Not the Scottish king of that name, nor his brother who was responsible for a disastrous invasion of Ireland in the 14th Century. The Bruce I am thinking about was a family pet when I was a child. A Welsh Collie, he could have been a sheepdog. In the absence of the appropriate training he was simply an enthusiastic chaser of tennis balls and sticks.
I loved him as only a small boy can love a dog. We’d play together for hours in the small meadows that surrounded the stone cottage we inhabited back then. Then I went away to boarding school and Bruce and I were reacquainted only at school holidays. Until the summer of 1956.
My mother had taken up with a new man. He had several sources of income in addition to his full-time job. He kept bees, mended and maintained hedges and he used a small wire-haired terrier to catch rabbits. He purchased a house for us and the move was planned for the end of the summer holidays. On the morning of the the day scheduled for the move, Mum suggested I take a walk up the hill to a farm where the young owner provided the nearest we had to a barber in the district.
“Take Bruce with you and ask Les to put him down,” were the words she added. There was no room in the new house for two dogs. Bruce was old now and the terrier was a working dog so took priority.
I found the farmer working in his garden. He agreed to cut my hair. We discussed my life at boarding school and the house move taking place that day. I say ‘we discussed’. In truth, Les asked questions and I gave monosyllabic responses, trying desperately not to reveal the emotion I felt at the question I was supposed to ask of him.
Eventually I got the words out. Les reacted with horror and refused.
Back home, Mum said little in regard to this set back to her plan. Alternative arrangements would have to be made. By the time I came home for the Christmas holiday Bruce was just a memory.
My novel ‘Summer Day’ draws on this experience in describing the events that follow when a boy tries to stop his father shooting an old dog.
Did you have a favourite pet that died when you were a child? How did you feel about it? Have you ever used the experience in your writing?