Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Of dogs and people

I've had the pleasure of re-reading Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men with my youngest son. He's only just turned 12, and I know I won't have many moments like this left with him. (It's been years since the oldest has snuggled up to me to read To Kill a Mockingbird.) Both books have their uncomfortable moments: if you've read the books, you know the word I'm talking about. It did give us a good opportunity to talk about racism and how language has been used to diminish and demoralize people. Ultimately, both stories are simply wonderful.

Next, we borrowed the dvd from our local library and watched it as a family. TeenGuy abandoned the Xbox to sit with us. I expected I'd be in tears at the end of the film, when George has to make a painful decision: track Lenny down and turn him in to the authorities (placing him in a situation that he cannot comprehend and leaving him at the mercy of untold cruelties), or put a gun to Lenny's head and pull the trigger.

What got me, however, was the actor who played Candy, the one-handed ranch worker. The morning after his dog is shot by Carlson, Candy is outside feeding the chickens. He knows his dog is dead. After all, he agreed that it was time: the dog was old, he smelled, he was sick and in pain. Still, out of habit, he looks around for the fellow.

That broke my heart. It reminded me of how lost I felt when we had to put our little mutt Heidi to sleep. In unguarded moments I looked for her. Rationally, I knew she was dead. I was there when the vet made the injection. But I longed for her presence, against all rationality. I still do.

So, I broke into sobs and had to leave the room for awhile. The menfolk waited patiently. And at the end of the movie, I sat dry-eyed while Sport buried his head into my neck, crying silently at the loss of innocent Lenny.