On a visit to my father, Annie the Labrador steals the show

Annie the labrador
Maggie Davies

Back home at my dad’s place, my son reunites with a close friend.

‘Annie the puppy!’ my son screams as we enter my father’s house, making a bee line for the black Labrador who is, conversely, making a bee line for him. My father’s dog, for she is a puppy no more, has grown tremendously since we last saw her.

‘Daddy, what the hell are you feeding her?’ I ask, before being shown a nondescript silver dish filled with dry dog food pellets, where realistically a platter of zebra steaks and protein powders would have made more sense.

My son first met Annie when she was six weeks old, and Annie the Puppy is simply her name now – a three-word soubriquet enshrined in permanent fact, like Kermit the Frog or Henry the Eighth. Annie is the size of a small bear, ‘and still growing!’ my sister’s fiancé Eddie adds with pride, as Annie licks my son with a tongue twice the length of his head.

We’ve landed at my dad’s house for two events for my memoir, one in my hometown of Derry, and another in Ballyshannon, across the border in Donegal. I’ve talked my dad into attending the latter, which will be the first time he’s been to any of my book events, at which I mostly talk about him throughout.

On Sunday afternoon, my son, Daddy, Eddie and I pile into the car to make the trip. Donegal is wildly picturesque and the journey evokes memories of family holidays and school trips taken through winding hills and deep, green valleys.

My father doesn’t recall me going on any school trips because I forged his signature on all school correspondence, a practice he wholeheartedly endorsed as a father of 11 kids who had long since outgrown a passion for scrutiny by the time I, his ninth child, started thrusting permission slips and teacher’s notes in front of his face.

We arrive at the venue to find some old friends of my father’s have crossed the border for the event. It is the 30th anniversary of my mother’s death and, with gentle alarm, one woman works out that she hasn’t seen us since the funeral. I am told I look like just like my mother and, with a gasp, that my son looks like me or, at the very least, the me they last saw in that church in 1991.

The event is a great success, marred only by my son’s decision to blare Paw Patrol at max volume for a few seconds near the end. But my father is to have the last laugh at the signing afterwards, when all present work out that he is the self-same Daddy mentioned throughout the text, and begin thrusting their copies of the book into his hands.

Slowly, a growing circle of devotees flocks in his direction and, for a solid 20 minutes, every book I receive to sign arrives already blotted with the self-same chicken scratch I remember aping throughout my childhood. ‘I could have done you a better one than that,’ I try to tell them once I’ve signed, but no one hears. They are already making their way over to shake his hand.

Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78.

(Story source: The Guardian)

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