Uncommon Benefits of A Common Enterprise
My (considerably) better half has been showing and breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniels for a decade and then some. Jackie’s kennel is named Top Meadow Cavaliers, after G.K. Chesterton’s Beaconsfield estate.
Chesterton was not a spaniel man. He owned an Aberdeen Terrier named Quoodle, immortalized in a poem celebrating the things dogs appreciate, but which men, because of our fallen nature, do not: the “wind of winter forests” and “the breath of brides adorning” and the true smell of roses.
In his essay, “On Keeping a Dog,” Chesterton goes further and suggests that dogs understand us more clearly than we do: “But my dog knows I am a man, and you will not find the meaning of that word written in any book as clearly as it is written in his soul.” Chesterton wastes no time puzzling over the singular relationship between men and dogs. So much of it—like all of God’s gifts—is confined to the realm of mystery. He is content to say:
“Somehow this creature has completed my manhood; somehow, I cannot explain why, a man ought to have a dog. A man ought to have six legs; those other four legs are part of him. Our alliance is older than any of the passing and priggish explanations that are offered of either of us; before evolution was, we were.”
Needless to say, lines like those have never been penned about a goldfish or a ferret, much less about that doubtful Egyptian contribution to the world of pets, the housecat. In To Know Christ Jesus,Frank Sheed declares his belief that the Holy Family did not own a cat. I agree. A painting that hangs in the Prado, however, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo seems proofpositive that the Holy Family did own a dog. It is a sentimental scene showing Our Lady and St. Joseph looking on with fondness as the Child Jesus seems to tease the family dog with a bird he holds in his hand. Mary spins, and behind Joseph rest the plane, square and saw of a carpenter. Although spindle and workbench are in the background, for the soul who takes a moment to contemplate the painting, a deep reality of family life comes into focus. Undergirding domestic joy is something not common in modern households: common enterprise.
A few months ago, Jackie and I hosted a dinner for dear friends, a young lady and her fiancé. We gathered other married couples around some vermicelli with pesto and plenty of Chianti to share secrets of success. Jackie’s and my contribution was to extol the benefits of common enterprise, in our case, Top Meadow Cavaliers. Jackie runs the kennel, and I’m the unpaid kennel help, but it is something that brings us joy to work on together.
Three of four sons are largely launched, but when they were young, they were there to help with whelping; they took their shifts with new pups to be sure they were feeding and gaining weight, and they wrestled crates in and out of the van for trips to the vet and the show ring. Potential puppy buyers who came to the house and met our sons learned that our Cavaliers were bred and raised in a lively (euphemism for noisy) and loving home.
Our little kennel is hardly the kind of common enterprise that was at the center of the home in Nazareth. Saint Joseph actually supported the family with the family business! We are happy when puppy sales cover showing, breeding, and veterinary expenses. Nonetheless, whether we should call Top Meadow a family business or a hobby, the kennel is a common family activity, a kind of making our way in a world in which most homes are little more than mortgages on a sphere of consumption.
Long before the pills and promiscuity of the sexual revolution broke apart so many marriages, the Industrial Revolution broke the family bonds formed by common enterprise. First men and then women were taken—as my friend Allan Carlson puts it in his superb book of the same title—From Cottage to Work Station. More than a century later, common functions of the home, or better, functions of the home done in common, have been lost. Food preparation is an obvious example, but another is entertainment. Guitars, fiddles and storytelling are given over entirely to earbuds and screens, each family member with his own device. Could we be more atomized?
Whether you are a newlywed, are celebrating 26 years this May as Jackie and I are, or have lost count of your years of wedded bliss, it’s not too late to unite in a common enterprise. Indeed, homegrown entertainment is any easy place to start. Create stories or read to one another.
Your first litter won’t be far behind.
CHRISTOPHER CHECK is president of Catholic Answers, the largest lay-run apologetics and evangelization apostolate in the English-speaking world (learn more at Catholic.com). He is also a Legate in the San Diego Chapter.