Normal

Normal died the other morning. A tumor and the ravages of time were responsible for taking him from us. He was a beautiful old sheep dog who arrived in town twelve years ago with Dr. Steve Everet and his partner Warren Parker.

They bought the old Wilson house at the edge of town and did most of the renovations themselves. Whatever they couldn’t do, local tradesmen were hired to finish. People in town liked that, even though they thought it odd for two grown men to live together and right away the gossip started.

At first everyone thought that they were just university buddies who liked small towns, which it turns out they did. Warren grew up on a farm in southern Saskatchewan and Dr. Steve was born just outside of Lethbridge, Alberta.

Thankfully, they both loved the mountains and skiing, which we have in abundance. The town pretty much lives off the Heli skiing business and the tourists it brings, I think that’s how they found us.

I remember asking Warren if he missed his home town. He said not much, too flat. Said it was the kind of place you could watch your dog run away for three days. Dr. Steve agreed, making the mountains were a big drawing card for them. Even at that, the issue of two men living together in our town caused a certain consternation.

We thought people like that lived in big cities so no one would know. This kind of thinking made it awkward at first.  Small town people can be even smaller than the town they live in, if you know what I mean.

Dr. Steve had arrived a few months earlier than Warren to start his practice. He came here to take over from Dr. Cambia who was eighty-seven at the time. In the world of medicine the small town doctor, like small towns, are going the way of the dodo bird. His arrival made most everyone happy to get a young doctor. He made us feel like our town might live a little longer.

No sooner had the young doctor arrived than Millie, that’s my wife, made an appointment for me to get my annual physical. I wasn’t big on the idea after all, I didn’t know the man. But, as Millie pointed out, I didn’t react any differently the first time I went to see Dr. Cambia for a physical.

As it stands, I’m not comfortable having any man insert his finger just to tell me my prostate is fine. Millie said I should be thrilled to have a healthy prostate and I suppose she’s right, but… still.  Dr. Steve was a good sport about it as he told me investigating my butt wasn’t the highlight of his day either.

At first people were suspicious, us men in particular. Right away, my friend Al began making fun of me for having Dr. Steve give me a physical and we all know the implication of that. His attitude pissed me off, so I showed him my swearing finger and didn’t speak to him for several months, which was difficult being as he lives next door.

Millie has always been much more liberal than the rest of us and the reaction of our little community disappointed her. But by the time Warren moved in, most of the town had already been to see Dr. Steve and really liked him, even Al. So the liking him, and not understanding their relationship was confusing. Small town people stay in small towns, because they’re not confusing, making this a problem.

It wasn’t that they were effeminate men. Both were tall and physically strong. All the women found them attractive and both were smart fellows, well educated and successful, so why were they, you know, different?

Being who they were, it seemed even more confusing, after all they could be anything they wanted to be. But as Millie patiently explained to me, they were born that way, they didn’t choose it. No different than us being born straight, we, like they, don’t know any different.

But it was Normal, who won over the town. Being just a bit more than pup when he showed up with Warren, he wanted to meet everyone. And being such a cute bundle of white and grey fur, everyone wanted to meet him too.

Almost as soon as he moved into town, Warren bought what remained of our local newspaper, The Laughlin Reader and started it back up. He kept everything pretty much the same, even hired Muriel Jones back as the receptionist along with a bunch of local high school students to work there.

Aside from the Heli skiing, our high school is the only other thing keeping this town open. That being the case, Warren thought it would be a good idea to hire students and give them a reason to stay. You lose your kids, you lose your town.

Fortunately Dr. Steve and Warren were big on small towns. They thought they were important to the nature of a nation. They believed every time a country lost one, it got a little smaller.

Normal went to work with Warren everyday and everyone in town got to know that dog. Most of the time he sat out front of the newspaper office on a mat beside the dog house Warren built for him, even put his name on it.

Town’s folk joked about walking by Normal’s house, stopping off at Normal’s place, that kind of stuff. Normal loved to just sit there on his haunches and let people pet him. It got to be a custom for folks to bring their dogs by to visit Normal, making the front of the newspaper office a place to hangout. Especially after Warren built a bench for folks to sit on while they were visiting Normal.

However, things really began to change when Normal threw his first party. Everyone in town had been invited, sadly, that first year only about thirty people came, because, well you know they were, homosexual. And for most of the people around here, that was wrong. And who the hell ever heard of a dog named Normal throwing a party for people anyway.

About half way through the party, Dr. Steve had everyone get together in the backyard for an announcement they wanted to make. And boy, was it an announcement. They stood there in front of us holding hands with Normal sitting in between them. And then they invited us to their wedding, which would be held at the United Church, the first Saturday, in September.

Well you could have knocked us over with a blade of grass. I mean, we just stood there like posts, at least until Normal barked. Even then he was a big fella, so when he barked the whole town heard it. It surprised us as he hardly ever barked, but he seemed particularly excited by the announcement and began jumping up and down. His actions were infectious and everyone started to applaud. And after that it got to be a good party.

As you can imagine, the news spread like wild fire. Of course, the whole countryside was beside itself in gossip. It got contentious pretty quick, but as with many things like this, sometimes, good things come from it.

It wasn’t too much longer after that, that the youngest of the Johnston boys, Kevin, who was fifteen at the time, decided that he had an announcement he wanted to make. He wanted to make it at the high school in front of everyone. Kevin worked for Warren at the newspaper and had turned into a very good reporter, with excellent journalistic skills.

He asked Warren about it. Warren said maybe he should start with his family; it might be a bit of a bomb to drop on them unprepared, in a crowd. Turns out he was more afraid of his family than those at school. Being a bit different than the rest, Kevin always had to fight off his brothers. Of course the family never suspected how different, except for his sister. She always knew, but kept his secret to herself.

Warren suggested that maybe he should ask Dr. Steve to come along and sit with the family when he told them. Doctors tend to present a more mature capacity, helping people, deal with things of a difficult nature.

And this would difficult for his father, who drove all the way to Prince George, one hundred kilometers away to see a doctor, if you see what I mean. Young Kevin thought that was a good point, considering his father had a bumper sticker on his truck that read “No fags in my town.”

Kevin arranged for the meeting on the pretense of a health issue and he didn’t want to discuss it without his doctor there. This in itself made the issue more difficult as his father said he would never allow a fag in his house. So, young Kevin suggested that the family come to Dr. Steve’s clinic after closing and discuss it there. With pleading from the family, the father finally acquiesced and on the last day of August, just eight days before the wedding they all came over to the clinic.

Normal was there to greet them. That dog just had a way of putting people at ease. The father even allowed Normal to sit beside him. I think the dog knew the father would have the most difficulty with the subject up for discussion.

Dr. Steve didn’t start with any preachment, simply said that the subject might be difficult for them, but it was important for Kevin. If he was to have any kind of normal life and be able to function within the community this conversation had to take place.

And with that short introduction Kevin looked around the small office at each of his two brothers, his sister, his mother and finally his father. Then, looking his father straight in the eye hunched his shoulders and said “I’m gay.”

No one said anything other than to turn, look to the father and await his reaction before making any comment. Normal for his part got up and walked away to lie down in front of the office door. I guess he sensed things might get unpleasant. The father looked back at his son and said “You’re no son of mine until you get rid of this disease, and until then, you’re not welcome in my house.”

With that he stood and started for the door. He would have left immediately if Normal hadn’t been lying there blocking his way. The dog never moved and the father seemed frozen with indecision. Dr. Steve stood up and gently said “Mr. Johnston, if you would please come back and sit down, I think there is a lot more your son has to say. It’s important to him, to you and to your family. So let’s talk.”

After a few moments of hesitation and running his hand through his hair a couple of times, the father turned on the spot and returned to his chair. Normal got up and followed him back. He must have had a feeling things had calmed down, and with no hesitation on his part returned to his spot beside the father. The father seemed comforted by this and spent the rest of the evening stroking Normal’s back.

The clock on the wall had ticked past midnight before they left. The next day old man Johnston removed the bumper sticker and went to school with his son for the first time. As for Normal, it was just another story attached to the legend.

Dr. Steve and Warren buried Normal in the backyard. The whole town came out for the ceremony and later in the day after everyone had left old man Johnston went over and placed a small wreath that said “Thanks.”

We all miss Normal, but this morning Warren showed up with another puppy named Normal Jr. but I think we’ll just call him Junior because for us, there could only be one Normal. 

 

 

David Hutchison, writer

david@davidsnotebook.com