Remembering The Two Petes

Pictured are Sandy and Vicky with Little Pete, sledding at Allen Park, 1958. Photos from the Johnson family archives. Submitted photos

Dogs have been a big part of my life. Most of us have a dog or two who has a permanent place in the heart and family. Two of the most important and two of the first dogs I knew and loved were my grandfather’s dog Pete and my own little 13-inch beagle, Little Pete. Little Pete was my Christmas present in 1957, a puppy calm and gentle who really needed no training. My Grandpa Forsberg’s Pete was a kindly soul and a great hunter’s companion.

We call them Big Pete and Little Pete now, in retrospect, but when I knew Pete he was my grandfather’s best pal, just Pete. He favored the hounds my grandfather remembered from his own childhood in Sweden, a tall and heavy dog, 15 inches, more Foxhound than beagle probably. Pete had his own large kennel–perhaps 12 by 15 feet–in the side yard between the Forsbergs and the Sherwins on the shore of Lake Chautauqua in Fluvanna. Grandpa, a musician and factory worker by trade, a craftsman in wood by avocation, built Pete a king’s palace of a dog house, and that was lucky too because in the 50’s many dogs lived outside in their houses all year long. Pete did.

But when winter really hit its stride and huge storms rolled over the snow ridge, Pete would come inside. He had a second doghouse inside the garage, which was attached to the house and caught some of its warmth. On the worst days and nights in winter, you would find Pete stretched out in the hall between the garage and the kitchen, happily snuggled into one of grandma’s colorful rag rugs from Sweden. She didn’t allow dogs in the house, period, she said. So there he would lie, quite comfortable and warm on the edge of the “inside.”

Grandpa was a hunter as was my father when I was very young. I’m quite sure they loved best just walking outdoors through woods and trails. I accompanied them so many times from the time I walked well. They both had red plaid wool jackets and matching hats with earflaps that kept them warm. They both had knee high rubber boots. I would follow wordlessly on these venture through the bereft cornfields of late fall and winter, into the woods sometimes when we followed Pete who was on a scent. What a grand voice he had! Deep and powerful, his bark left no doubts he had prey in sight. It was thrilling just to follow that sound. While I recall times when they shot a rabbit or a squirrel and even once or twice a deer, most times we just walked and enjoyed the outdoors and the silence of the woods.

I began to think Grandpa had given up hunting, and my father too. One day when I stayed home with grandma, she said to me, I don’t think they will be shooting anything today. And they did not, not that day nor thereafter. It’s a conclusion my grandfather told me in a few words; No, he said, San dah rah (the way he said my name was like a waltz), I von’t be shooting any more creatures. That was that. Big Pete still got his walks in the fields though, but my father and my grandfather went gun-less into the wild world from that moment on, a friend to all living things.

One morning when I was six, grandpa showed up before breakfast at our house at 25 Ivy St. He came inside and sat down at the kitchen table. My mother served him coffee. No one spoke for a few minutes as we all knew something was terribly wrong. Ja, he sighed finally. Old Pete is gone now. Carl’s face looked haggard and drawn, his cheeks unshaven. He sat hunched over his coffee. When he looked up at me, I saw the grief there.

It was another year before at Christmas my parents finally gave me a dog. I’d been asking for one since I could speak, already having fallen in love with a big old Airedale mix named Sarge who belonged to neighbors and a black Cocker Spaniel puppy rescued from the street whom I could not keep. His name was Pete, “Little” Pete in honor of Carl’s lost boy. His mahogany ears were velvet long mittens; his coat was dense and soft.

Pete was allowed to sit in one chair in the living room, the salmon colored Queen Anne chair where I frequently sat to watch television. Pete and I bonded instantly of course, and that winter he went sledding with my toddler sister Vicky and me at Allen Park, clutched in my arm as we swept down the bandstand hill. He loved the snow, that dog, and grew up to have a big beagle bark that my father and grandfather respected. They walked with him in the woods and fields of Fluvanna as they had done with Big Pete, gunless and happy in their red plaid outdoorsmen clothes. Pete was a good dog and deserved better than he got. One day on such a walk, he barked and ran off and never came back. Despite our posters and lost ads, we never saw him again. But we never forgot him.

What is it about these dogs of ours and how they cheer and bolster our hearts? They are friends like none other, better than humans in some ways. In our old photographs, there they are sitting loyally next to us, expecting nothing, giving all. It’s an honored place.0