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The Real Truth About Patsy, Pedro, and the Church Dog
By L C Evans
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Rated "PG" by the Author.
In a true story from my childhood, bad dogs used to run away and Daddy always laid down the law. By the way, some of the names were changed to protect people, mostly myself.
About a week after I started first grade, someone gave Daddy a hunting dog, a black water spaniel with a curly coat. Daddy hunted for food and brought home birds, rabbits, and occasionally deer. A good hunting dog was a valuable addition to our family and we welcomed her.
Patsy, the new dog, turned out to be an ace bird and rabbit hunter. But one day my sister Jo trotted across the sagging porch boards to throw her arms around Patsy’s neck. Patsy swung her head sideways and snapped, pinching the skin on Jo’s cheek. Then, as though she’d simply been administering discipline to a rambunctious pup, the dog returned to her bowl.
Mama doctored Jo’s wound and wiped up tears with a corner of her apron. Daddy was quiet, his mouth pulled into a thin slot while he studied Patsy with a curious expression.
Then he turned to us children. “Next one of you young’uns bothers that dog while she’s eating is going to get whipped.”
A day or so later my sister Carol was playing in the yard when Patsy rocketed out from under the front steps and leaped on her, sharp teeth perilously close to my sister’s face. Then as quickly as she’d launched the attack, Patsy backed off and returned to the cool den she’d dug under the steps.
I shrugged off the incident, thinking that somehow Carol, like Jo, had been to blame. We went to school in the morning as usual. That evening at supper when Carol asked after Patsy, Daddy pushed away from the table and tromped out of the room.
“Well, where is she?” Carol demanded. And after a moment she added, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”
Mama busied herself spooning rice onto her plate. Metal clinked against glass for what seemed a week before she said, “Patsy ran away.”
“Where?” Jo asked.
“Silly.” I elbowed her in the ribs. “If we knew where, we’d go get her. Right, Mama?”
“That’s right. Now all of you eat your supper and stop asking questions.”
Pedro was our new hunting dog, a black and tan dynamo, a happy-go-lucky smiling kind of dog who could switch from engaging in life-and-death battles with wild hogs to romping with children in the back yard without suffering psychopathic breaks like his predecessor.
Pedro lasted until Daddy invited Grandma Lou and her Aunt Mona for Sunday dinner. Mama cooked ham that day and proudly set the meat on the table as soon as it emerged from the oven. The rest of the meal was still cooking--the greens soon to reach peak tenderness, the biscuits almost ready to come out of the oven with delicate brown tops, and the potatoes to be buttered and mashed. The family gathered in the living room to visit with Aunt Mona while Grandma Lou remained at the stove tending the cooking.
The sweet aroma of done-to-perfection ham drifted down the hall to tantalize hungry stomachs. When Grandma finally announced dinner, we stampeded down the narrow hall to the kitchen.
Daddy settled in his big chair at the head of the homemade oak table while we children folded our hands in prayer and closed our eyes. When Daddy was done saying grace, he picked up the carving knife, brandishing it like a pirate’s cutlass until Eugene, the youngest, squealed and pretended to be frightened. Mama sent Daddy a warning frown, and he winked at her before he swiped the blade across the sharpening stone.
A couple of metallic swishes rang out and then he put the stone aside and looked down, newly sharpened blade poised in mid air. His brow furrowed--slowly, as if unseen hands were pushing in from the sides of his face and molding his expression.
“Where’s the ham, Mary?”
“On the table.” Mama put a wrestler’s grip on Eugene just in time to prevent him from burying a grubby fist in the mashed potatoes.
“It is not.”
Mama scooted the potato bowl out of Eugene’s reach and surveyed the table. Heads turned to follow her gaze. There in front of Daddy was the ham platter, empty except for a puddle of greasy brown juice.
“Did you move the ham?” Mama asked Grandma Lou.
“Surely not,” Grandma said in her vague way. Grandma wasn’t really old enough to be called senile, and besides, her problem had existed ever since anyone in the family had known her. Folks kindly called my grandmother “spacey.” If she had done something with the ham, it was quite possible she didn’t remember.
The next fifteen minutes involved a search, the likes of which had probably not been seen since the hunt for Jack the Ripper. Aunt Mona, every bit of ninety years old, lowered her creaky body to sweep her cane from side to side under the refrigerator as if she supposed the ham might have flattened itself into a wafer and slid underneath.
In the middle of pawing through the wooden potato box, Grandma Lou dropped the lid, nearly catching her fingers. The smack of wood on wood must have jarred something loose. Her usual blank expression lit into something approaching awareness.
“Oh.” Her right hand fluttered to her chin. “I wonder if that’s what that dog had in its mouth when I let it out.”
Aunt Mona pumped her withered fist in the air and screeched, “Crazy old woman!”
Daddy stepped closer to Grandma Lou and patted her shoulder. “What dog, Mama?” he asked gently.
“Why, that black and tan dog, son. It scratched on the door while I was mashing the potatoes. I let it in and went back to my work. A few minutes later, it scratched to go out, so I opened the door. Now that I think about it, I’m sure it had something in its mouth.”
“Crazy old woman,” Aunt Mona said again. She plunged in Grandma Lou’s direction, cane whipping the air like a fencer’s sword, until Mama caught and held her in a wrestler’s grip.
“That dog stole my ham.” Daddy’s tone was flat, but his expression boded ill. He yanked the door open and stomped outside.
We children rushed to position ourselves at the window. I flinched as I witnessed Daddy holding Pedro by the collar and beating him about the head and shoulders with what was left of the ham.
Hams in those days were not easily come by. We ate a vegetarian meal that afternoon, a meal made grim by the empty promise of what could have been.
Pedro might have survived the ham incident. He was, after all, a superior hunting dog. Aptly enough, corraling wild hogs was the specialty of the ham-loving hound. However, Pedro had recently taken to chasing chickens. He’d been warned, but hadn’t been able to control his darker impulses. Daddy announced ominously that the world had no use for a ham-stealing, chicken-killing dog.
Thus it happened that Pedro ran away, not a week after the disappearance of the ham. I spent the better part of the next month searching for Pedro at odd moments, even asking friends to let me know if they spotted a black and tan hound. Not a trace of Pedro was ever found.
Sometimes, in those pre-animal control days, stray dogs wandered into town. Such a stray appeared at the church and soon posed an unsettling problem to the preacher’s beagle.
The preacher, who knew my father to be a man who got things done, cornered him after church one Sunday.
“Mr. Collins, you see that stray?” He pointed. “That big black dog?”
“I see him.”
“He’s determined to worry my beagle. Followed her around all day yesterday and this morning he jumped on one of the parishioners and like to knocked her down. Think you could help me out, maybe find a home out of town for that animal?”
“I’ll take care of it.”
Preacher Reynolds patted Daddy on the back and called him “a good man, a real good man to have in the congregation.”
I was somehow not surprised the following week to learn that the church dog had run away.
About a month later the preacher announced from the pulpit that the dog Mr. Collins had kindly removed from the church grounds had returned. It was once again a menace and he hoped Mr. Collins would be willing to volunteer a second time to solve the problem.
As soon as we piled into the car after the service, Mama said, “James, are you going to haul that dog off for the preacher again?”
“Again?” Daddy shook his head. “Aw, Mary, the preacher don’t know one big black dog from another. When I take a dog for a ride, it never comes back.”
“Where did you take it, Daddy?” Jo asked.
Mama said sternly, “Hush. It ran away.”
Predictably, the second church dog ran away not long after the first. The preacher’s beagle celebrated by giving birth to a litter of black puppies.
Then Daddy bought Mama some new chickens, fluffy yellow biddies for her to raise up to lay eggs.
“Those birds cost a good bit,” he told her. “But they’re supposed to be the best egg laying breed in the country. You be sure the kids keep them fed and watered.”
I was given the chore, which I performed without complaint. I loved animals and I knew Mama and Daddy prized those chickens.
But I didn’t know how much until the afternoon Daddy tore into the kitchen roaring for his shotgun.
“Big red dog out back slaughtering chickens just to see the blood run and here you all sit staring at the wall like it’s one big picture show.” He unlocked the gun cabinet and pulled out the shotgun and a handful of shells.
“James!” Mama grabbed his arm, trying to anchor him in the house. “Wait till the kids are asleep.
Daddy shook her off. “Don’t be foolish, woman. All our chickens would be dead by then and that dog clear over in the next county.”
Mama quickly herded us to the living room. She turned on the radio and told us to listen to Elvis. But I still heard the bang of the shotgun over the strains of Love Me Tender. Later, when I fed the remaining biddies, I had to step over a fresh mound beside the barn where a puddle of red had soaked into the earth.
Next day at school a boy named Morgan, an oversized kid with a reputation for bullying, cornered me in the playground, herding me like a lamb until I was backed against the fence in a corner of the ball field.
“Hey, my dog’s missing,” he announced. He put his hands on his hips and leaned in until I could smell the sour milk on his hot breath. A scowl formed on his wide face, making him seem even more menacing than usual. “He’s a big red dog named Brewster. My friend Kenny said he was on your street yesterday. You seen him?”
My heart thundered against my ribs. I clasped my Dick and Jane reader to my skinny chest and swallowed hard, my mouth so dry it hurt to move my lips.
“I reckon your dog ran away,” I rasped out.
I scooted past Morgan, leaving him wearing a look of deep concentration, and ran to my classroom.
Site: L C Evans, author
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|Reviewed by Susan McLeod
|This story was great, I could see it all unfolding before my eyes like a play. Now that's descriptive power! I love the Southern element too...my parents were from the South,and it sounds familiar. The only thing is, I felt so sorry for the dogs!|
|Reviewed by Benjamin Blue
|This story brings back memories of my own father dealing with stray animals. Much the same "ran away" statements was all I ever got as answers to my questions.
But he was a gentle man and well loved by everyone I ever heard say anything about him. Where is my dad now? He "ran away" to a better place. Thanks for the story. It brought a lot back to me.