My Grandma and her Dachshund

By Randi Lindholm Hansen

My parents wanted to name me Karla. Actually, they wanted to name me Astrid, but when some of their friends had a daughter just before I was born, they named her Astrid, and then that name was out of the question. That’s when they thought about Karla. But my Grandma had a dachshund named Karla, and they somehow found it inappropriate to name their first born after a dog. Out of discouragement, I assume, they decided on Randi. 

So Karla the dachshund got to keep her name. She was a very sweet and incredibly spoiled dog. When I was two, Karla and I would sit side by side on the wooden bench in Grandma’s country kitchen and eat boiled pork sausages in bite-sized pieces. I’ve been assured they were served on separate plates, but I’m not absolutely convinced. The two-year-old me and the dachshund were equal in size as we sat on the bench. We could barely see above our plates, and when we finished eating we would both rest our cheek on the table while looking affectionately at Grandma. Karla was more used to eating off the table than I was. That was Grandpa’s doing, but he wasn’t around anymore to blame.

Grandma couldn’t tell the days apart. She never could for as long as I knew her. But in my childish ignorance, I assumed this was just how old people were. Grandma had a whiteboard in her kitchen. This was where her guests helped her keep track of which day it was and what appointments she had. Over time, more and more details had to go up there. And eventually I realized that Grandma wasn’t just confused. She was bewildered.

Grandma often preferred my company to that of the adults. I wouldn’t correct her if she said something inaccurate, and I wouldn’t laugh at her foolishness unless she laughed first. When I was five, I asked if I could try on Grandma’s dresses, and she let me. I admired Grandma’s wardrobe, though no one else in the family did. She wore patterned dresses made from a synthetic fabric, which all had the exact same cut and were gathered at the waist with a matching belt. Easy to put on and easy to maintain. I loved dressing up, and Grandma appreciated the humor in the five-year-old me wearing her full-length garments. When I put on the first dress, my aunt had to help me tie the belt underneath my armpits so I wouldn’t fall over. Grandma laughed so hard that she couldn’t be of any assistance. I proudly catwalked out into the garden where my parents were cheering me on. Grandma followed merrily, clapping her small hands in joy. And Karla, as always, came lumbering after her.

Grandma overfed Karla. Out of love, of course. She’d forget when she’d last fed the dog and, as a precaution, fed it again. Unfortunately, this went on for years. Karla gradually lost her already sparse fur, and when her short legs couldn’t keep up with her growing stomach, walking became a considerable challenge.

One winter day when I was seven, Grandma and I were watching an election debate on TV. Grandma was in the brown suede chair with the white furry lambskin on it, and I was on the wall-to-wall carpeted floor in front of her. My mum was in the kitchen adjacent to us, discreetly removing all of Grandmas’ drinking glasses from the dusty wooden cupboard, washing them carefully and rinsing them in boiling hot water before putting them back. The last time we were there she’d done the cutlery. My dad was entertaining my two-year-old brother in the guest room. No one ever spent the night there, as everyone Grandma knew lived very close by. Instead, it was used to store old toys. The general election was coming up and Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the liberal prime minister candidate, was dear to Grandma. He represented the party favored by farmers and, as my Grandpa had been exactly that, Grandma felt a profound obligation to keep his vision alive. Grandma pointed to the oval screen of her wood veneer TV and told me, in a barely audible voice, that this was the man we were voting for. I looked at the screen and nodded, agreeing with her that this man looked very nice. He looked like my Grandpa.

“Don’t listen to your Grandma,” Mum hooted from the kitchen. “In our family, we like the other man in the debate.”

“Why?” I asked unconcerned.

Before Mum had finished explaining why the social democrat was a more suitable choice for our country’s future, Dad entered the living room. His steps were silent on the soft flooring, but his voice was hardened. I knew this to be the voice of unpleasant truths.

“Mum, can you please not tell Randi who she should root for,” he said firmly.

Dad was thirty-seven and had voted left wing for the past nineteen years.

“We will tell her what we think she needs to know, when she needs to know it.”

Grandma laughed her heartwarming laughter and waved her hand evadingly at him.

“I’m serious, Mum. We don’t want you to fill her head with your nonsense. Preaching politics is not your strong suit and it’s not your job,” Dad insisted.

“I didn’t tell her anything,” Grandma giggled.

“I’m voting for Uffe,” I announced. 

“What have you done to our daughter?” Mum called out, without interrupting her task. Dad sighed and turned around to leave. And as he did, he saw a trembling, blue-ish dachshund through the garden window. Karla looked directly at him, with her short legs buried in snow and only her hairless stomach preventing her from sinking in all the way.

“Mum! How long has Karla been outside?”

After this incident it was decided that neither Karla nor Grandma benefitted from their relationship anymore. Grandma’s constant guilt about Karla was a burden to her, except when she altogether forgot about the dog’s existence. And Karla had, once and for all, given up walking, as it didn’t seem worth it anymore. However, Grandma was in no state to understand the necessity of such a decision. So she wasn’t told. One day, Dad and I picked up Grandma and took her to our place. Meanwhile, my aunt abducted Karla. She took her to the vet, had her put down, and brought her back to Grandma’s house. She gently laid Karla in her basket underneath the whiteboard in the kitchen, as if she had passed away in her sleep. Later that night, though, when Grandma called our house to tell us about Karla’s death, the dog had, evidently, crawled to the front door and, while waiting for its mother to return, died on the mat.

Grandma wanted Karla buried in the flowerbed underneath her bedroom window. That way she could say goodnight to the dog every night. The flowerbed had bloomed beautifully once, but now it was as neglected as the rest of the garden. In her heyday, Grandma had taken as much responsibility for our outdoor area as her own living area, but now the Scandinavian winter had deprived the former oasis of its vitality. Grandma demanded a grave big enough to fit both Karla and her basket. Dad dug a hole one full meter long and wide in the frozen dirt. The dog, wrapped in blankets, was lowered into the grave in its basket. Then it was covered with Grandpa’s old duvet before the hole was filled in. On top of the dirt, Grandma put a quilt. She didn’t want Karla to freeze in the frosty weather. Then, standing in Grandma’s flowerbed, shivering from the cold, we all said a few words of goodbye.

When I was ten, we executed a similar maneuver to Karla’s departure and moved Grandma into a nursing home. An incident involving Grandma paying a podiatrist in carefully counted napkins was the decisive circumstance. One afternoon, while my mum, my brother, and I took Grandma on an outing, Dad and my aunt moved a sensible selection of Grandma’s furniture into a one-room apartment at the elder-care center. That same night, we dropped Grandma off at her new home. And as she recognized the furniture, she quietly accepted that this was where she lived. When we later emptied Grandma’s house, I inherited her piano, which neither she nor I could play. And when the house was sold to a young family, no one informed them of what was buried in the flowerbed underneath their bedroom window.