I’ve often waxed poetic (or at least posted prose) about my love, Linda Herman. I’ve worn out my list of adjectives trying to describe how wonderful she is, and how good she is for me. This Christmas, she demonstrated her love with the best material gift I have ever received.
What could this gift be? It is a two-foot high concrete statue of an Irish Setter. Yes, you all know that I love Irish Setters, but that wouldn’t make this the best gift ever. So what would? I hope you have a few minutes as this is a convoluted answer.
The story starts with my great-grandfather Hall. I don’t know much about the man, I don’t even know his name. The generation before me simply referred to him as “Grandpa Hall.” By the time I was aware enough to ask his name, my father no longer remembered it.
Here is what I do know about the man. He owned a farm in Spring Lake, MI bordered on the south by modern-day M-104, on the west by Fruitport Road, on the north by the railroad tracks, and on the east by the swamp. On this farm he raised pigs, which he smoked and sold as bacon & ham in the surrounding communities.
The other, more interesting thing, that he did on his property was breed and train what he called “Irish Bird Dogs.” We would know them today as Irish Setters & Irish Red & White Setters. Even then they were trying to breed the white out so that they could develop into the red dogs that we know today.
Great-grandfather Hall always kept three dogs for breeding – a male named Patrick and two bitches named Molly & Sue. When one passed on, or retired from breeding, he would replace it with another dog with the same name. So he always had Patrick, Sue, & Molly. This allowed him to sell to returning satisfied clients another dog with the same parents as their previous dog. And disgruntled customers could be offered a dog from the other mother.
This practice of Patrick, Sue, & Molly was carried on by my grandfather, Melvin Bristol Hall. He didn’t do the dogs as a full time profession like his father did, but he kept the Patrick, Sue, & Molly tradition alive.
Now my father, Melvin Edward Hall, didn’t breed dogs. We always had at least one dog in the house, most of them Irish Setters. But in my little atomic family, my mother claimed naming rights for all pets. So we had Duke, Jojo, Koof, Kerry, & Scarlet.
Then in 1992, Dad retired from teaching. It turns out that there was an Irish Setter breeder near Coldwater, MI who had a bitch that was descended from one of my great-grandfather’s lines. And he presented the dog to my father as a retirement gift.
This was one of the rare occasions where my father stood up to my mother. He explained to her that the dog was a gift to him, the dog was part of his family history, and he would be naming her Molly! My mother didn’t speak to him for weeks afterword.
My uncle Ken Hall (Mel’s younger brother) had a much more entertaining response. Uncle Ken located a concrete, life-sized, concrete statue of an Irish Setter. Since Mel had a Molly, Ken brought him a Sue – Cement Sue (you have to say it like Jed Clampett – See-Ment Sue). And from that point on, we had Cement Sue stationed in our back yard.
The years were not kind to Cement Sue, as she stood sentry day and night in all kinds of weather. She may have lost pieces of concrete, leaving just bits of rebar hanging out. But she was always there, and Dad & I made a habit of saying hello to Cement Sue every time we came or went through the back door. As time went by Dad did indeed add a Sue to go along with his Molly. After many good years with Mel, Molly final had to go to the Rainbow Bridge. Fortunately, he still had his Sue, who stayed by his side until his death – and Cement Sue was still on station in the backyard.
When the bittersweet time came for me to leave 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, MI to join my lovely Linda in Durham, NC I discovered a sad, sorry truth. Cement Sue was so damaged, and so sunken into the very ground of the backyard that it would be impossible to move her. So with a very heavy heart, I left her behind at 712 Winter St.
In my heart, Cement Sue not only meant Molly & Dad but also 712 Winter St., Spring Lake, Uncle Ken & a grandfather & great-grandfather that I never met. Of course, being so sensitive, loving, caring, and attuned to me – Linda knew all of that. So she gave me not only a brand new Cement Sue – but also all of those important things left behind when I left Michigan. I have never received a finer gift with more love behind it. Thank you Linda – I love you.