On June 19, 2024

Charles Wallace the Magnificent, a tribute: part 2

Courtesy Bruce Bouchard - Charley swimming

By Bruce Bouchard and John Turchiano

Editor’s note: Bruce Bouchard is former executive director of The Paramount Theatre. John Turchiano, his friend for 52 years, was formerly the editor of “Hotel Voice,” a weekly newspaper on the New York Hotel Trades Council. They are co-authoring this column collaborating to tell short stories on a wide range of topics. 

Author’s note: A short recap – part one ended with a commitment made with the kind owner of a dog rescue entity, to take a beautiful yellow English Lab named Charley who would arrived two weeks later on a transport from Kentucky.  

On a sunny crisp early morning in May temp in the mid-50s, I jumped into my GMC Jimmy and headed out to Manchester, New Hampshire (just under two hours away). By the time I arrived in Manchester the temperature had ballooned north — now in the mid-80s and humid. I pulled into the prescribed little park and, “Boom,”there was Brigitte, having driven all the way down from Burlington to surprise me, and to babysit me into the transition of dog-ownership. She is so kind and thoughtful, she even brought two dog beds with “Charley” monogrammed on the sides. She warned me that this particular day would be rough, that the transport had traveled 24 hours non-stop, other than to feed and water the dogs, and that most all of the animals would be stressed out and beside themselves. I noticed that there were a good number of new owners awaiting their pups, looking as vulnerable and nervously expectant as me. And then… here comes the truck!!  As the big transport pulled up, a good deal of ruckus was coming from inside the truck, barking and whining and carrying on. There was one voice above all the others — a giant basso profundo  bleating out, a cry for help? For escape? I wondered if it was Charley? The driver came around and opened the sliding door in the middle of the truck…and the very first dog I focused my eyes upon straight ahead, I kid you not, was Charley, the profound bass opera dog, blaring from the bottom of his soul. 

Kingsley Grist Mill

As we waited patiently to claim our dogs, Brigitte told me that I had to walk him around and around in circles, for as long as it takes to tire him out to get him ready for the 2-hour trip home. He was one tick shy of frantic, but he managed to let me hug him and give him some love. He reeked of bile and bad breath born of 24 hours of fear. 

As Brigitte was leaving she turned and shouted, “Remember, around and around for as much time as it takes to tire him out.” I waved good-bye and blew her a kiss, the dog godmother of my boy Charley.

She was right, it was a substantial sweaty workout, going in circles on a hot, humid day, with a frantic dog and no background whatsoever in the matter of being the dad to this beautiful creature. And beautiful he was, with a giant head, a golden coat, with gorgeous brown eyes (and blond eyelashes) great big jowls, and, what’s this… a LIP??  I never knew this: a chocolate brown perfectly formed lip, surrounding the front lower teeth! How about that, a set of blond eyelashes, a barrel chest, and a lip. This dog is more human than I could have known.  

When I finally got him into the back of my SUV, his eyes seem to swirl around in his head, he tottered a bit, let out a huge breath, flapping his jowls, and then “Bam,” he was down for the count, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and resting on the bed.

Two hours later we arrived at my wonderful little aerie, a former granary (700 square feet) on the Mill River. Part of a former mill on the river known as the Kingsley Mill. This home, which I lived in for a year, was up on a rise above the water, just up from the main house towering over the water. From my front porch down and to the left was a fine view of three consecutive waterfalls, loaded to the brim on this May spring day, rampaging loudly and beautifully on their downward journey.

It took some time to wake Charley and get him going, but he slowly complied, slithered out of the car and shakily made his way with me toward the granary, trembling the whole way. As soon as he came in view of the waterfalls, his demeanor immediately changed. Mother Nature rushed in to give him a hug and a kiss. He stopped trembling, sat on his haunches and looked at the waterfalls for a full minute, without flinching a muscle. He then turned his head slowly to me and all but spoke the following request: “Take me there NOW!!”

We made our way down the short path, across the rocks and to the very edge of the rapidly moving water. He tested a few spots with his paw. “Oops, water moving too fast for comfort,” he seemed to say… He turned slowly once more, now in newlfound control, looked me dead in the eye and sent me a telepathic message, “Take me somewhere to get in that water NOW!!”  

We made our way across the Kingsley Bridge, one of Vermont’s most stately covered bridges, to the other side of the river and went down the dirt road parallel to the water. About a 1/2-mile down, past the main house and the granary on the other side, we came to the one long watering hole in a still place on the side of the river. I let Charley off the leash, and he bounded forward, took a huge leap, and splashed into the pool. In an impulsive rush, with no consideration for onlookers (unlikely) or the harsh temperature of the May Mill River water (very likely indeed) I too, flung myself into the pool – I gritted my teeth and gutted it out. Charley swam back (with his webbed feet) from the opposite side of the pool directly to me, put his paws on my shoulders, and licked my face from chin to forehead, forehead to chin. Reset, repeat, reset, repeat. He was so clearly refreshed to have been in the water. I took this deep look in his eyes, as we stood face-to-face, in a cold pond on the side of the Mill River in North Clarendon.

Courtesy Bruce Bouchard
Bruce and Charley take some time to soak in the sun and catch up on some reading down at the local swimming hole in Clarendon.

After we were both out and resting on the grass, I turned to him and said, “OK buster, now we’re going to do something that I have never done, ever before. You, brother-man, are gonna get washed from head to toe, and back again.” 

Twenty minutes later, we were in the granary and I was drawing a hot bath. He seemed to be saying, “Oh, THIS looks great!”

He got in easily and did not complain about having a number of passes with the shampoo bottle and the soft scrub brush. The dirty water rushed down the drain, As we cleared away the horrors of the long trip and the insecurities that come with abandonment, I imagined that the cascading water, cleaner by the minute was an erasure of frightful memories and an invitation into love and belonging.

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