Sunday, April 27, 2008


I was sitting on the back deck, looking down at the yard, and suddenly thought of Junts. He is buried somewhere down there, under a cherry tree that is long gone, so I could never find his actual grave. But that is not important. I know his remains are there somewhere.

This is the only picture I have of Junts. My mother is in the foreground, and my grandmother is trying to explain something to Junts, or else is nagging him about something. My parents got Junts as a first anniversary present from some of their friends. He was a strong German Shepherd and rumor had it that he had killed sheep, but this might have been my mother’s typical exaggeration. He was certainly incredibly protective of my mother and me. When my mother went walking with me in the pram and someone would come up to us, Junts would run over and place himself between us and the visitor. He never did anything, but just stood there until the visitor, who got the message, left.

Junts was well known in the village of Pirita. After the war, when we were already in the United States, there had been no opportunity for communication and my mother and father did not know the fate of their own parents. During these Stalinist times just getting a letter from America was dangerous and put one under immediate threat from the secret police. We did not want to take this risk, and so my father addressed the first letter with the news that we were in America to "Junts, Pirita, Tallinn, Estonia" and it was deliverd to my grandparents! We then found out that my mother's parents were alive and well and living in the old house (the one pictured above) but that my father's father had drowned in 1947 while illegally fishing at night.

One day when I was about two years old, Junts was in the kitchen when my mother was cooking and he was rewarded with a juicy bone. Apparently my mother did not have an eye on me and I waddled up to Junts and took the bone out of his mouth and started to gnaw on it myself. Suddenly my mother saw what was happening and was certain that Junts would at least growl and take back his bone. Instead, this ferocious dog just lay down on the floor with a sad expression on his face and let me gnaw away.

When we left in 1944 Junts died of a broken heart. He stopped eating and eventually just gave up. He was buried in the back yard under a cherry tree that is no longer there.

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