Are you surprised that I’m writing about dogs instead of social and political issues? I’m a dog lover and just wanted to write about a dog from my childhood so that readers can reminisce about their own.
We had a hound dog once named Bobo, but the first dog I truly loved arrived at our house on the Cumberland River one dark, chilly Saturday night.
My father loved his Four Roses bourbon on Saturdays with his friends and had enjoyed more than a few swigs when he called out to us from the front yard. My brother Bill and I, barefoot, came running from probably a University of Kentucky basketball game that we were following on the radio.
The porch was at least four feet from the ground and Daddy moved up against it with a mischievous smile and a question, “Guess what I have?”
I’d like to think Bill was thinking the same thing I was: Candy (We loved Guess What? that guaranteed “a prize in every box” and 5th Avenue or Juicy Fruit gum. As I write this, I can still feel that burst of sweetness in that gum activated by my saliva.
Daddy opened his overcoat -He always wore a white shirt and dress pants on Saturdays — and placed on the porch a little fur ball that had been nestled under his coat.
We squealed with delight, although Bill would never admit that he squealed, and began to argue about who would get to hold this tiny creature that had come into our lives.
He was ginger-colored, so by Sunday morning we had named him Ginger and were trying to find excuses to avoid attending Sunday school and church (Mother was not attending in those days although later she would become the church pianist and the teacher for the Girls Auxiliary; Daddy never attended, and I was told more than once by other children that he was going to Hell. I’m certain they had heard that from their parents). Reluctantly, Bill and I went to Sunday school and church and ran home following the final a-men.
By Sunday, we had also learned, as we took Ginger out of his cardboard box with a white towel for his comfort, that he had more fleas than we could have imagined on such a small puppy. So on Monday it was off to downtown Cumberland (In those days, only churches were open on Sundays in southeastern Kentucky) to buy a bar of flea soap and cans of dog food.
We soaped Ginger up in the kitchen sink, and I can still see the dead and dying fleas floating in the warm, soapy water.
As Ginger grew, Mother insisted that he leave the house. Those were the days when dogs didn’t require a license and most stayed in the yard or on the porch — except, of course, when they had a special mission.
As Ginger reached adulthood, one of his jobs was to meet Daddy when he got off the bus at the railroad bridge in Fairview after working second shift at the U.S. Steel mining operation in Lynch.
And Ginger knew he was always invited to tag along when Mother took us for walks in the woods above our house. He knew, however, that he was not allowed to follow us to the Central Baptist Church three and four times each week or to vacation Bible school or to accompany us when we went swimming “up Cloverlick.”
Ginger never saw a vet, didn’t need to. He was one healthy, smart dog. He could climb ladders and walk the rails on the tracks above our house. He had seen me do it and followed suit.
When Ginger needed a bath, we just threw him in the Cumberland River, soaped him up when he swam out, and threw him back in for the rinse cycle. No matter how many towels we used to dry him off, he still scurried under the floor of the house and created a little dust storm as he wallowed in the dirt.
He loved to chase the cars that ran up and down the road, dirt, red dog or gravel at times, in front of our house. Occasionally, Ginger nipped a passerby for reasons unknown to us. Mother kept a bottle of merthiolate on the ledge in the window of the living room and ran out to administer first aid to the objects of his dislike, and there were no attorneys at the time seeking fees in dog-bite cases.
On some evenings, Bill and I would hold Ginger and sing to him as we used our bare feet to propel the swing on the front porch. On occasion, we would kiss him good night. Unsanitary, but we never considered where his muzzle and tongue had been.
I was almost 14 and Bill was 11 when we left our little town of Cumberland to join Daddy in Toledo where he had found work at the Mather Spring Company after he was laid off when mechanization came in a major way to the mines at Lynch. We left Ginger in the care of our maternal grandmother, Viva Adams, who lived next door to us on the river.
And Ginger disappeared. Our inquiries led a neighbor Florence Duckworth to say, “I saw Ginger on the ice on the river. He didn’t realize how thin it was, and he fell through and drown.” I was too polite to dispute her account, but I didn’t believe for a minute that Ginger was that stupid.
Since Ginger, other dogs have come and gone in my family, and I remember each one: Misty, Maeve, Augie, Moreover, Lucy, Billy Joe, and Cash.
Cash, my son Quentin’s Puli (a black Hungarian sheep dog from Memphis who sports dreadlocks), is the apple of my eye now.
When Quentin and Cash arrive at my cottage in Ohio after a road trip from western Kentucky, I rush to get Cash a bowl of water and he herds me to the kitchen.
I call Cash my grand-dog, and he is a master of tricks. My favorite is when Quentin pretends to blow a horn, and Cash jumps way up and spins in the air with his dreadlocks flying. Once I got to dogsit him for a week, and I’ll always be grateful to the woman who herded him back to me as I stood on the front porch screaming at her from almost a block away, “Grab my dog.”
She first called back, “Does he bite?” He did nip great grandson Little Cohl one day, jealous of the attention I was giving him and space the toddler had invaded. That week was an adventure I’ll always treasure, but Quentin has never asked me to dogsit again.
And Cash gives and gives and gives. Because he is relatively rare, he gets a lot of attention when he’s out and about with Quentin who calls him a chick magnet.
I’d ask you to think of the dogs you’ve loved who are now on the Rainbow Bridge or those still in your daily life and record their stories for your children and grandchildren. Scan in photos, print, and staple your manuscript. You’ll be happy you did.