Miss Crumpet died a virgin. It was her wish, respected by her family and certified by a veterinarian’s scalpel. The act was done in her third year of life, when she was most desirable to gentleman callers. But by then, Miss Crumpet had adopted us. She had no need for traditional motherhood. It was not coldness or aloofness that caused her to squat and emit a fierce warning growl that sent suitors packing. It was merely that she had pledged her troth elsewhere.

For nearly 17 years she discharged that commitment with filial diligence and perseverance. She bossed and chastised babysitters, whose discipline over their temporary charges — two young girls and a dog, ages eight, six and two, respectively — she considered excessive. She was nurse, confidante, playmate, keeper of secrets, and a comfort in times of family despair.

Miss Crumpet knew no tricks. Perhaps this — if lack it was — was in the breed, or perhaps she had early decided to deny herself such frivolity in favor of the devotion she lavished upon us. She greeted many a large “boy” who trespassed on her domain with a sharp tooth on a furry paw, dispatching him yelping. She commanded the respect — and fear — of the wildlife that resided nearby. Many a prudent rabbit and cocky blue jay gave her the wide berth her speed and determination deserved. Cats, too, stalked her domain at their risk. She terrorized guests with a leap that brought dog and visitor eye to eye — such was the powerful spring in her short legs. Yet her affection knew few bounds. She was never happier than when she was dispensing motherly affection and instruction to us all.

The notification of Miss Crumpet’s official existence arrived on the last day of October 1967 — three months after her real existence began, and two months after she came to share our lives. “Breed: Welsh Terrier; Color: Black and Tan; Sire: Pool Forge Rusty; Dam: Alexia Corky Welsh,” read the kennel club certificate. But such official stuff conveys no more information about Miss Crumpet than a name selected at random from a telephone directory provides a clue to the subscriber’s character.

She enjoyed five birthday celebrations annually — ours and her own. She believed that the ritual singing of Happy Birthday was always in her honor. She nursed the girls through the usual — and unusual — childhood maladies. The master and mistress of the house were treated to her nursing care without discrimination, when they were felled by their own ailments. She particularly like music — Mozart and Beethoven were her preferences, although she would tolerate the girls’ music — to a point. Until her brown eyes were denied the light, they were pools of compassion — a compassion she bestowed without measure as an antidote to the accumulation of life’s great sorrows.

But time must have a stop. There came a day when her leap had lost its spring. She took to dozing in the sun, rather than chase off uninvited visitors to her yard. Now she made no distinction in greeting the master whether he had returned from a day at the office or from a month in Europe. Given in keep of strangers during family travels, she gave her temporary custodians a fright by sleeping what appeared to be the sleep of death. She bore the deprivations and aggravations of her declining years bravely, usually without complaint.

Then, on a morning early in May, master and dog awoke at first light. Miss Crumpet was carried into the sunlight of her yard. There, blind and tethered, she roamed her small portion of the domain she had once ruled, while her master busied himself with a spade. He could have been readying a new bed to receive spring flowers. Periodically, he would cease work and comfort his friend. But she could neither hear his words nor see his person. Nonetheless, she sensed his presence. She recognized the familiar touch and the route of caress as his hands traveled over her body, now skeletal under the still splendid brown-and-tan coat which belied its years. An upstart rabbit approached from under the split-rail fence. Sans sight, smell and hearing, Miss Crumpet made no effort to change its course, for she was already living elsewhere.

She accompanied us willingly into the car, strangely without the trepidation that usually declared itself as palsy when she was uncertain of her destination. Since puppyhood she had instinctively known when the object of a journey was the doctor’s office and not a run in the park or a swim in a nearby stream. It was this innocent giving of trust that made her ultimate betrayal the more painful to bear.

As the plunger pushed the lethal serum into the vein, Miss Crumpet uttered two short and distinctive sounds — first a deep growl of protest, then a moan of resignation. Then she went still and limp. Our hands still held her in her first seconds of death, as they had in her last seconds of life.

We wrapped her in the yellow blanket that had seen service on our daughters’ beds; the same one that had covered Miss Crumpet at many a playtime romp when the three had been young together. At home, we carried her into her yard and to the grave that had been prepared in the freshness of the morning, even as she had walked in her darkness in the sunlight, constrained by a chain anchored to the huge maple.

We wrapped her carefully, for her last sleep. After a farewell caress, we covered her head, before the first trowel of earth was placed around her, and then sprinkled a fine film over the blanket. After the last trace of yellow had disappeared, we alternately shoveled the rest of the dirt gently into the grave.

Two Canada geese broke the silence, honking a salute as they soared low above the tree line. The sunlight played among the shadows. Sparrows in the tall maple scolded greedy starlings. The smell of the newly turned spring earth proclaimed the promise of life, contradicting the finality of the moment. Ivy at the base of the chimney fluttered in the faint breeze. The scent of lilac in first bloom announced its rebirth. In the distance, the mournful whistle of a train moaned a benediction. Miss Crumpet was home, at rest in her yard.

After an interval of mourning, these words were cut into the face of a granite tablet:


1967 -- 1984


The words and numerals have survived a quarter century of Pennsylvania weathers, except in the lushness of high summer; then Crump’s memorial stone is invaded by a multitude of hardy ferns imported many seasons past from woods that surround a Chilmark house. Those were joyous days; days when Miss Crumpet was in her prime and her master passed many a golden October afternoon with Christina Rossetti — and other verse-makers — on deserted Lucy Vincent sands. “Sing no sad songs for me; Plant thou no roses at my head,” the poet enjoined those left behind. These were halcyon years; years when all the Vineyard’s grapes were sweet and the faces of Island friends — new and old — still visible.

Richard Kepler Brunner is a longtime seasonal visitor to Chilmark. A retired editorial page editor of a Times-Mirror newspaper, he lives in Emmaus, Pa., and contributes occasional commentary pieces to the Gazette.