Rachel Mills

Vagabond Kitchen: Gus

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Faithful companion in the Vagabond Kitchen, Gus smiles as he rides in the jeep with the cone of shame. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)


My written updates from the Vagabond Kitchen — essays and recipes detailed and recorded—have been sporadic. I’ve paced around my notebooks, taking food pictures and writing down ingredients. I’ve finished an 800+ page novel and begun another lengthy fictional diversion.

This is the essay I’ve been avoiding—the aching loss spilled in ink, then typed boldly across the white computer screen.
My friend, companion, exasperating four-legged partner in every life adventure for nearly the past decade let us know it was time, leaving this plane of existence with a suddenness we’re still having trouble comprehending.
My hand dangles into empty air beside the bed, searching for soft ears that aren’t there.

Daily, crossing the yard, we turn, checking to make sure Gus is still following, finding nothing but tree shadows.
He went everywhere with Orson and I for the past two years, our constant, oftentimes maddening partner. He was an integral part of every memory. Wherever we were, he curled up beside us, settling into sleep with a content, old-man moan. The sound of weary bones settling.
He was trouble, but he was our boy.


Birthday love from Gus. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

Both my parents went to the hospital with injured hands from separate incidents while dog sitting. He ate everything he shouldn’t, throwing it up for our inspection soon after. He wasn’t afraid to murder chickens, ducks, or baby skunks in sudden instinctual bursts that left him blinking contritely, dead critter dangling from his down-turned, flabby lips as the blood lust cleared and the damage became evident. He was sprayed three times by skunks, had a quarter of his ear bitten off in a dog fight, and taught himself how to use his “cone of shame” to scoop blueberries from the bush into his waiting mouth.

Gus’ past is a mystery. He was found running down I-75 near Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, by a kind lady who pulled over for the starved brown dog. He jumped right into her car, hungry, ribs and vertebrae pushing against pliant hound skin.
I found him on petfinder.com, his goofy picture irresistible, and brought Gus into my life and the lives of so many others.
We never knew how old he was. “Handsome old boy,” people said of him for years as his once-all-brown face became whiter and whiter.

“How old is he?”The compassionate vet at the Pellston Animal Clinic asked in Gus’ last hour.
“14-16,” we guessed, laughing through our tears as we showed her the staples/stitches running along his abdomen.
“He came with them,” I explained. “We recently discovered through x-rays that they’re there because he doesn’t have a spleen.” His past is a mysterious tale we elaborated and speculated upon endlessly as we contemplated our snoring, farting, soft-eared canine. Gus was my companion through marriage, divorce, and into the next chapter of life adventures with my partner, Orson.


Rachel Mills shares a laugh with old gus while blueberry picking in the forest. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

Fourth of July weekend we (dear friends Tyler, Keith, Orson, Gus, and I) camped beside the Yellow Dog Falls. We swam, fished, cooked wonderful meals, climbed at AAA and laughed late into the night.
Gus waded in the river, trotting gleefully into the shallows for regular long drinks. He raised his head, muzzle dripping, surveying his surroundings with cataracted eyes.

Mortality was on my mind as I watched my sweet boys, both four-legged and two, frolic in the river. Here was Gus, limbs ancient and creaky standing beside Tyler, whose long muscled arms and back glowed with life in the dappled afternoon sunlight. A year before we were attending benefits for Tyler as he fought a brain tumor. Against all odds here he was, the picture of health, hurling firewood across the river and shouting with glee.
At night, around the campfire, Gus snuggled with us on a blanket next to the fire—held, petted, and told he was, “A good boy.”

His old, steady company was taken for granted by us all. For, despite his evident aging, his life-force was still so very present. There was still so much Gus with us as he tried to snatch sausage from the fire-hot cast iron pot, or peed with senile cunning in the center of camp. He ate breakfast beside the Yellow Dog—  last meal. When we returned to our home-tent he wasn’t himself, failing quickly. We put him down on July 7th—his absence as palpable as his presence.
We buried him in the apple orchard by the lake at my parent’s house, Gus taking his place beside other beloved companions.


Gus ventures out from his home in the Vagabond Kitchen. (photo courtesy of Rachel Mills)

A line from a camp song my mother used to sing echoes:
“I had a dog his name was Blue.
I had a dog his name was Blue.
I had a dog his name was Blue—betcha five dollars he’s a good dog too.
Heeeaaar Blue. You good dog you.
Old Blue died he died so hard, shook the ground in my backyard.
Buried him with a silver spade.
Lowered him down with links of chain.
Every link it would call his name.
Heeeaar Blue. You good dog you.”

The adventures won’t be the same, without our Gus.

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