Thursday, June 21, 2012

Snipper and Pets

I almost always had pets. My earliest memories include a white ball of fluff named Penny. She followed me everywhere and my Mom use to tell the story about how I would share my potato cake treat with her. A bite for her. A bite for me. A bite for her. Mom tried but never convinced me that I shouldn’t share “bite for bite” with my best friend. Penny died of old age and I never had a pet during WWII. We lived for a long time with my maternal grandparents while Dad was at war and we almost slept in shifts as everyone but Granddad and Mamaw worked at the bullet plant.

When Mom finally found an apartment, actually one half of a small house in which we shared the bathroom, a dog was verboten.  Later I had other dogs. In the Fall of 1950 our barn burned and Janie, a small mixed breed, died when she ran back inside trying to find her puppies. I never forgot that. A dog doing what many humans wouldn’t. Try to save their children. I remember vowing then and there that I would be at least as good as Janie.

Mom and Dad bought a small farm in November and we moved into a house that, to be charitable, used the linoleum rugs as weather stripping on the floor to block the cracks. The house had no underpinning and when the wind blew the rugs would “float.” But we were happy. No more share cropping, no more being told where to shop and what to do. We had entered the 50’s southern version of the middle class.

Dad got a job as a machinist and Mom sewed collars on coats at a nearby factory.  When spring came I was 13 and we planted cotton, corn, set out tomatoes and planted a garden for fresh veggies and canning what we couldn’t eat.  The days ran from 4 AM to dark. We milked and tended the stock by the lights of lanterns.

I could drive a tractor and work a pair of horses. That was standard stuff. So was milking three cows twice a day by hand. You’ve never lived until some bovine critter slaps you up side the face with her tail at 5AM when you’re trying to milk her in 40 degree weather.  I had a library card and we subscribed to the county paper. Somewhere in there I discovered science fiction and the world became a much larger place. Amazing Stories cost a quarter and the radio brought us all together.

We had nothing but life was good. The house was slowly repaired and the back porch extended and part of it turned into my room.  We dug a new well and at about 30’ down a flint arrow came up. How it got there was an endless fascination for the drilling crew and me. The land was bordered by a small creek that could have been a river a few thousand years ago and endless floods could have built a plain of rich topsoil. My favorite theory was that we had penetrated a burial ground. I did endless research at the local library and was hopeful that we hadn’t brought down the spirits of the dead on us. Somehow we escaped any curses for disturbing their sleep.

The house was at the junction of two roads that defined the school districts. Walk 50 yards one way and I could go to the school I had attended for years. Walk another direction and I could attend another school. Naturally I chose to stay with my friends.

Sometimes in the Summer of ’51 a collie mix became mine. He was almost grown and would nip at and play with everything. He became “Snipper.” He loved me and he loved my Dad and nothing suited him any better than following us around the farm. He was convinced he could catch the occasional rabbit we would stumble on but the rabbit was never in any danger.

Along about then I had my first “public” job. Handy man at a local grocery on Saturdays. I saved my money and bought a camera and the chemicals I needed to develop and print. One of my subjects was Snipper. His picture survives. The others are gone.

On the morning of April 3, as was his habit,  he followed me down to the bus stop. The school bus to the other school bus came down the road  and without  slowing ran over Snipper. He was killed instantly. There was no doubt that he saw the dog. He just thought he would kill him a dog that morning.

The bus ran early, about 6:30. My Mom and Dad left for work at about the same time. They saw it all. Dad said nothing. He just picked up Snipper and placed him in the back of the truck, told me to get in and drove my mom to where she met her ride to work. After letting her off, and still not talking, he drove to the school where the bus was going. The bus had not arrived. We waited. Eventually it did. The kids got out and walked away unaware of what was happening.

But the driver wasn’t. He finally came out of the bus and my Dad met him. Not a word was said. My Dad calmly whipped his ass, pulled him over to the truck, showed him the dead dog, kicked him in the ass and shoved him away. He then got back into our truck and we drove home and buried Snipper behind the barn. As we covered him I saw a tear in his eye. The only other tear I ever saw there was when we buried his Mother.

That night I took his picture and penned an almost 14 year old’s deep thoughts and wrote his name. Through my hurt and tears I misspelled his name. When I discovered it I was distraught but my Mom wisely told me she was sure Snipper wouldn’t mind since all of us knew his real name.

Those were different days then. Different values. And better.

"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them." - Karl Popper

 “It’s the presumption that Obama knows how all these industries ought to be operating better than people who have spent their lives in those industries, and a general cockiness going back to before he was president, and the fact that he has no experience whatever in managing anything. Only someone who has never had the responsibility for managing anything could believe he could manage just about everything.” - Thomas Sowell in Reason Magazine