A boy, a dog and a long-ago summer

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 9, 2012

By Buddy Gettys
A dauntless July sun smacked down on the dusty intersection. On one corner were a school bus-stop and a basketball court. An 11-year old boy stood bouncing a basketball. His back and shoulders were reddish brown from playing in the sun or fishing along the river bank. His sandy hair stuck out from his Detroit Tiger baseball cap and curled around his ears. He was waiting for a friend to play a game of “horse.”
Suddenly, a little black and reddish chow came trotting down the street. A rope was dragging from around his neck. Occasionally he would step on the end of it and stumble. He stopped opposite the boy and hesitated then made small advances with a wag of his tail. The boy called to him. The dog came closer and the two had an interchange of friendly patting and waggles.
Later the boy became frustrated as the dog jumped at the ball and knocked it away. Finally he yelled at the dog that sank down in despair, putting his head between his paws. But the boy talked to the dog and in a few minutes he was up wagging his tail again.
Finally the boy’s friend showed up and they shot hoops and played horse for the better part of an hour with the dog interfering at every bounce of the ball. Tired of the game, the boy headed home with the dog following him. At home, the boy tried to cut the rope off with scissors, but didn’t quite have the strength. But when his dad came home from his job at the power plant, he took over the task. He said he would post a note on the bulletin board at the plant about a missing dog. If no one responded, the boy could keep the dog. The boy smiled with joy.
On Sunday morning, the boy was up early to deliver newspapers. He folded his papers and placed them in the basket of his bike and took off down the street pitching them expertly on the front lawns for his customers. The dog followed close behind. At the end of the dead-end street, the boy turned around and headed home. He had other streets to cover but he noticed all the papers that he delivered were already picked up or gone. When he reached his house, he found they were piled at his front steps. The little dog had carried them back home. He locked the dog in the basement and completed his paper route.
No one claimed the dog, so the boy’s dad said he could keep him. He named him Jack. Jack would sometimes go nuts running around the small fish pond in the boy’s back yard, chasing the goldfish. He also chased birds, rabbits and even bugs and shadows.
His most amazing trick was when he was rattled by fire crackers. If they were thrown on the ground sparking, he attacked them with his mouth and when they exploded, he would bark and jump backward and then be freaked out wondering where they went. On holidays, the hair on his chin would always be singed.
Every day Jack would meet the boy at the bus arriving from school. He would sit with his head tilted and ears straight up and watch for the boy to exit the bus then walk home. The dog would run a little ways ahead and stop and turn every few minutes to make sure the boy was following him. One day, the boy would see Jack lying beside the road near the bus stop. Jumping off the bus, he ran yelling in fear to the dog’s side. Jack had been hit by a car. The boy picked up Jack and ran home. He held Jack in his lap and cried. Jack died before the boy’s dad arrived from work. They built a box for Jack’s body and took it across a field and buried him beside a big popular tree. The next day, a Saturday, the boy spent most of the day carving an inscription in the tree.
Twenty years later, the boy, now a man, grieving his dad’s early death, strolled through the same field which had then become a forest of mostly loblolly pines. He spotted the now large tree. The inscription he had put on it two decades earlier was now stretched in big letters. The August sun was setting just over the pine forest as he read the inscription on the tree, “BUDDY’S DOG, JACK, RIP.”
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Buddy Gettys is a former mayor of Spencer and grew up in Dukeville village.v