There are several possibilities as to how this pivotal moment in
my early life might have played out. For starters, I couldn't swim, so
a selfl ess, heroic act in which I rescued a drowning dog as motivation
for a career helping animals in need was never in the cards.
Besides, I'm pretty sure my mother had not packed my infl atable
At this point you would be forgiven for gasping in horror if you
feared the possibility that I was some sort of malicious Damien
child, a furtive witness to poor Marty's exodus, seizing the opportunity
to be rid of my nemesis and rival for Grandma's attention by
squandering precious time pointing out a particularly fascinating
variety of seaweed before offering an inquisitive but nonchalant
"So, where's Marty?"
Don't worry, what really happened struck me as far more impressive
and has nothing to do with guilt or the quest for redemption.
Seeing Marty bobbing helplessly in the waves my grandma
jumped into the roiling waters and began swimming out to sea.
Bear in mind, to my way of thinking, my grandma was at least
two hundred years old and could hardly walk, let alone swim. She
was fully clothed, not bothering to remove her coat or sweater or
shoes. She just dove in like she was all lubed up for a Channel
crossing and headed for the little white drowning rat bobbing up
and down on her horizon.
For what seemed like forever, the angry waves mocked Grandma's
rescue bid, pushing her toward Marty only to pull them apart
at the last moment, until finally she had him in her arms, swimming
back to shore and clambering back up the beach on all fours,
Marty released into the shallows, able to break free, trot off, and
shake himself down.
"What were you thinking?" my mum screamed, helping Grandma
to her feet, taking off her own coat and putting it around her mother's
shoulders. That classic cocktail of anger driven by fear had gotten the
better of her. "You could have got yourself killed! And for a dog!"
Grandma was shaking all over, her false teeth acting just like
those wind-up false teeth, chattering uncontrollably. We began
walking back up the beach, back to the car, Marty staying right by
her side, and I asked, "You okay, Grandma?"
She looked down at me and smiled one of the coy, conspiratorial
smiles that she occasionally let me see, as though she knew she had
been a naughty girl, but it had been worth it.
And right then it hit me that my grandma had actually put her
life on the line for a creature sent by the devil to instill fear in children.
I could have understood if this was Cleo, but this was Marty.
What strange spell had this toy poodle cast over my grandmother?
What has stayed with me, all these years later, is my incredulity
over an unthinkable rescue followed by a realization that something
mysterious and powerful was at work between my grandma
and Marty. Trudging through the wet sand, watching a mother
and daughter together, their roles reversed, and a pathetic little dog,
frightened of straying and consequently getting underfoot, I was
forced to concede that Grandma must really love her poodle. Their
relationship did not look like my relationship with Cleo and I
couldn't imagine it felt anywhere near as good, but right then I realized
that different is not the same as less important.
It had to have something to do with the same feeling that came
over me whenever I hung off Cleo's neck after giving her a big hug.
Or it could have been similar to how my neighborhood friends and
I all felt after rescuing our bagful of discarded kittens. What ever it
was, I had witnessed one remarkable consequence of the warm,
fuzzy, soothing sensation that could develop between certain animals
and people, and this realization made one thing perfectly
clear - I needed to learn how to swim.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...