13: The Penny Puppy

13: The Penny Puppy

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

The Penny Puppy

In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.

~Alex Haley

Years ago, my parents came into possession of a puppy. He is about a foot tall, with pretty brown eyes and a little touch of white on his chin. He requires no care other than a little grooming from time to time. Over the years, he has been bumped and banged about so much that he has little scars everywhere on his body, but he is okay. He is worth his weight in gold. And he has been around as long as I can remember. The only different thing about this puppy is the inch-long narrow opening in the back of his head—for, you see, this little puppy is really a “puppy bank.” Just as people have “piggy banks” my parents have a “puppy bank.”

He is part of us, part of our growing up, and part of our lives to this day. He doesn’t have a name. He is just called “the dog.” If my parents, or any of us five siblings, found extra change, we would say it was for “the dog,” a statement that was somewhat confusing to those who knew there was no dog in the house. But “the dog” to us was just accepted, and everybody contributed at one time or another, and still does.

When my daughter was ten years old, she came home from school and announced that everyone in her class had “family traditions” and she had none! She was in tears. I assured her we did have traditions, and once they were pointed out to her, she understood more about what we did have as a family. We did not have all our family near us as her friends did. Our families were in Newfoundland; we were in Nova Scotia, but she did have traditions—those of our extended families and those of our nuclear family. I reminded her of the Penny Puppy. She thought that tradition was the best of all, and told her class about it the next day.

A little while ago, when visiting my parents, I emptied my change purse and Dad said, “Going to feed the dog are we?” We had a great chuckle because “feeding the dog” was what it was always called when we added our change to the puppy bank.

I went to my parents’ cozy, beautifully decorated bedroom to put the coins into the dog. Sitting on the floor by Father’s television stand was the battered little puppy bank. He did not look out of place, because he always has been in their room. Now it is a special thing for a grandchild to go to their room to “feed the dog.” One by one they learned the procedure, and one by one they passed it on.

My brother, Dave, had arrived by the time I was through with my deposit.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“I was just feeding the dog, and I think I’ll take his photo!” I told him.

I took the puppy out to the rhubarb patch, took his photo, and walking back through the house, I ran into Father, who just looked at me and laughed. He never said a word. He knew I was thinking about the puppy and its place in our lives.

This ceramic piece was very important. It had pulled us through when extra money was needed for a special vacation, a new pair of skates, a warmer jacket, or to stop the tears over a fractured bumper we had put on Father’s car—again! When money was tight, the dog was opened, all the coins counted and rolled, and everyone would wait with great expectancy for our parents to announce the total. Somehow, it would always be enough to cover the cost of whatever the need happened to be.

“That dog paid for some good family vacations, nice bikes, and pulled us through some tough times, didn’t it?” Dave asked.

I had to agree. We constantly fed the dog a penny or two, or a quarter now and then, and the money would build up to a few hundred dollars. It was a splendid tradition to spread a cloth on the table and watch our parents, with the help of one or two of their offspring, start “the sorting of the coins.”

These days, my parents are getting older, but they still “feed the dog.” Mother can hardly lift him, and she says the dog is gaining weight. Although the comment is expected, it always brings a laugh. They count the money at Christmastime now, and every year it goes where they think the need is the greatest.

Yes, it is a battered ceramic puppy, but in our lives it has been of great importance. Everyone contributed, everyone knew where the puppy was, and everyone gained from it in times of misfortune or need. The little dog never failed us, and we will never fail him. He is part of our family, part of a group of five rascals who grew up around the coasts of Newfoundland, were educated, found jobs, and in due time started their own families. And in so doing, we started our own traditions within our own homes.

I can tell my son and daughter that yes, we do have traditions—those of our family and those of their parents’ families. They are all precious. And in starting their own families, they will begin new traditions for themselves. But for us, four girls and one boy, and a mom and dad, we have the tradition of our Penny Puppy, the little dog that pulled us through some rough spots, that we still “feed,” and we all still ask at Christmastime, “How much in the dog this year, Dad?” With great anticipation we await his answer, which he takes his time telling us—just for the heck of it.

The Penny Puppy is our special custom. A reminder of how pulling together as a family, working together as a unit, caring and sharing with each other, is so essential. And to think we learned it from a little ceramic dog, and a pair of parents who knew the deprivation of the depression years and the value of a penny. My parents are great-grandparents now, and will continue to teach that lesson to their great-grandchildren.

We will continue to “feed the dog” and pass on the lesson taught to us by a mother and father who knew the meaning of the word “need” and advised us never to “get your needs and your wants mixed up.”

~Bonnie Jarvis-Lowe

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