The Effects of Persuasion

I was nine when I began working security. Standing at the front doors, leaning against the six-foot Corinthian columns clad in faux marble, I welcomed visitors to my grandparents’ home every Sunday.

Shouts, waving arms and pinched cheeks awaited those brave enough to enter the cavernous lobby under my watch.

As the oldest of ten grandchildren, I was also granted the privilege of caring for the rest of my cousins when we gathered together. It wasn’t called babysitting because that label came with the expectation of recompense. My grandmother (who stood all of about four-foot-three and handed out quarters like they were war rations) scowled at the idea of financially rewarding a family member for any task that would result in a proffering of food within the approaching twenty-four hours.

Shaking her fingers at the suggestion that I should be thanked as all other Canadian children were, she mumbled something incoherent under her breath and quickly followed with a flick of her pudgy fingers as she turned away. And just in case I was unaware of how inappropriate my offending suggestion was, an eye roll was added by a few of my boisterous cousins.

So, with bruised cheeks and a stinging ego, I stood sentry until the last family member or anticipated guest arrived. They brushed past, dropping their heavy coats into my arms and across my shoulders, greeting me with the look of labourers that had gone before me.

A slow nod and two raised eyebrows signified, “I get the pain.”

A shallow grunt and a few coins pushed into my palm said, “I’ve been there before. Keep up the fight.”

The sound of a snicker always heralded my weekly nemesis’ arrival as he sauntered through the door aware he was my grandparents’ favourite grandchild, reminding me of the unending preferential treatment he’d receive no matter what he broke, said, or did.

I hauled the weight of the coats to the bedroom at the end of the hall and layered them across the bed. The pungent scent of what I thought at the time was tobacco, saturated my uncle’s leather jacket and could only be avoided if you were standing next to my grandparent’s neighbour who had been marinating in red wine since noon. My aunt, who I believed was the early reincarnation of Sophia Loren, whispered strict instructions that the smelly jacket should not be placed anywhere near her expensive white wool coat.

With each instruction repeated, and the offending jacket placed over the back of the chair perched in the corner of the room (and my nemesis’ coat kicked under the bed) I had completed the first level of my tasks for the day.

From that point on, the non-Italian speaking factions of the family (there were only a few) nodded and smiled as rapid-fire conversation bounced around the room. Once in a while, a word was understood by these outliers, and a smile crawled across their faces as they incorrectly assumed they were learning the language.

Empathy toward these few people was the wrong approach, as it only invited pawing relatives to ask me to explain what was being said. I lied and feigned ignorance and excused myself to the basement where all my cousins were playing. As the oldest, everyone assumed that I’d watch over the children, and maybe even find a way to entertain them. But in reality, I’d consider it a successful afternoon if no one set anything on fire or knocked my grandfather’s miniature Roman statues to the ground. I wasn’t overly concerned with the quality of their amusement and I’d take a rare opportunity to sneak a can of soda from the stash of mix behind the bar and settle in for an afternoon of relaxation.

I quickly learned that silence was my enemy when the absence of the sounds of children playing brought a visit from above. I eventually learned how to create a perfect balance of serenity amongst the chaos that kept my cousins happy and preoccupied while keeping our parents convinced that everyone was safe and having fun. However, every now and again, an adult would wander into the basement and they’d offer their child-rearing advice or question the state of a child who found themselves in a precarious situation.

One time they had found my cousin’s head squished into my uncle’s old motorcycle helmet and another wearing my grandmother’s bra, and I was forced to explain how I could have failed so miserably at such a simple task of watching small children.

Pointing at the scratched helmet my uncle asked, “Why?”

“I was keeping him safe,” I explained. Proud of my resourcefulness.

“From what?” he wondered.

“Hitting his head.”


“Against the wall.”

The implication was there. This was not the smartest of the family members and maybe a career in sports would be his best option. Still, it was a day I looked forward to every week.

Large family gatherings, noisy groups of kids, and an endless array of food are now a distant memory. People age, move away, or just drift apart. So, imagine my surprise when my broadened skill set was no longer necessary at weekly family gatherings. I needed something to do, something to care for in my spare time. I had hoped that it would be the perfect opportunity to convince my parents to buy a dog, but no matter what I said, they wouldn’t budge.

The early 80s were what my parents referred to as ‘their time’ and it brought a wealth of freedom for my sister and me. We socialized and spread our wings, lounging at homes of friends whose parents splurged on luxuries like cable tv, satellite dishes, boxes of Kraft Dinner, and brand-name soda.

I was at such a friend’s house taking in the joys of MTV when we heard a painful yelp come from the yard next door. We ran outside and peered over the fence to witness a large, matted brown dog writhing in pain. I began to climb the fence, ready to help save this helpless animal from further suffering when my friend grabbed my shirt and pulled me back.

“She’s having her babies,” my friend said, nonchalantly and with the wealth of knowledge that only an experienced teen possessed as if it was a daily occurrence.

This is how babies were born? How did I not know this?

Why was this fact left out of conversations in a family that had a propensity for procreation?

I stretched my neck over the fence again, this time feeling like an intruder, and after another painful howl stabbed the air, I immediately decided that instead of birthing children of my own I would help my friends raise theirs. Eventually, the miracle of birth erased the horror of what I had witnessed, and I was cooing at the litter of slimy pups wiggling toward their mother.

The owner stepped out of his house wearing a classic Fruit-of-the-Loom sleeveless t-shirt and a pack of cigarettes crumpled in his pocket. He scratched his head and then looked at my friend and me as we glanced down at the confusion of pups. “Want one?” he said.

Need he ask twice? “What kind of dogs are they?”

“Sheppard Husky mix.”

“Will they get big? My mom won’t want a big dog, she’s afraid of dogs.” It didn’t occur to me that any dog, big or small, would be a bad idea for someone afraid of them. It appeared to be less of a concern to the owner who was eager to shed himself of the responsibility of a litter of pups.

"Not too big." He scratched his chin, sizing up the pups, and then proclaimed, “Why don’t you take the runt?”

Without waiting for my response, he lifted a pup from the middle of the litter and held it out, “I’ll put a collar on this one for you. Come back in a couple of weeks after she’s done feeding and you can take her home.”

For hundreds of years, insanity and not being of sound mind, has been an acceptable and legal plea for someone who was faced with being charged for a crime that they had no intention of committing. Apparently, it was unrecognized in my family as an excuse a few weeks later when I walked through the door with a bouncing cardboard box in my arms.

My mom peeled back the flap of the box and her tight frown softened as a soft pink tongue darted out from a black snout and licked her finger.

“What kind of dog is it?”

“A miniature Collie.”

She reached into the box and lifted the pup and snuggled it under her chin.

“She won’t get too big,” I lied.

Soon everyone’s lives were consumed by the dog. We adorned fancy collars with pink flowers, oversized pillows littered the floors in several rooms (just in case that was where our dog wanted to take a nap) and we truly believed that our dog was loved above all others.

Our dog’s elevated placement in our family hierarchy was confirmed when I saw the triple-digit veterinary bill, and price of the specialized dog food itemized on the bottom line. Her size was never questioned, my parents believing it was their love and attention that caused the dog to grow several inches taller and seventy pounds heavier than any other miniature Collie in the neighbourhood. It was also believed that her extra thick coat was the result of the over-priced dog food that she was fed throughout her life and my parents took pride in their exuberant care of our dog. The entire time, no one loved her any less because of the lies surrounding her arrival, and a few months after she died, my parents returned home with an authentic Collie and began the process of adoration and dog-parentage once again.

Two cats and another dog followed, and the placement of pets in our family was no longer a hopeful dream but a necessity.

After several years of my two sons begging for a pet, I returned home on a hot June day from the animal shelter with a rambunctious, untrained, multi-coloured dog. Rehearsing our sell speech the entire drive home, I reminded the boys that we were a team. I hoped to elicit the same fervour that Churchill did with his historic ‘We Shall Never Surrender’ speech, but I needed more time and it was a short drive home. I realized the intent of my message was lost when my youngest bounced out of the car and announced, “Mom got a dog.”

“He’s a rescue dog,” I yelled out in a desperate attempt to soften the blow of the unexpected pet’s arrival.

My carefully crafted explanations, and false promises that the dog's enormous paws were a birth anomaly and that the pup wouldn’t grow too large, were greeted with my husband’s feigned resignation and instant affection as the dog jumped on his lap.

“I guess I’m building a fence,” was all he said as he snuggled the dog under his arm.

Now we see families at the park, their young children lurching towards our large energetic dog pleading for a pet of their own. Their parents turn them away and explain that large dogs are too much work.

Their children’s words remind me of a more naive time when a world filled with less distraction offered more room to welcome a not-too-large puppy into many families’ lives. Now it’s our dog dressed in his stylish winter boots, and not our children, that garners our attention.

As we make our way through the park, we strain against the pull of the heavy leash and wave to those frightened parents, and happily continue on our way.


L.L. Abbott is an author, blogger and small business owner. Humor, murder and hope round out the themes of her writing and musings. Follow along on social media and visit Amazon, Kobo and Barnes & Noble for all published works.