As a child, I wasn’t allowed to have a pet; my grandmother Clara would never have permitted an animal in the house. But Roy always had a dog at the gas station — watchdogs; often dropouts from the police dog academy. The best of them was old 66.
When I was about ten years old and 66 was at least that age and deaf and blind, my dad found a farmer near Momence, about sixty miles south of Chicago, who was willing to give 66 a home for what remained of his life. We knew a lot of Southern Blacks, families who had migrated north along the Illinois Central line from Mississippi and Tennessee to find work in Chicago factories, but many maintained their ties with the land. A farm seemed the best reward for such a loyal family friend as 66.
One morning, weeks after 66 had gone to his retirement home, I went out the door for school. Who should I find waiting at the curb beside my dad’s car but 66! Much later we learned that he had left the farm and found his way north — at least sixty miles and across several major highways — with the sense of smell his only remaining asset, eager to be home and fulfilling the only job he knew, guarding the family business. 66 had been on the road at least two weeks.
“A few figs from thistles…”
by Howard A. Tabor
Dogs and other good habits
This week some old friends lost their young dog. There is little I can say to stay their grief, except that I have been there, too.
Frank was my father’s hunting dog. Each year he yearned for the scents of autumn, the nip of frost, a thick coat of sodden leaves mouldering on the ground—desires I could just as easily claim for my father. Warren hoped to make a hunter of me but understood when I preferred the company of books. So, for all those months between hunting seasons, Frank was my constant companion.
My childlike wanderlust was insatiable and Frank enjoyed the quest as much as I. It would be inaccurate to say he followed me everywhere. Rather, he knew my pattern as well as I did, anticipated my destinations and, as often as not, met me at the front door to the old Public Library or the back door of Darwin School.
I had shown him my world and Frank repaid that gift with revelations of his own: a sunny spot on Crispin Creek where old shells could be dug from the bank; a secret garden on the flats while the carrots were tender and sweet. Padding along beside my bike, it’s hard to say which of us was in training. Walking, running, timely toilet breaks—I was a better child for the rigor Frank gave me; and I’m a better adult for having been that child.
Better mannered than several humans of my experience, Frank was welcome where some of my schoolmates had been banned. Mrs Fahrenthold, for example, let Frank lie beside my feet in the library reading room. He seemed also to enjoy regular visits to Krohn’s Barber Shop and to the meat market, which held a special place in his heart; two packages always awaiting us there, a big one for the family, the small one for Frank.
When I went away to college, Frank couldn’t come with me, but he could not be put away with other “childish things.” It was Thanksgiving of my sophomore year: I had come home for the family celebration and Frank was there awaiting me, seeming older than I had remembered him. Saturday night he lay down beside my bed and Sunday afternoon we buried him near the rhubarb patch.
In my sixty-six years I have known many dogs, all of them admirable fellows. Would that my acquaintance with humans had been the same.
[…] Our remarkable watchdog “66”. […]