Tillie was a dog who didn't want her master to go.
Copyrighted by Jerry W. Engler from his book, A Heartland Voice: Just Folks Two
Tillie and the secret she knew
The chill of a late-winter evening was settling in as Gary Ottenbury trudged from the milk barn in muddy boots, the light brown shepherd-collie-mix dog staying as close to him as she could.
He blinked wearily at the first stars shining in the sky above the last glow of a setting sun. Tomorrow night it wouldn’t be like this. His Uncle John would be milking the cows for him, and he, Gary Ottenbury, would be getting to his destination two states away with other cooperative members to see an ammonia fertilizer processing plant.
First, they would be checking into a convention-class motel with all the perks a corporate host could provide, and be enjoying a big dinner with like-minded friends and businessmen.
The dog clung closer to his leg as he peeled the worst of the black mud off his boots on a scraper. She whimpered lowly, and looked up at him with brown intelligent eyes.
“Tillie, old girl, how do you know? What are the clues that give it away? I haven’t packed my bags yet. I’ve done the same routines I always do. But somehow you know, don’t you girl, that I’m going on a trip.”
Gary took the boots off in the garage along with his coveralls that he hung on a hook by the door. His wife, Sue, opened the door to let him in.
“Gary,” she said, “what is with old Tillie? Ever since you went in the garage and left her out there, she’s been at the front door crying. She can’t know already that you’re leaving in the morning can she? I tell you she gets worse every time we go on a trip, even just one of us. I didn’t think she was going to let Ted get away to go back to college without crowding into the front seat with him.”
“She did crowd in with him. Don’t you remember? I had to pull her out through the passenger side while he shut the car door.”
“That’s right. I do remember.”
“Why don’t you go on ahead, and let her come in for a while this evening while I pack. Let her keep an eye on what I’m doing. It’s better than letting her whine at the front door.”
“Here she comes heading right after you for the bathroom, Gary. Are you going to let her in there while you shower? Oh, Hon, sometime this evening do try to fix that doorbell before you leave, will you? When I’m in the back sewing room it’s awfully hard to hear anybody at the door without that bell.”
“Sure, I’ll take a look at it. Yeah, come on in, Tillie. I’m glad you wiped her feet off, Sue. But she really didn’t get as dirty as usual. You know how she usually tries to run out into the lot to bring the next cow in even when it’s a little sloppy out?
“Well, she didn’t do that tonight. Just did like she’s doing now trying to crowd next to me, didn’t you, old girl. I guess it’s usually just sport for her to try to herd because she’s been around for enough years that even she ought to know that those old cows know perfectly well which one is next in the stall. At least she doesn’t bother the cows much because they know her so well. Gosh, I guess Tillie has to be 10 already isn’t she? That means we’ve probably gone down to milk cows together 3,000 times.”
“She has to be 10, Gary. We got her from old Potts, and he’s been gone nearly that long. Remember how you and Ted used to play with her, and take her to get cows? She’s been a good old dog. I bet she’d still play if it was you getting her to.
“Supper’s ready when you’re out of the shower.”
“I bet she might, Sue.”
“My gosh what are you doing in there? Why is Tillie growling now.”
“I baited her with the towel, Sue, and she’s pulling on it. You’re right, Tillie does remember how to play.”
At supper, Gary slipped a piece of roast beef to Tillie, but all the dog really seemed to want to do was lay her head in his lap. That wouldn’t work while he ate, so she settled for laying under the edge of the table with her head on his feet.
“Guess I’d better start packing, Sue. Tomorrow morning leaving at 5 to meet the others for the van ride is going to come early, as tired as I am tonight. I hope Uncle John gets along with the milking OK, and you don’t have to go out to help him for any reason.”
“Oh, he’ll do fine. Don’t worry about us. Just have fun. But, Gary, do see if you can fix that doorbell for me will you? As a matter of fact, would you do it before you pack so you aren’t too tired for it?
“Well, listen to that, Gary. You’ve only stood up for two minutes, and Tillie already is whining at you again.”
Gary looked at the dog as she tipped her head to whine at him again. He’d always liked her thick hair coat, the light brown nearly blonde with a white V-wedge on the chest and a white belly.
“You don’t think she’s sick or something do you, Sue?”
“No, I don’t think so. Somehow she knows you’re going. You don’t suppose she’s smart enough to have learned English, do you? Maybe she knows what ‘co-op trip’ means.”
“If she’s that smart, she knows all of our secrets. I don’t think we hide much from old Tillie anyway,” Gary said with screw drivers, sockets and pliers in hand.
A half-hour later, he said to Sue, “I guess I should let Tillie have a go at the doorbell if she’s really that smart. It still won’t work. I’ve tightened the wires down at contact. There’s nothing loose. There must be some kind of a short in it. Maybe we’ll just have to buy a new doorbell. I’m sorry, Hon, but I better just start packing, and put the doorbell off until I get back.”
“Oh gosh, Gary, I wish you could have fixed it. That’s OK, you can figure it out when you come back. I don’t think I’ll even ask Uncle John to look at it.”
Tillie let out a low mournful “ooowl” as Gary pulled the suitcase out. Then she paced nervously as he pulled clothing out until he told her to lay down. Then she lay depressed with her head on her front feet, eyes following his movements. Occasionally, she looked up again to whine for a while.
“Gad, I don’t know if I want to hear Tillie fussing much longer,” Gary said. “Maybe we ought to put her out for the night. I guess I could lock her in the shop building if she won’t stay quiet.”
“Oh, Gary, don’t do that. The poor old thing is just missing you already. Let her stay in the bedroom with us tonight. She’ll be OK. Here’s your good shoes to put by the suitcase for morning. I shined them for you.”
They didn’t hear the dog’s quiet movements during the night. But the first thing Gary asked after turning off the alarm, turning the light on, and clumping back from the bathroom was, “Hey, where are my shoes?”
Tillie laid there with her head against his suitcase while Gary first pulled his other clothes on, and then began searching for the shoes.
“Sue, can you help me find my shoes?”
“I bet I know where they’re at, Gary. Remember how I found Ted’s baseball glove behind the couch when I cleaned after he’d been gone for days? Yup, here’s your shoes behind the couch. Looks like Tillie was hiding things during the night.”
Tillie whined, then pushed against Gary’s legs. Then she tried to stand in front of him as he carried the suitcase through the freezing darkness to the car. After Gary and Sue embraced each other goodbye, Gary turned around only to have Tillie jump up on him putting her front feet on his coat.
“Tillie!” Gary said. “You know better than that. Now get down!”
But instead of slinking away ashamed, Tillie stood looking up at him with a sorrowful look in her brown eyes.
“She really doesn’t want you to go, Gary,” Sue said. “I agree with you. I think this is unusual for Tillie. I don’t think she’s ever been more upset about one of us taking a trip.”
“Well, get used to it, Tillie,” said Gary. “Sue and I are going to be traveling more all of the time, and not just on co-op business. We’re looking toward retirement.”
“We’ll just have to get Tillie a bag, and let her come along too, Gary.”
Tillie reared to put her front feet on the car’s side looking through the window at Gary as he started the car. “Come on, Tillie,” Sue said pulling the dog back. “You’ll scratch the car all up.”
As the car pulled out the driveway, Tillie walked to the middle of the yard, and sat upright on her haunches, watching.
Sue went back to the sewing room to work as was her habit while Gary milked cows. At 9 a.m. she looked out the front window. Tillie was still in the same spot, but now lay on her belly with her head on her paws pointing in the direction Gary had left.
Sue opened the door to listen a moment, but the dog wasn’t making a sound. At least she was settling down.
Uncle John came up soon with his red cap pulled down tight over his long white hair to report the cows’ morning milking done, reaching down to pat Tillie’s head as he came.
“Your old Tillie didn’t come down to the milk barn to keep me company while I milked like she usually does when Gary is gone. She must be getting old.”
“I’m ready to think she might not be feeling too well. She was upset when Gary left just like she always is when one of us leaves all packed up for a trip. Say, Uncle John, would you know anything about repairing our doorbell? Gary couldn’t see what was wrong with it before he left.”
“I’m sorry, Sue. I’m no hand at electronics. If Gary couldn’t find the trouble with the doorbell, I don’t think I could either. I’d just be tearing it apart, and putting it back together.”
Sue checked several times as the day went on, but Tillie didn’t leave her front yard spot. It stayed chilly, so laying in the sun didn’t bother the dog. Sometimes she didn’t seem to move so Sue would go out to stand beside her. Tillie would look up at her with a mournful look in her eyes as though everything in the world was going wrong. “Ahh, don’t feel bad, Tillie. Aren’t you feeling well? He’s coming home. You just wanted to go along didn’t you, girl.”
At 3 p.m., Sue heard the first howl as she was loading laundry into the washer. “Yooooowl,” howled Tillie long and mournfully in a howl that made the hairs on the back of Sue’s neck stand up.
Sue went out to the dog, and said, “Tillie!” But Tillie was standing with her eyes half shut howling, howling, and howling--again and again and again. “Yooooowl.”
The church pastor drove into the driveway at 4:30 p.m. to find Sue sitting on the front porch numb and expressionless, her dog howling in the front yard, and behind her the doorbell sounding unceasingly, “Bing bong, bing bong, bing bong....”
The pastor stood in front of Sue for a moment then said, “Good grief, Sue. What is all of this? Do you know?”
“Yes, I do. I figured it out. He’s come back to let me know he figured the doorbell out.”
With that acknowledgement, the doorbell quit ringing, and Tillie quit howling to come stand by Sue.”
“Did it happen at 3 o’clock, Pastor? That’s when Tillie started howling. I figured she knew something, and then the doorbell started ringing at a quarter after.”
“Yes, it was about 3. The sheriff figured it was best if I came out to tell you. The driver of their van went to sleep. They had a head-on. I doubt that Gary knew a thing.”
“Come on in the house to tell me about it, Pastor. Come on, Tillie. Come on, girl, you come too.”
Sue paused at the doorbell to ring it. It sounded once, “Bing bong,” just like it ought to.
Site: Jerry W. Engler
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"Tillie and the secret she knew"
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|Reviewed by Gianetta Ellis
|Funny, my great-grandmother's name was "Tillie." Once again, you've got me weepy. This is such a sad, stirring story. The characters you portray here seem so kind and compassionate. It was heartwarming how they loved and appreciated Tillie. I love the element of "knowing" that you convey in your animal characters - I believe it is so true. If only we could turn down the chaos in our own minds/hearts to better hear/discern what our animal companions wish to share. Very moving write, Jerry.|
|Reviewed by Candace Ho
|Jean is right once again, this is lonely, and eerie, and sad. I'm going to be remembering this for a very long time.|
|Reviewed by Mr. Ed
|Really enjoyed this tale, Jerry, and I've known a few dogs just like old Tillie. I sometimes think animals are much smarter than many care to believe.
And thanks for your kind comments on my Easter post.
|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|A very strong piece, Jerry. It gave me just the sad, lonely, eerie feeling I'm sure you intended. I would have liked for Tille to have somehow prevented Gary from leaving, but I can see why you wrote it as you did. This one will stay with me for a long time.|