It was 1926 and times were good. The steel plant was in full gear. Locomotives were chugging out of ALCO at a record rate. The grape harvest was plentiful.
Joe lived across the street. Every morning I saw him coming out the side door in a line with his brothers and sisters on the way to school. I always tried to guess where he would be in the line. I didn’t think he even noticed me. He looked over my way from time to time but never said anything to me.
One summer he came out the side door by himself with no where special to go. It was mid morning and the Dunkirk Evening Observer did not need to be delivered until mid afternoon. He kicked a few stones in the driveway and sat on the curb for a while looking at the pattern of bricks in the street.
When he tired of that, he wandered across the street. This was the first time we got to see each other up close. He was still a boy, about ten year old I thought, but I could tell he would be strong. He had long sandy hair that might have been blond when he was younger. Long pants covered his legs despite the summer heat. I heard his family was German but I never saw him wearing lederhosen. He must have been a t least second generation.
Joe and I spent some time together in my yard that first day but did nothing special. I didn’t see him again for a few days and then he came over to spend some time until his papers were ready to deliver. Again we did little if anything of note, just sitting around enjoying the dog days of summer.
The next day I saw him he was working on his bike in his yard and I went over to spend some time with him while he worked on it.
Unfortunately I couldn’t be of much help but he seemed to like having me there for company. Over the next few weeks, we began to spend more and more time together.
Once I was in his yard when his father came home. I got the feeling his father wasn’t too keen on the idea of us spending time together. But over the next few weeks, he began to get used to the two of us being together. I eventually met all of Joe’s brothers and sisters and they seemed to take a shine to me. I began to feel almost part of his family.
After a while I began to eat many of my meals at Joe’s house. I felt embarrassed about it but my own family often did not take the trouble to feed me. They often left me home alone and did not really take much of an interest in me. Sometimes I wondered what I was doing in their family at all.
Eventually Joe realized that I was practically an outcast in my rightful family. Somehow he persuaded his father to let me come to live with them. My people were surprisingly agreeable and did not put up any fuss about my moving across the street. It was a remarkable change. For the first time I felt part of a real family. I had never been hugged by so many people before and was always in demand. I felt like a princess.
I still kept my special closeness with Joe however. He took me up to the end of Park Avenue to watch the freight trains rumble by with their clickety-clack and clouds of smoke and steam. I still remember the mournful whistle in the distance as a train approached town.
We often went on an adventure to see the Neptune statue even though it was only a couple blocks from home. It spouted water all summer and was boarded up in winter. Sometimes we would just sit and watch the fountain and sometimes we would splash though the pool surrounding it.
My favorite pastime was walking down to the pier. I don’t remember just how many boats there were but there must have been at least twelve. During the early morning hours the pier was empty but later was full of fishing boats unloading their catches of whitefish and pike. It smelled terrible but was fascinating to watch. Sometimes we would go a little closer to see how big the fish were that day. We would both try to find the biggest one.
Joe and I were both very interested in a famous dog by the name of Rin Tin Tin. We were amazed at his exploits. He had a special trick of jumping up and grabbing a sleeve. We both thought that trick was the nuts. Sometimes he would play that Joe was a bad guy and I as Rin Tin Tin. He would put out his arm and I would jump up and grab his sleeve with a fierce growl. It was great sport.
One day we were lying on the front lawn doing nothing in particular. A middle aged woman was walking down the street and seemed to be going from house to house for some reason. She had just finished next door and was walking by out hedge very close to us. We were both sure she had not seen us and tried to keep very quiet.
Just as she came up to us, Joe sneezed. The woman suddenly saw us and was startled, thinking we might do something to her. She put out her arm just the way Joe did when we played Rin Tin Tin. Without thinking I jumped up and bit her on the sleeve. She fell on top of us but was not seriously hurt.
I never saw such a commotion. I really think she overreacted but no one could have convinced her of it. She insisted that something be done about me. For a while I thought it might blow over, but no such luck. A lot of words were spoken in my defense and just as many were spoken against me.
After all was said and done, I found myself living on a farm to the west of Dunkirk. I was in shock at all that had happened and how quickly things had turned around for me. I had never lived on a farm before. I must admit that I found my new surroundings quite intriguing. There were chickens to chase, woods to explore and a family who was always there due to the demands of farming.
Now I was glad Joe had that paper route. He saved enough money to come out to visit me almost every Sunday on the trolley that ran from Erie to Buffalo. I imagined him getting off at the stop down the hill. I pictured him coming up the hill and thought of him seeing the iron rooster on top of Horlocher’s barn which told him he was almost there. I of course was not a real Horlocher but after a while that did not seem to matter. I was part of their family and still had Joe as a friend.
After a while Joe did not come to see me quite as often. I knew he was beginning high school and thought he might be starting to spend more time with Winnie. After all, he did seem to be making a habit of carrying her books home, which I admit did make me at least a little jealous. But he did bring her with him once in a while to visit me. I guess friendships come and go. I was his best friend for a while and was glad to have had our time together. I often wonder though if things would have turned out different if I were born a cat rather than a dog.