We pick up the soft, yellow-blonde puppy on a Sunday afternoon. My daughter, almost four, and my son, 18 months, can’t help but reach their chubby arms into the cardboard box between their car seats, shrieking happily every time the puppy moves, or licks them, or lays down.
By Monday morning, the puppy—now named “Cuervo” after Cuervo Gold tequila—has become a pariah. There are no longer happy sounds coming from the kids. Rather they are crying with despair each time they come upon another chewed up toy that’s on the ground.
By Monday afternoon, our backyard has a pile of what will become a common sight… dog poop flecked with colorful pieces of blue, yellow, or red plastic. Yellow lab puppies are like that Nutri Ninja Blender on infomercials—anything near them is immediately pulverized.
My 18-month old son, begins walking around the house, blinking his eyes with his arms stretched out as he becomes Cuervo’s favorite source of flavorful licks, what with the leftover peanut butter and jelly on his face.
Alternately, the puppy grabs my son by the forearm and pulls him around for entertainment. Sharp little puppy teeth leave little to argue with if you are a toddler. I hear the screams, follow them to the dining room, and find my son being pulled by Cuervo, his face a mixture of disbelief and terror.
My previously happy, creative daughter morphs into a strict Catholic school nun, punishing Cuervo with timeouts and carrying a plastic Power Rangers’ Sword of Light to stop him from chewing her toys.
What was I thinking getting a puppy with two small children? I was thinking of puppy breath, soft belly rubs, and something that had enough energy to keep up with my playful, inquisitive kids.
I was not thinking about a soft, yellow bundle of terror.
Since it is early in my adult life, I am more familiar with tequila than wine, so per the new puppy’s name, I begin keeping a blender full of margaritas in the freezer so that at 5:01 p.m. each night, I can scoop a few spoonfuls into a waiting glass.
A little Cuervo to help Mommy deal with a little Cuervo.
Six months later, the house is calmer. Cuervo is learning manners, my son is taller, and my daughter is thinking of creative costumes for all three of them…
Eventually he becomes the patient caretaker I’d envisioned. He is Tonto to my Lone Ranger, watching over the kids as they play.
We move from San Diego, i.e. lots of sidewalks and fences to Park City, Utah, i.e. lots of dry, beautiful snow and open space.
Now the Power Ranger’s Sword of Light is used to defend snow forts from black noisy birds common in the mountains called magpies. Shrieks of joy come from outside. Cuervo lies on the towel the kids have put on the snow.
As I prep dinner in the condo kitchen, I pour myself a glass of White Oak Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley in California, which turns out to be the perfect pairing to foreshadow a career in the wine industry.
I don’t know it at the time, but it is my gateway wine.
Some of the most economical Chardonnay—important to me at the time—in the U.S. is from Australia and California, two areas that often use oak to add personality to the wine. The oak aging adds richness and a buttery flavor, along with aromas of toasted butterscotch, a combination of many foods I’m trying to stay away from as a young mother attempting to fit into my 15-year-old ski pants.
Chardonnay is decadence in a glass. And White Oak Chardonnay is the first wine I fall in love with.
In the condo complex, we still find Cuervo’s poops to pick up by looking for fleks of yellow, blue and red. This time the colors are from “indestructible” dog toys, not the kids’ toys. They’ve learned the hard way to pick things up.
Cuervo learns all the neighborhood personalities. He meets the Catholic nuns who live down the street and give him full-size Milkbone treats whenever he stands at their back, sliding-glass door. Whenever we can’t find him, we know where to look.
As he and my children grow, so does my wine interest. I sip whites like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and even something called Viognier.
As I prepare dinner one night, my wine glass at the side of the stove, a neighbor knocks and opens the front door. He escorts my son, now 6, and Cuervo through the entryway. The two of them were planning an escape from family life. My son opens his backpack to reveal his toothbrush, and a handful of dog food.
As the allure of Power Ranger toys and American Girl dolls fade, soccer balls and expensive cleats take their place by the front door. Cuervo’s strong body begins getting weak. He doesn’t jump into the car anymore for our family road trips, and rather than greeting us at the door, his tail only thumps when we walk into the house.
Seemingly in an instant, but probably more like six months, his back legs stop working and we know it is time.
Our vet shows up at our house. The family gathers and Cuervo goes to heaven, where his body no longer hinders his fun. His new friend, Jackson, a golden retriever who lives with us now, places his head on Cuervo’s still body.
That night our family gathers in the kitchen relating stories, alternately laughing and crying. As I ponder what wine to pair with dinner, I pass the refrigerator and am drawn to the freezer. I pull out some ice cubes.
Cuervo Gold is the pairing for tonight, the perfect pairing for the loss of a pet, a friend we got to love for 12 years.
As the blender shreds the ice, I remember Cuervo’s first few months at our house, his puppy teeth pulverizing my children’s colorful toys. And the colorful fleks in his poop.
He always found a way to brighten even the dullest things.