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Chapter Nineteen – Alessio, Our Best Friend
The next week my mom took Tony and Roberto shopping at the outlets, a favorite Italian pastime. They insisted on trying on every Ralph Lauren Polo shirt they could get their hands on. With the U.S. dollar in the dumps compared to their euro, they were bent on buying a whole new wardrobe before heading back to Ischia, where all anyone can purchase are designer duds. Needless to say, there are no outlets on Ischia and certainly not the monster ones of New Jersey and New York.
While the boys were off making my mother crazy, I was home working with Alessio, our nine-year-old beagle as my only company. The night before he had wowed the family by stealing an entire Cornish hen off my mother’s plate. This is a dog that once ate 9 pounds of raw sausage and stole an entire roast beef from under the nose of my Zio Luigi.
But his acrobatics for the Cornish hen were particularly noteworthy. He had been wheezing and coughing ever since Tony and Roberto arrived. The vet thought he might have puppy pneumonia. None of the medication was clearing up his troubles. And he was having a hard time getting up and down stairs, which used to be a strength of his. Granted, the dog started to look like the rest of my family, including my father, with skinny little legs and a bowl-full-of-jelly belly. My cousins had taken to calling him “Salsicce,” which means “sausage” in Italian.
Graceful as a prima ballerina, Alessio hoisted his front paws onto the bench under my mother’s plate, lifted and turned his head quickly and cunningly, and snatched that Cornish hen with his teeth in 30 seconds flat. In another 30 seconds, he had inhaled the whole thing. There was not even a single bone left. We feared for him, but he waddled over to the couch, managed to get himself on top of one of the pillows, and drifted off to dream land, clearly proud of his accomplishment. “If only we had the video camera rolling,” Tony shouted.
The next morning, while I worked, I noticed a difference in Alessio. He was simply not himself. Barely able to move, he did not want me to leave him alone. He whimpered and forced himself up the stairs to my office, a room he rarely entered. I helped him back down, and worked in the kitchen. He never left my side, and he could not breathe. The dog who ate everything would eat and drink nothing.
When my father returned from work, Tony, Roberto, and my mom were still in outlet heaven (or hell, depending on whether you spoke to Tony and Roberto or my mom). Papa’ and I decided to call the vet, who suggested we take Alessio to the Animal Hospital. Obviously, this was something more than a bad cold or pneumonia. We carried Salsicce into my father’s landscaping truck. He sat on my lap all the way. At the hospital, they told us we’d have to leave him overnight for observation.
My father and I both had tears in our eyes as they wrapped Alessio in a blanket and he cried. We turned away as the doctor and an assistant walked him into a doggie hospital room. By the next morning, we got word from the doctor that it was a miracle Alessio had made it through the night. He was full of cancer and on the verge of dying. The doctor believed he was waiting to say good-bye to us. We all rushed to the hospital to say one last ciao to our Salsicce. My parents and I couldn’t stop crying. And Tony insisted on coming with us for moral support even though he had only known Alessio for a little more than a week.
At the hospital, the doctors put us in a room and brought Alessio, who had been given medication, to us. For a moment, he looked like his old self. He walked in a circle and sat a moment with each one of us. He rubbed his head against my hand and licked my arm one last time. When the doctor called to him and said, “Alessio, it’s time to go,” he turned toward my father – his best pal, the one who fed him and the one he began to look like – one more time as if he knew this was the last time he’d be seeing us.
My parents picked up KFC for lunch because no one felt much like cooking; while Tony and I sat in the car, I could not contain my weeping. He just embraced me and we said nothing. That night, we were heading to Florida for our long awaited week at Disney World with my brother, who lived in Kissimmee, Fla. I sat between Roberto and Tony, who consoled me as the tears kept flowing. Yet, I had to pull myself together for we were heading to the happiest place on Earth…
Some names and identifying characteristics of the real people involved have been changed.
Tune into this Web site, Two Worlds, every Monday for the latest installment in my blog about my experiences in Ischia, and every other Monday to ItaliansRus.com for the latest Our Paesani column about all things Italian. Di Meglio is also the Guide to Newlyweds for About.com.