The Cremation of Tuffy Porter
There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
From The Cremation of Sam McGee, a poem by Robert Service, 1907
Charles “Charley” Porter rescued a bullmastiff puppy from a pound in Erie, Pennsylvania for his teenage son and daughter, John and Linda. “They need to learn some responsibility,” Charley said to his missus, “and taking care of a puppy will do the trick.”
As it sometimes turns out, the sole responsibility accepted by the teens was to name the pup “Tuffy.”
Perhaps “Tuffy” suffered embarrassment being collared by such a pedestrian name, given the lordly heritage of his breed. Being an intuitively intelligent canine, Tuffy may have realized that waiting for John or Linda to fill his water and food dishes was a losing proposition.
Tuffy, like most dogs, immediately spotted the family “softie.” Tuffy adopted Charley as his master. Which delighted Charley, and no doubt John, Linda, and Charley’s wife, Myrtis.
During the years of Tuffy’s life, Charley and the fiercely protective dog were constant companions. Their favorite games were tug of war which Tuffy always won, and pitch a tennis ball which Tuffy scrambled and scrabbled to retrieve. It must be noted that Tuffy’s running style was more elephantine than gazelle-like. He made up for his lack of elegance with abundant enthusiasm.
Tuffy’s enthusiasm sometimes wrecked dining room furniture and broke lamps. Charley mollified Myrtis by buying replacements she chose from the best lighting and furniture makers. Whenever she saw Charley reach for the tennis ball, Myrtis quickly removed her new chairs and lamps to safety.
In spite of Tuffy’s hefty physique (2 feet 6 inches at the shoulder, weight 135 pounds), Charley encouraged him to sprawl across his lap while he read the paper or watched “Wheel of Fortune,” his favorite TV program.
Like all bullmastiffs, Tuffy was a copious drooler. The Porters insisted his drooling increased when the lovely “Wheel” hostess Vanna White appeared on the screen. Tuffy slobbered several pairs of khakis and jeans into the dirty clothes basket. As Myrtis good-naturedly said, “That’s what they make washers for.”
But after Tuffy thoroughly soaked the coat and trousers of Charley’s new suit, postponing their wedding anniversary celebration at a luxurious restaurant, Myrtis laid down the law. She said Charley must drape a piece of oilcloth and a heavy towel across his lap to control at least some of the drool.
When Charley retired as a mechanic with General Electric, he and Myrtis and Tuffy moved to Beaufort, South Carolina to be near their son John and his young family. John worked as a civil engineer at Parris island Marine base, and his wife was the librarian at the Beaufort Public Library.
Tuffy loved to ramble along the shallow mud flats near the Intracoastal Waterway, chasing but never catching the various species of waterfowl that inhabit the tidal wetlands. Myrtis loved his ramblings as much as Tuffy. The household budget for replacement furniture and lamps had zero-ed out.
Tuffy especially loved to accompany Charley on his trips to the Beaufort pier to fish. The huge dog supposed that the fish which flopped at the end of Charley’s line meant danger to his master. Only Charley’s quickness prevented the sturdy canine from dispatching the finny threats.
During Tuffy’s tenth year, he lost a battle with a car. Although the veterinarian gave it her best professional efforts, Tuffy had to be euthanized.
Needless to say, Tuffy’s death sent Charley into some serious grief. He insisted, and the family readily agreed, that Tuffy should be cremated. Charley further decreed that when he met his Maker, he was to be cremated, and Tuffy and Charley would share a common grave. Myrtis, John and Linda consented, and assured Charley his wishes would be carried out.
Well, dear readers, in May of this year death came calling at the Porter household in Beaufort, South Carolina. Charley Porter succumbed to an unexpected heart attack. Charley was cremated, as he had wished. His urn of ashes rested alongside Tuffy’s identical urn on a shelf in the pantry.
The Porter family owned funeral plots in Lakeview Cemetery near Erie. Linda Porter, who still lived in Erie, supervised the funeral arrangements. Charley and Myrtis still had a goodly number of friends living in Erie, and since the Porters had been lifelong members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, a church funeral and burial service would be celebrated for Charley.
John Porter would drive his mother to Erie for the funeral. On the day of the trip, Myrtis had packed her suitcase, washed the breakfast dishes, And was in the process of retrieving the urns when the phone rang. A friend called to wish her a safe trip, and assured Myrtis she would be thinking of her on the day of the funeral. While she waited for John, Myrtis dried and put away the dishes, and made certain the coffee pot was unplugged.
After work, John drove into Beaufort to pick up his mother for the two-day trip to Erie. They would arrive the morning of the church service, which would be cutting it close, but as Charley used to say, “That’s the way the cracker crumbles .”
Myrtis assured her son she had both urns in a cardboard box, sealed with mailing tape. John put the box in the trunk.
Giving his best imitation of a NASCAR driver, John Porter arrived at St. Paul’s with fifteen minutes to spare. In the church parking lot, John opened the trunk. Myrtis used the box cutter she had picked up from Charley’s work bench to cut through the tape.
Myrtis opened the box to take the urns into the church. Her heart stopped. The box held only one urn: Tuffy’s! Charley was still sitting on the pantry shelf in Beaufort!
The mourners were filing into the church. What to do? Myrtis, John and Linda hastily devised a secret pact: Tuffy would “stand in” for Charley Porter. “When I die,” Myrtis stated, “my ashes will be added to Charley’s and we will share a grave under my headstone.”
Thus Tuffy the bullmastiff, faithful to his beloved master to the end (literally), received praise from the Sunday School Superintendant for Tuffy’s six years teaching the 5th graders. Twenty years ago, Tuffy had repaired the furnace which still performed like an expensive watch.
John and Linda praised Tuffy as a wonderful father, loving and always full of fun. The earnest condolences of a sympathetic congregation of Lutherans, the meaningful and comforting funeral service, the commending of Tuffy to God, “A lamb of your own fold, a sinner of your redeeming. . . “ was a fitting finale for a life well-spent.
Following the graveside ceremony, the family and congregation returned to the church kitchen to enjoy a lovely potluck dinner. A close friend of the Porters, had prepared Tuffy’s favorite: lemon jello with shredded celery and carrots.
And Charley who had a wonderful, wacky sense of humor, doubtless laughed to beat the dickens.
If you haven't read The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service, I encourage you to read it. You'll be glad you did.