The Emptiness Under the Table
No dog I’ve ever known was as obsessed with food as Ike, the floppy-eared English cocker spaniel I added to my family 18 years ago. He lived to eat.
Ike was docile, sweet and dopey, but — trust me — he was more wolf than dog. Turn your back when setting hors d’oeuvres on a table and the vanishing trick he performed with them would put David Blaine to shame.
Those antics changed how we spoke about food in our house. We began branding favorite dishes with his name. One year, our classic Thanksgiving Day walnut spread became known as “Ike’s pate” after he gulped down a whole bowl of it before the first guests had even arrived.
We did our darnedest to train him to stop begging or jumping up on the surfaces where we prepped and served meals. And, within a couple of years, we succeeded. Sort of. We never managed to cure Ike of his fixation with food; and his leaping and grabbing merely morphed into quieter, more deliberate stalking tactics.
He would sit next to me as I chopped, eyes fixed firmly on the floor, waiting for my knife work to prove clumsy enough for a carrot or tomato to drop. Ike moved with me, like a furry shadow, from fridge to stove to table. When we ate, he would sit pressed against my calves under the table, poised to catch anything that accidentally flew off a plate.
There were plenty of occasions when I wanted to push him away and shut him in another room while I cooked or ate — Ike could be annoying, for sure. But somehow his attentiveness always managed to hook my heart. At no time was his devotion more pronounced than on Thanksgiving, when hours of cooking meant hours of him staring at the floor — and at me.
Over the years, the crowd around my Thanksgiving table has thinned due to the natural order of things — kids growing up and adults moving on. I’ve gradually shaped new holiday traditions and new bonds, and they’ve mostly made up for the absence of former “fixtures,” though not entirely.
One vacancy has proven to be un-fillable — the one left by the dopey, droopy, utterly devoted dog who traced my every move and gobbled up every fallen crumb in my home for more than a decade. Three years ago, Ike abruptly “left the table.”
This Thanksgiving, I‘ll be experimenting with some new dishes and cooking up some classics. One of the appetizers I’ll be serving is a menu mainstay: Ike’s pate. My guests make it vanish pretty quickly every year, but not as fast as my favorite dog once did on a Thanksgiving Day way back when.
This article originally appeared on nextavenue.org