When my maternal grandmother took the barrel of the shotgun into her mouth, she knew what she was doing. The week before she called the local veterinarian from Seaside to come out to the house, and one by one she had him put the little lion dogs down.
The dogs, all Pekinese had traditional Chinese names like Ming, Shu Fang, (the kind and gentle one), Feng Po Po, Ping, Yue Yue, Manchu, Mao and Taipei (the alpha male).
I was fifteen that summer; Mom and I made the long drive every other weekend for over a year. The route to the coast from Eugene took a little over 3 hours with a quick stop in Salem. Each time we’d pull the Honda Civic into the gravel driveway, the dogs would race off the front porch and out into the fenced yard barking ferociously at our arrival. “Little beasts,” I called them while still sitting safely in the front passenger seat of the car.
At 79, she was an eccentric old woman who claimed to be legally blind but somehow was able to make uncanny comments regarding my raised eyebrows or a bored frown on my face while she talked endlessly to Mom and me about her awful neighbors or her health troubles.
One time when I slyly went to reach out and pat one of the dogs that was lying on the Persian carpet near her feet, Grandmother snarled at me, “Sleeping Pekingese do not like to be disturbed while they’re napping.” During another visit she told me in great detail how the ancient Emperor’s dogs were treated like royalty and eventually were sacrificed and buried with him to protect him in the afterlife.
No one can say for certain when she decided to bury her pampered puppies in the garden, during our last visit she gave no indication of her plans. The three of us slowly walked the parameter of her yard with the dogs ahead and behind. Her white cane tapping all the way around the raised flower boxes while we admired each peony, each fuchsia and black bamboo. It was summer during our last visit. Her heart may have been giving out then, who can say. In between the royal tomatoes and the palace zucchini plants, perhaps it was then and there she made up her mind, or perhaps while loading shells into the chamber.
When the sheriff called to tell us the news he said that from a strictly ballistics standpoint it ended quickly once she pulled the trigger. She left no goodbye letters, no will, just a scribbled request we never granted to bury her beside her favorite dog, Taipei.