Chapter 8 — Man Trouble, and Christmas Trains

Greta had trouble with men.

Her problem with men became clear in late November after she took over as head of household security.  We never had a formal contract, but she saw a need and stepped up.   Soon every rattle of car wheels on the driveway gravel  and every chime of the doorbell was greeted with woofs that conveyed,  “Don’t mess with us!”   Greta has a deep voice for a young lady.

Ninety-nine percent of the people who pulled into the driveway were business or social guests.  We wanted them to come.  Greta begged to differ.  She barely finished barking her way from window to window to scare away the intruders in the driveway, when we fools would ignore her and open the door.  She responded by setting up a second line of barking defense in  the dining room.  But after the visitors came in,  Greta would come forward to greet women and children with a sniff,  a wave of  her tail and a rough tongue licking their hands.  Some of the children would say, “Oh, gross, dog slobber.”  Greta was not offended.

If a man approached her and held down his hand to be sniffed, Greta would back away, growling.  She was clearly serious about the matter.  If the man advanced, the fur on her back stood up, she pulled back her lips to expose her teeth  and continued the low rumbling from her throat.  I would have to drag her into the bedroom, close the door and wait until the guests were seated and had been in the house for about 15 minutes before I let her out.  Released, Greta would bound into the living room and approach a woman for a scratch behind the ears.  Men would try to make friends with her, but she would slink away.

She distinguished between Ron and other men.  He and Greta didn’t have the special kind of  relationship he shared with the cat, but she never growled at Ron.  She would even  roll on her back for him to scratch her tummy.

“This is no good,” he said.  “We’ll have to lock her away when people come.”

“Then we have a dog crying in the basement while we’re upstairs with our friends.  Not much of a fun evening.”

“Well, what are you going to do?”

It was not an unfair question.  Getting another dog so soon, taking Greta home with us, had been  my ideas.  So if there was a behavioral problem, it was my responsibility.

I would have liked to understand her reasons.  Was it just that men generally tend to be taller and heavier than women, and therefore appear more threatening?  Or was it that men Greta met in puppyhood had not treated her well, and she remembered?

“I don’t have men available to come here  and spend half an hour at a time trying to socialize Greta.  I’ll have to take her to obedience school,” I said.

As far as Ron was concerned, that settled the matter.  There was an issue, and it was being addressed.  For me, it was not so easy.  I started looking for local obedience schools.  But it was early December.  Our daughters and their families would be coming home for Christmas.   We would make what we could of the holiday.  There was baking to do, presents to buy and wrap, and turkey to order.  We had to go to Duke for another infusion.

Too much.  Greta’s formal education would have to wait.

Ron had developed a persistent cough, and the cough syrup our family care doctor prescribed was not working.  The cough needed to be addressed.

Ron wanted to put up a small train garden around the Christmas tree.  One of his semi-retirement plans had been to build a big permanent train display.  It would have a mountain tunnel and villages and cows in meadows.  The B & O Railroad would live again in our basement.  He had amassed engines and cabooses, freight and passenger cars and a stack of railroad hobbyist magazines.  We cleared space in the family room for the display.

“Do you want to work on the train garden?”  I asked after we put the small track around the tree.


“Why not?”

“I don’t want to start it if I can’t finish it.”

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