The Haunted Bowl

The Haunted Bowl

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

The Haunted Bowl

It’s not much to look at. Just a big old cream-colored bowl. You know, one of those old-fashioned crock bowls with a shiny glaze except on the bottom and around the rim. It’s thick and heavy with short vertical sides. For almost thirty years that old bowl has occupied a place on my kitchen floor. It came from Jackson’s Hay and Feed, one of those tin-roofed feed stores, the kind with a dusty wooden floor, the pungent aromas of alfalfa and bags of feed, and the sounds of cheep-cheeping fuzzy yellowchicks in an incubator. At $4.95 it represented a major investment for a college student drawing $90 a month on the GI Bill.

Today, it came out of the cupboard where it was stored after Cheddar, my dear old yellow Lab, had to be put down. It had just seemed too big to feed the puppy—until now. The puppy, another yellow girl I named Chamois, is growing fast. Now, at almost eighteen weeks of age, she’s ready for the bowl. She’ll be the third Lab to eat from it.

Swamp was the first. For thirteen years Swamp ate her meals from the bowl. Now as I look at it sitting on my kitchen floor, I can see Swamp as clearly as if she were here. She liked to lie on the floor with the bowl between her front legs when she ate. Her last meal came from that bowl; a special food for dogs with failing kidneys. She’d been on it since September. The vet told me she had about four months left so I started looking for a puppy.

Swamp rode with me out to a farm on a windy Kansas prairie. The farmer had about ten kennel runs. On one side were Labs and on the other were pointers. He said, “I don’t usually sell ’em to people who don’t hunt.” I confessed I was not a hunter, but Swamp worked her magic on him and soon we were driving home with a precocious yellow puppy we named Cheddar.

The bowl got Cheddar into trouble. She tried to eat from it when Swamp was holding it between her paws. A quick growl and a snap of Swamp’s powerful jaws and we were racing to the vet’s for a couple of stitches on her nose. I hadn’t thought of that for years. Now with the bowl sitting here on the kitchen floor, it seems like yesterday. And, as if it were yesterday, I again experienced the sharp pangs of grief felt so many years ago when we drove Swamp to the same clinic and said good-bye. That night Cheddar ate her first meal from the bowl, and for the next fifteen years it was filled for her every morning.

Cheddar’s technique was different from Swamp’s. She’d walk up to the bowl, get a chunk or two in her mouth and walk away as she crunched the kibble. Then she’d circle back for another bite. She always ate half the food in the morning and the other half just before bedtime. It was a pattern that never varied.

That old $4.95 bowl is probably the only thing I still own that was mine thirty years ago. It has served us well, and tonight Chamois will eat her first meal from it. I wonder if she knows how valuable it is and what it means to me. I wonder if she knows it’s Halloween and that her meal tonight will be served in a haunted bowl: a big old cream-colored bowl haunted by the ghosts of Swamp and Cheddar—and a thousand poignant memories. Will she know as she eats that a black ghost will lie down and wrap her front legs around the bowl and that a yellow ghost will grab a bite and then circle back for more? Will she see the tears in my eyes before I turn away and stare into the past? Or will she just devour the food, lick her chops and wag her busy tail?

John Arrington

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