Years later, my brother phoned my parents from college to say he’d adopted a dog from the pound and would be bringing her home when he graduated in a few months. My mother wasn’t happy—her nest had quieted down and she wondered whether this was really the best move for a guy about to enter the real world. Much to her surprise she, like the rest of us, fell in love with my brother’s “Lucy,” a sleek, sweet, and lovely black Lab and Greyhound (maybe—we were never sure) mix. She really felt more like the family dog and my father often remarked that she seemed to have so much to say. If only she could speak. Lucy gamely accompanied my brother on cross-country road trips and moved with him from the Upper West Side to Hell’s Kitchen, Brooklyn, and ultimately, Florida. It was there that she became a grand old lady and lived out her last days. Lucy’s death was hard on everyone but truly awful for my brother. In a way, the rest of us were spared that last good-bye, since it happened a thousand miles away. On the other hand, we never had a chance to say that last good-bye.
This week marked the loss of another loving black dog. My dear friend Rich had to put down his beloved 15 year old Lab, also named “Lucy.” She and a Chocolate Lab called “Barney” became his when a three month house/dog sitting stint turned into a permanent arrangement. If Lucy was the good little girl Barney was the kid with ADHD and every other behavioral disorder. He was a good soul but more than a handful, and too much for one person to handle in a small New York apartment. I won’t lie. When Rich took on the role as master of two pooches I was not happy. My clothes were covered in dog hair. My eyes puffed up with allergies and, frankly, I felt like this dynamic duo was getting more attention than I was. Maybe I should have tried knocking over the kitchen garbage can or shredding the slipcovers with my bare teeth. When Barney was adopted by country folk it was the first time Rich’s Lucy got to play the leading lady. She inhabited the part perfectly and became his best friend, loyal sidekick, and greatest joy. This last year was a struggle for her as she was plagued with Lab-related health issues. Through it all, she was a stoic trooper. Then she decided she had had enough, and she let Rich know it was time for her to go.
Again, I surprised myself with my reaction. Going with Rich to the vet as Lucy drifted off to peace was heart-wrenching in so many ways. This angel of a dog, who I once yelled at for drooling on my satin pantsuit as we were leaving for a wedding, was so ready to go but that doesn’t mean the man who loved her so much was prepared to say good-bye.
After telling various people about Rich’s Lucy’s death I was stunned by just how many of my male friends had gone through this exact experience in the last year or so. These men are big, athletic guys with wicked senses of humor tinged with more than a little edge, yet they were all brought to their knees by the loss of their canine pals: “the most miserable experience of my life,” “the worst day of my life,” “I miss my guy every day,” “I can think of a few real family members it would have been easier to euthanize.” Everyone talked about copious tears and enormous feelings of loss and sadness that took a long time to fade and have never fully disappeared. What is it about the connection between a man and his dog that is so primal and so intense? Is it the unconditional love? Could it be the unshakable loyalty? Is it that any feeling or personality trait can be projected onto a dog’s mute canvas? I don’t know but I have come to realize that it’s one of the most powerful and emotional relationships many men have.
Let's celebrate Adam's Vinnie (1996-2008),Chip's Otis (1996-2010), and Michael's Gussie (1999-2009).I‘ve been told that Rich’s late mother, whom I was not fortunate enough to know, was a wonderful cook and caring baker. She made a signature thimble cookie to celebrate a lucky person, or to cheer someone up or to cheer someone else on. Ironically, she once made some for family friends whose own dog devoured the entire batch before the humans had a chance to enjoy a single one!
So to honor man’s best friend, and in the hopes of easing the pain of all those who’ve recently lost their devoted dogs, I attempted these special cookies. They are so pretty and melt-in-your-mouth good, that they’re bound to make anyone feel better. As you can see, they lived up to their reputation and put a little smile on Rich's face.
And Lucy, I want to apologize for snapping at you when you drooled on my pantsuit—you were right, it was hideous. I should have taken the hint and changed. Godspeed sweet girl.
We Love Lucy (and Duffy, Lucy, Vinnie, Gussie, & Otis) Rich's Mother's Thimble Cookies
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3/4 cup superfine sugar
3/4 cup butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup shortening (I went to Whole Foods and found an organic, non hydrogenated, trans fat free one)3 cups all purpose flour
3 egg yolks
1 bag Ghiradelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips (Rich's mom used Nestle's but I'm sure if they'd had Ghiradelli when she used to bake them she would have chosen the better chocolate!)
Preheat oven to 375. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
In electric mixer beat yolks with whisk attachment until pale and lemon colored.
Change to paddle or regular attachments and add sugar and beat well.
Add butter and shortening and beat until creamy.
Add 1 cup of flour and beat well.
Add remaining flour and mix well.
Using two teaspoon size ice cream scoop portion out cookies and then roll dough into 1 1/2" balls.
Press open end of thimble (or pastry tube tip) into top of cookie and place one chocolate chip so that it sits on top of cookie surrounded by impression made by thimble/pastry tip. Press lightly to adhere to dough.
Bake for 17-20 minutes until pale golden. Do not overbake. Cool cookies on pan for a few minutes, then transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely.
Yield: 5 dozen cookies