How's Bayou? Goin' to see Grandaddy
When it rains, it pours.
Morton Salt's tried-and-true slogan reverberated in my father's ears one day in 1965 as he stared at the tiny gray toy poodle in the arms of the tenant in one of the two metal houses -- touted to be both termite and hurricane resistant -- that he and my uncle had built as an experiment in sustainable housing in the Palmetto section of town, near the Orleans Parish line, 10 years earlier.
The tenant and her poodle had given birth on the same day, and, in despair over two difficult deliveries, she'd named the pick of the canine litter Morton.
Make that Pasha Morton of Madewood, as the AKC registration papers, which I recently discovered in my parents' archives at Madewood, confirm.
Boxer Ingemar, named for Swedish champion Ingemar Johanssen, had recently departed for that doggie prize ring in the sky; and Airedale Curly, a maelstrom of wiry exuberance, was only a distant memory.
Morton wasn't spoiled; he was worshipped. My father left the office at precisely the same time each day, transactions completed or not, to take PMoM for his evening constitutional. Neighbor and later Nolavie co-founder Sharon Litwin, at first confused to hear someone calling after the never-leashed Morton -- thinking it was a plaintive cry to her husband, Martin -- soon realized she could set her oven-timer for dinner by that cry.
After the walk, it was time to broil two chicken thighs and cut them into bite-size bits for PMoM. And after the 10 o'clock news, it was a spoonful or two of vanilla ice cream.
Brother Don would swoop Morton up and set the bemused canine's rear paws firmly in his belt buckle. He'd then dip and sway the bug-eyed dog (fearful for his life) to the clipped motion of, appropriately, The Toys' recent hit, "Attack."
This was accompanied by mid-air attempts to teach Morton Spanish. Because of his familiarity with ice cream, we started out with a simple phrase, enunciated like the foreign language tapes in school: "Me -- gusta -- vanilla. Me gus -- ta -- va -- ni -- lla. Me gusta vanilla!" It's a wonder he ever ate ice cream again.
On Sundays, my father always carried a Baggie (a proto-Ziplock bag with a fold-under flap instead of the zipper) to lunch at Metairie Country Club. He'd ask for extra slices of roast beef; then, when he thought no one was looking, he'd flip them into the Baggie, and with a sleight of hand that would do a magician proud, make the snack disappear into his jacket pocket. One day, when, to his dismay, he realized he'd forgotten the Baggie, John, the head waiter, discreetly dropped one on the floor by our table.
In the early 1970s my father found himself quarantined at Southern Baptist (now Ochsner Baptist) Hospital, thanks to a hepatitis infection offered up by an oyster in Pensacola. Isolation was bad enough, but not seeing Morton was doing him in. And PMoM was not faring much better. He'd sit by my father's chair and barely pick at the unacceptable food Don or Mother offered him.
I was away at college, and Don couldn't stand idly by while the two pined for each other. From camp days, Don had a long narrow laundry bag with a string tie at one end. He'd place Morton, standing straight up, in the bag and caution, "Shh! Don't make a sound. We're going to see Grandaddy!"
The obedient canine's eyes would light up, and he'd remain silent. Gradually, Don would pull the drawstring and coach the now-encompassed Morton; eventually, the training session included Don draping the bag, Morton inside, over his shoulder and parading around the room while insisting they were off to see Grandaddy.
When the big day arrived, Don, Morton, and the laundry bag headed to the hospital. Once parked on the adjacent multi-level structure that gave direct access to the unit (an integral part of the fail-safe plan), Don coaxed Morton into the bag, draped it over his shoulder and cautioned quiet. "We're going to see Grandaddy!"
Safely in the room, Don announced the surprise as he pulled the drawstring. Morton leapt out onto the bed, into my father's outstretched arms -- and began barking wildly, uncontrollably.
Dad and Don started coughing as loudly as they could to try to cover the pandemonium. Don swept Morton off the bed, into the bag, out of the room and off to the car. Swift, and undetected. Both Dad and Morton seemed revived.
Even with his title, PMoM suffered the indignities of Santa hats, wooly caps, and tiny spangled sunglasses. He spent time under the hoop skirts of unsuspecting matrons at Spring Fiesta events at Madewood and remained the light of my father's life.
But old age caught up with him. He lost interest in the broiled chicken thighs that lay cooling in his bowl, and he could barely lap up the melted ice cream. His vision failed, and he no longer knew who we were.
Mother had to take him the two blocks to Metairie Small Animal Hospital, where the ever-caring Dr. Melius could give him the peace he'd earned; my father couldn't bear the thought.
I was left to collect the remains of our tiny companion, which, in those less-sensitive days, were delivered in a plastic shopping bag with sturdy handles.
To this day, it remains in my mind the heaviest package I've ever carried -- home, and then to Madewood, for a simple burial outside the historic cemetery on the property.
My father remained inconsolable, refusing a rescue dog his office staff presented to him the next Christmas as a surprise.
And not a single chicken thigh ever crossed the threshold of 21 Maryland Drive again.
How's Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.
How’s Bayou? the secrets of remaining sane while running an upscale B&B on Bayou Lafourche, is written weekly for NolaVie by Keith Marshall, a former Rhodes Scholar and graduate of Yale and Oxford universities who now runs Madewood Plantation House in Napoleonville.