Mr. Smith goes to heaven

Anna Quindlen

April 09, 1991|By Anna Quindlen

JASON OLIVER C. Smith, a big dumb guy who was tan, died March 30 of lung cancer and old age. He was 13 years old and lived in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the back section of the minivan, behind the kids' seat.

He was the son of somebody or other, but it was probably somebody with a name like Champion Snowfall's Big Brown Bear or Lancelot Smith of Sunnybrook. No one knew what the C. stood for, although there was speculation that, like Harry S. Truman's middle initial, it was an attempt to seem more dignified than he really was.

He was called Mr. Smith only when he was reprimanded for eating the coffee cake off the kitchen counter, and when he went to Washington.

He was born a golden retriever, although he never let it affect his behavior. He never appeared in a Ralph Lauren ad, never gamboled through a field of daisies and high grass by the side of a slim woman with a picture hat in a television commercial for feminine hygiene products.

He appeared in only one music video, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and fogged up the camera lens by licking it.

His pedigree was a source of some discomfort for his people, who acquired him just at that time when everyone who had been born between the years 1950 and 1955 and who had a four-wheel drive vehicle and 2.2 children was acquiring a retriever. They were concerned lest other people think he was a status symbol. Luckily his behavior belied such a thing, and it was with great pride that they occasionally heard people say, "Gee, he acts just like a schnauzer."

With his passing his people took stock of the relationship between man and animal and considered that people acquired dogs for the purposes of keeping in touch with their ultimate ancestors and learning to remove hair from nap fabrics.

By human standards, Jason was a great success professionally. He was servile to the point of embarrassment, and was incapable of looking anyone in the eye for more than a few seconds, with the exception of insects. He frequently licked babies, and only an hour before he died he assiduously marked the trunk of a maple tree.

He was well known for his guilty expression, and when he rifled through the garbage it was not uncommon for him to look as though he deserved the death penalty.

His career as a retriever coincided with a period of cataclysmic change. The New York City dog waste statute, commonly known as the pooper-scooper law, was enacted the year he was born. Late in life the animal rights movement swirled around him, and his master routinely threatened to make him into a coat.

His last illness came on the eve of the recent decision that stringent regulations governing pit bulls were discriminatory because breed specific, and he seemed pleased when "My Life as a Dog" was critically acclaimed, although it was a little hard to tell since he was exhausted that week from treeing squirrels.

He lived in the city for most of his life, but he never wore a little plaid coat or a leather collar with fake gemstones, and he was never walked by a professional.

Although he began to visit the country only in middle age, he was able to find and flush quail, rabbits and other small game. Nevertheless, he remained utterly incapable of getting within 20 feet of any of them.

At the time of his death, his license was current and he had had all of his shots.

He is survived by two adults, three children, a cat named Daisy who drove him nuts, and his lifelong companion, Pudgy, whose spaying he always regretted, as well as a host of fleas, who have gone elsewhere, probably to Pudgy.

At the combined family Easter Egg Hunt/Memorial Service held in his honor, he was remembered by one of the children as "a really smart dog." Unfortunately this was inaccurate.

Burial was behind the barn. A monument made of a piece of slate that had fallen from the roof was erected, bearing his name, a lopsided heart and the initials of his people. He will be missed by all, except Daisy.

He never bit anyone, which is more than you can say for most of us.

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