Recently, I joined a women’s organization that hosts an annual Christmas bazaar to raise funds for education.   We are all supposed to make something to sell. I was born with very few arts and craft genes.   Since the first recorded cave art is over 500,000 years old, some of our early ancestors definitely had these genes and passed them on to a few lucky souls.  You and I all know the person who shows up  and can fashion a felt hat from a knit sweater or a gorgeous quilt from a rag bag, or takes home the hodge podge of objects contributed by parents to the school auction and produces a world class auction basket.  I stand in awe of these people.  I am not one of these people.

My freshman year in college, I took up knitting. I made dozens of extremely-long, odd- shaped scarves using the basic knit one/pearl one stitches.  Everyone I knew ended up with one of these slinky reptilian beasts.  As a child, my mother did her best to endow me with some homemaking skills.  I was enrolled in 4-H for a few years. I turned out passable aprons and gathered skirts, resulting in blue, red and white ribbons at fair.  My muffins had tunnels, little holes made by too much air–no ribbon at the county fair.  I did win the purple ribbon and best in class, one year for my meal plan.  In retrospect, this award is extremely ironic because I don’t cook much at all.

While suffering angst over the bazaar challenge, my sister, Jane, reminded me that as a child, I was a whiz at paper mache. My skill wasn’t because I wanted to produce great art.  I was fascinated by puppetry.  I’d make a variety of puppet heads with died cotton ball hair and whip up their outfits on our sewing machine. Then I would write elaborate plays for my friends and I to produce.

My first thought was there wasn’t much interest in paper mache anymore. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. When I looked up a paper mache refresher course on YouTube (source of all things educational),one sweet-looking elderly lady, Joni Good at http://www.ultimatepapermache.com  has a blog, numerous books and dozens of YouTubes.  Her recipe for paste has over a quarter of a million views. A second teenage girl has over 200,000 views demonstrating Joni’s recipe.  One man has over two million views on how to make a piñata. An attractive lady making a paper mache bowl has over 1 million views.

Apparently, there are a lot folks out there making craft items out of paper and paste. My sixteen year old daughter, Kayla, says there are just lots of people who like to watch YouTube and aren’t making anything. Surely these high numbers of viewers reflect some papery product being produced somewhere and not just viral surfers and paper stalkers. Given this huge viewing volume, I thought why not give it a try again? After all in the scope of human affairs (homo sapiens as we know them have  been around for more than 200,000 years), 52 years of not touching anything related to paper mache isn’t that long a time.

Paper mache originated in China during the Han Dynasty (BC 202 to 220). The Chinese made paper mache helmets that they hardened with lacquer. From China, the craft spread to Japan and Persia.  Those elaborate oriental masks, you see when you travel  are  paper mache.  When the art of paper mache reached France, the French, always unique, decided to create their art by chewing up the scraps of paper. Chewing paper would, of course, give you small pieces of sticky, damp paper to work with but sounds disgusting to me.  When I began my paper mache project, I rejected the French approach and used the yellow pages approach, “let your fingers do the shredding”.

After reviewing some of the videos on new approaches to paste (joint compound, linseed oil, and Elmer’s glue), I elected to go traditional. My first project is made of paste from flour, salt and water (recipe below).  A an empty toilet paper roll  and Styrofoam round ball provided the infra structure. I used newspaper for the coating.  Using household products did result in the bumps in odd places that led Joni Good to make up a more elaborate paste recipe.  But I am still taken with the more modest approach to paper mache because as a child, I remember we could just go to the kitchen, whip up paste without the hassle of gathering together a lot special stuff and have our theater cast underway in no time.  I think there is something to be said about being able to create when the urge strikes you, especially when children are involved.  In addition, the flour and water is easy to clean up with soap and water, inexpensive and very forgiving when you make errors.  Finally, it is not fast drying—a plus for joint compound and glue but a negative if you want to rip off some error you have made.

I am also taking a pottery class. In pottery, our teacher is always telling us that the clay speaks to us.  I was originally going to make a reindeer (remember this project started for the Christmas bazaar in 9 months). When I got started on the reindeer, he morphed into a beagle.

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Barney, before he got a coat of varnish, eyes and collar

I am very familiar with beagles, we had one when I was child.  For those art critics out there, I know the snout on my paper beagle is too long and his feet too big (blame the reindeer).  My sister, Jane, and I called our beagle, Barney the Beagle with the goo-goo-googlie eyes.  The entire time I was crafting my paper dog, I was thinking about Barney.  As you can see, Barney the Beagle has goo-goo-googlie eyes.

 

Barney was finished off with acrylic paints, spray-on shiny varnish, and repurposed eyes, nose and tongue from the reindeer I was trying to clone.  I found an unused cat harness in my pet drawer.  Any of you, who have read my blogs on my pets know that Satchel, the big gray Tom Cat wouldn’t be caught dead in a whoosie harness (one has to question my sanity for buying it at some point in time).  I cut up the offending harness and made a realistic collar for Barney.  Satchel was pleased.

I am proud of Barney for a first effort.

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Barney, with the goo, goo, googlie eyes!

He obviously isn’t good enough to sell at a bazaar, too many nasty little dings and bumps.  But he is good enough to give to my husband, Pete, for Father’s Day.  Pete has an office full of items the kids and I have made and seems delighted with whatever we give him no matter how low quality.

 

I have roughed out an angel and cat to see if I can’t still produce something that someone might buy. I may try the joint compound bending to the will of the masses to have a saleable product. Also from my pottery instructor, art takes time and patience.  I have nine months but at my age I’m not sure I will every produce a financially viable product.  That’s the beauty of paper mache. There isn’t much of an investment if the outcome is poor and you can also toss it in the recycling bin.

Simple Paper Mache Paste Recipe

1 cup flour

1 cup water

3 teaspoons salt

Mix together and start gluing

Most important–Have Fun!