By Ed Staskus
Every time Maggie Campbell found an animal, cat dog bird squirrel, anything, it didn’t matter, she would take care of it and nurture it. If they were hurt her dad, Fred, and she would help them get better together. If it was an emergency, they took them to the Lake Erie Nature Center down Wolf Road.
It drove her mother Alma batty. She barely liked animals, at all. Besides, she had asthma. Their dander, saliva, and skin flakes aggravated it. It was a headache. “Somebody’s going to have to take me to the people doctor,” she said whenever Maggie brought another lost or hurt creature home.
“If you’re born to love animals, then you love animals,” Maggie said. She didn’t think it was anything you could just make happen. Her dad had it. She had it. Her mom wasn’t good with animals. She didn’t have it. Whenever Maggie wanted a pet, she always asked her dad. She never asked her mom. They had cats, dogs, guinea pigs, and a poodle, thanks to Fred.
Their poodle Coco hated Maggie’s brother Brad. She never knew why, exactly, except she thought he might have been too rough with her when he was a crawler. “Coco, get him,” was all she had to say if they were sitting on the sofa together. Coco would assault him, growling and snapping and ripping off his diaper. She had fun making the poodle attack her little brother since she knew the dog wanted to, and because she could.
Before Elaine her older sister moved out Maggie and Brad slept in the same room. They both had big beds with posts and a bar across the back. They each had cherry wood dressers, a closet, and shelves for their toys. Maggie slept by the window and Brad slept closer to the attic. Her brother passed wind, more like gusts of noxious gas, when he was a tyke. They kept their bedroom window cracked open even in winter. Sometimes Brad quacked so loud he woke her up.
“Are your butt cheeks still flapping from that one?”
She did love him, though. He was a good kid most of the time. When she was in junior high, she took him with her wherever she went. They had their moments, though. They were like Tom and Jerry.
Maggie played TRIP! with him all the time when he was small. Wherever he was in the house, which was a split level, six steps up from the basement, or the five steps up to the kitchen, or the twelve steps up to the bedrooms, it didn’t matter, he never knew when Maggie was going to suddenly pull a cord tight and make him trip.
Her sisters made her play LET ME HAVE IT! with them. They would be in Elaine or Bonnie’s bedroom, and she would have to say, “LET ME HAVE IT!” They would pummel her with pillows. Just beat her, letting her have it.
A car hit Coco when Maggie was a sophomore in high school. Coco had gotten older and slower, but none of them saw it coming. She ran up and down the street and into and out of the woods at the end of their cul-de-sac all her days. The man who hit her stopped, picked her up, and went looking for the owners. When he found Bonnie, she came to the Bay Village swimming pool where Maggie was lifeguarding and got her. They had to put Coco down. Even Alma thought it was awful.
When they got their Rottweiler, Alma claimed she loved the dog, but they had to get rid of him because she said the dog inflamed her asthma. Her sister Elaine adopted him, since she had moved away from home, so Maggie was still able to see the dog whenever she wanted.
Growing up in the Campbell house in Bay Village was not like growing up in your average house. You were either going to move out while you were still young, or you were going to be thrown out. Looking back, after she left, she realized they all left early.
Everybody in their family got married when they were 19, except Maggie. Her mom and dad got married at 19, her brother got married when he was 19, and both of her sisters got married when they were 19. She didn’t get married until I was 34, soon after her dad died.
Long before she got married, after her dad threw her out just before her 21st birthday, she watched Elaine’s dog whenever her sister went on vacation. He was a sweet dog, but a stupid dog, too. Elaine had named him Candyman. Everybody called him Candy. He wasn’t the kind of vicious Rottweiler everybody always thinks they are. He had a blanket he carried around. They called his blanket Betty. They would tell him to go get Betty and when he came back, he would be dragging his blankie behind him.
He loved people, just loved them. Elaine lived in West Park, near St. Patrick’s Catholic church and school, and when school let out, the Candyman would sit at the front door whimpering to be let out.
“You can’t go out,” Elaine would say. “You’re going to scare the kids.”
He was a muddle-headed beast and cried no matter what she said. He learned how to lean on the door and swivel the knob with his snoot and get out. Maggie started thinking he wasn’t so simpleminded, after all. “No, you’re not going out there,” she told him all the time she was at Elaine’s house, but if she was upstairs, he would finesse the door and the next thing she knew he was at the end of the driveway. As the school kids walked by there was a big slurp for each of them.
They walked away wiping their faces and rubbing their hands dry on their pants.
He got out one day when two guys were playing with a frisbee in the street. The Rottie had seen them through the screen. He couldn’t contain himself. “You’re not going out there,” Maggie told him firmly, wagging her finger. “I don’t know those guys.”
He banged up against the door and when it flew open, he took off. The guys were 16, maybe 17, and when they saw him running full speed at them, they froze. Maggie ran out waving her arms. “Throw the frisbee!” she yelled. They stayed stuck in place stiff as sticks. “The dog will love you if you throw the damn frisbee!” One of them threw their bright red plastic disk. The eager beaver Rottweiler hauled ass after it.
“Sweet,” one of them said.
They hit the jackpot, running the dog until the end of the afternoon. His feet were blistered when he got home. He was an idiot, after all, Maggie decided. She poured him a big bowl of clean cold water and rubbed aloe vera gel on his paw pads.
Even though she loved animals and her mom didn’t, which was a disagreement between them that wasn’t getting resolved anytime soon, Maggie was the only one of her mom’s four kids who was determined to spark some love in her mother. The others had long ago given up trying.
She would come home from parties or from dances when she was in junior high and plop down on her bed, sprawling out and telling Alma about the whole fantastic night, everything that happened. Her mom would stay on the bed with her, stroking her hand, listening.
A dog will love you if you throw a frisbee. In their family they had to plan scheme compel their mom to love them. It was just the way Alma was. Her father had grown up well-off, but not her mother. Maggie used to wonder what it was like for her growing up in a worn-out washed-up Pennsylvania town, her family poor broken ignored. Her mother needed some love. Maggie could tell. Maybe animals couldn’t give it to her, but she was her daughter, and she could try.
Ed Staskus posts stories on 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Cleveland Ohio Daybook http://www.clevelandohiodaybook.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”