I actually wrote this two years ago, but could never find a proper finish.
Then yesterday my son wrote to say that he had to put his own best friend, Lollie, to sleep after 12 or 13 years together. Lollie went back to before he’d met his wife. She was a rescue-dog, a big lumbering mixed breed hound with the most congenial disposition I have ever seen. When I visited she always parked next to me, and when I slept on the couch, she always stood guard over me, her head and eyes forward, as is the nature of her breed. Protectors.
Spook wasn’t my dog, nor my best friend. He was my dad’s. Spook was a wire-haired terrier and Dad loved terriers. Our dog before Spook was my dog, a huge airedale named Biff, who we also got as a pup, but were only able to keep until he got to the size of a small horse, since, besides chasing motorcycles, he started trying to bury them in the backyard. Dad believed in free range, so given no option by the town, he sent him off to a farm in Bell County where he could run as he pleased.
So Spook came to our house as a replacement, a much smaller, but just as all-muscled version of terrier as Biff ever was.
He was only three months old, so we kept him in the house to keep him safe as the neighborhood was filled with large and very territorial mutts who always made my paper route tough, especially on collection day.
Life with Spook for a high school kid with a brand new driver’s license, girls, and rock n’ roll seemed uneventful for the most part. But it started out with a bang, for in late summer of that first year, I was supposed to be watching Spook while working in the basement, when he sneaked out the screen door and headed out to mark his territory in the yard. I didn’t notice him gone until I heard a large commotion outside and a big “Whoop” from my mother upstairs, yelling for me to come quick and bring a rake.
I rushed out the door and saw about 50 yards away, on a small connector road that crossed a gulley, the four chief curs of the neighborhood, the Craig’s dog’ Crip, the Cornett’s dog, Blackie, who had one eye, another big grey named Buck, and a tan dog whose name I can’t recall. Teeth bared, they were ripping into Spook while all he could do was cower, look up at one, then another, then duck the paws and nips at his thighs, forelegs and neck. Mother got there with a broom, swatting at them, and I pulled one, then another off so Mom could grab Spook up in her arms, and retreat to the house, while I held the dogs off with my rake.
Spook was a bloody mess. We kept him down for at least three days, mother covering his wounds in homemade poultice, feeding him water and puree with a syringe. After that he never went out doors except on a leash. Next spring Dad allowed Spook to run the yard, but hooked him up to a 40-foot chain attached to the clothesline. JFK was shot that fall, and next year I went off to college. Spook was still tied to that line when I left.
In my family when you turned 18 you went away somewhere, anywhere, and I chose college. Having no car, and having to get a job to pay my way through school, I only went home three times a year, hitch-hiking to get there. So as much as Spook had been a pal before, I never really saw him that much afterwards. He was always glad to see me, I’d rub his belly in the living room, but mostly I never saw Spook without my dad being nearby. By my sophomore year Spook had grown into full manhood and was ounce-for-ounce the strongest dog I’d ever seen.
And he had long since been untethered from that clothes line.
On one of my visits, while sitting on the porch smoking with Dad, he said, “You remember those dogs that jumped Spook when he was a pup?” Yep. “Well, it wasn’t long after I took him off the chain that he hunted each one of those dogs down and killed them.”
Then he said something that caught me a little off guard, “I don’t think I know a single man I admire more than that dog.”
The years came and went and there was always Dad and Spook, out on the porch, walking around the house, not playing like a kid plays with his dog, not chasing sticks, but just hanging out with each other, side by side, as if they were having a conversation. Knowing my mom, it was probably the only time Dad could ever get a word in edgewise.
University was followed by three years of law school, a wife, then a son, but on every visit there was Spook and Dad walking around the yard. Dad always called him “Buddy”. He must have been nearing 10 by then.
Then in 1972 I shipped out for a three-year army tour to Japan, and never saw any of them. But while we were overseas Dad suddenly retired at 52 and moved to Arizona.
Apparently Dad’s health was not so good, so when I left Japan in 1973 I extended a year on the Arizona border, about 250 miles away, just so I could be close. Turns out it was his heart, so after I left the army in 1976 I took the Arizona bar and stayed on nearby to practice law, as Dad was one of the first heart by-pass patients in the country, which was an iffy procedure then.
Thank God for Spook is all I can say, for Dad thought he was going to die, but worse, Mom thought he was too, and was all over him like a swarm of flies. He couldn’t go to the bathroom that she wouldn’t stand outside the door to check on him. Never an unhovered moment. And talking to them on the phone was a hoot (at the time) for Dad would say “I’m fine, shot an 81 today,” then Mom would get on the phone and say (every time, I swear) “Don’t believe a word your father says. He can’t breathe at night without a respirator.” A true angel of mercy, I guess, my mother preferred all her men bed-ridden so she could better tend to them, no matter how well they felt or wanted to feel. She had no sense of other peoples’ sense of dignity.
So while I remained (I left in 1979) Dad, Spook and I would take long walks at the golf course just to avoid the scourge of over zealous nursing.
Spook had to be close to 16 or 17 by then. Dad told me how he was hurting when he walked, and he was going blind, he said. He chewed his dentures a certain way when he was worried, and I knew Spook’s slipping away bothered him. Then in late Spring of ’78 he called me and said he was going to have to “take care of Spook.”
And I wasn’t invited. Just him and his buddy. And I understood. From listening to him talk to Spook over the years, I knew how it would go. He would put Spook in the front seat of the pickup, along with his old Army Colt, a pick, shovel and chain in the bed, and he would drive about twenty miles up to a place called Cherry, which at one time had stood a small mining camp, long since abandoned. But the ground was softer there.
On the drive up I’m sure Dad talked to Spook of all the good times they’d had, and how he’d never regretted a single day of their companionship, things he’d never said to another person, ever. When he got to the place where the caliche wasn’t so near the surface, he would find a big rock, and sit down and then do like the Indians do after they’d killed a bear, thanking it for all the wonderful things it was going to provide his family. A song almost. I wasn’t there, but I know it was the only sentimental moment in my dad’s whole life. I’m sure he said “Buddy” fifty times.
It could have taken five minutes or an hour for Dad to say all the things he’d kept bundled up while finally saying good-bye to the only person he ever truly admired. So I’m betting on the latter. Then he put that .45 to Spook’s head and pulled the trigger.
Afterwards he would use the chain to uproot a mesquite, dig as deep a hole as he could, lay Spook in it, probably in his old blanket, then cover him up. Then use the chain to roll that big rock over it to keep varmints away.
Then he drove home.
What grieved my Dad too, was having to face that swarm of bees back home without his old pard covering his back. God knows he tried. Dad outlived Spook by ten years, but a year without him was about all he could stand of that swarm, so one Sunday morning, he left a note, got in his car and drove away. My mother never saw him again.
Which brings this little story of true friendship full circle. When my son had Lollie put to sleep he said he wanted her to know the peace of seeing his eyes looking directly into hers as they closed, his nose on hers.
Will the circle be unbroken?
I hope dogs go to heaven.