Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Sam was a German Shepherd/Airedale Terrier cross. He was a member of the family before I was born (on which side of the family I won't conjecture). He was very protective and gentle, especially with me since Dad had introduced him to a rolled-up newspaper for knocking me down as a toddler. My earliest memories are that I simply had a very large (and longsuffering), self-ambulating pillow. Sam had pointed ears like a Shepherd, but his Airedale blood couldn't support the tips, so even when Sam put his ears on full alert, they flopped over a bit. His coat was black and tan, wiry to the touch. His jaws were massive and his teeth could slice through a ham bone like it was a bread stick. He ate everything. Dad one time tossed Sam an orange. Sam caught it in mid-flight and downed it in a couple of bites. We had a six-foot chain-link fence around the back yard and Sam leaped it like a horse clearing a jump. (Picture Princess Margaret clearing at gate at an equestrian competition - Princess Margaret on a horse, I mean.)

Once my two older brothers and I took Sam upstairs (where he wasn't supposed to be). We led him to the end of the hallway and I climbed onto his back and pretended he was a bucking bronco. As I whooped and hollered "Giddyup," Sam calmly walked the length of the hall and sat down with his rear to the stairs, sending me tumbling down seven steps to the landing. My older siblings stood wide-eyed at the top of the stairs, "Are you OK?" I stood and laughed, unhurt. I believe I saw Sam smirking as he trotted past, heading back to the safety of downstairs.

Attempts to chain Sam proved futile. He'd either break his chain or strangle himself trying. Once freed of his chain and over the fence, he'd head for Mount Franklin, a 300o-foot-high faultline whose foothills were less than a mile west of our humble casa. There Sam would hunt wild game, always returning home with his kill and depositing it in the back yard as a demonstration of his affection for us. Usually Sam's kill was a jack rabbit, but one day Sam sacrificed the Willis's cat.

I remember examining the kill. It was a merciful death; the cat had been sliced nearly in two with a single bite. I bragged to Mike Willis (that loathesome bully who was two years my senior) about how my dog had made a quick meal of his cat. Then Dad came home and, after talking to Mrs Willis, sadly told us that Sam had to go. We tried to explain that we didn't like Mike Willis, but Dad was adamant.

A few days after that, as Dad closed the tailgate of his truck, we tearfully said goodbye to Sam. Our lamentation was unrequited -- Sam was all excited about going for a ride. Dad was working on a construction job in Dell City (a small farm community fifty miles east of El Paso) and, in talking to one of the farmers, Dad had found Sam a new home. The last time we saw Sam his tail was wagging and his ears were standing straight up (except the tips). His head was laid on the wall of the truck bed on the driver's side and his muzzle was at Dad's elbow in the open window. He was as happy as a dog can be. Dad pulled out of the driveway and disappeared down the street. The construction job took Dad to Dell City several times during the next few days. He reported that Sam was enjoying his new freedom and his position as top dog in that rural community. He assured us that Sam was much happier now. But somehow that wasn't much comfort.

Some time after Dad took Sam away (but while the painful memory of that wagging tail was still fresh in my mind), we were visiting our cousins in Carlsbad, NM. My Aunt Harriet decided she'd treat us kids (her son, my two older brothers and me) to a Hollywood matinee production, so we piled into her Chrysler New Yorker and she dumped us at Carlsbad's only movie theater. Showing at the time was a Disney flick: "Old Yeller." It was an absolutely mesmerizing story. Yeller was almost as good a dog as Sam: mischievious, brave, loyal -- just like old Sam. Yeller repeatedly saved Fess Parker's rugged pioneer family from harrowing dangers. But then the story took a horrifying turn when the "slaverin fits" (a.k.a., rabies) poisoned Yeller's mind. Tommy Kirk and I did our best to deny the truth that was before our eyes, but when Yeller nearly bit Arliss's hand off, Tommy Kirk and I had to face our duty. Tommy and I lifted our flintlock to Yeller's crazed muzzle -- Tommy squeezed his tearful eyes shut and pulled the trigger, but I kept my eyes wide open and felt that lead ball hit me square in the chest. Tears streamed down my cheeks, "Why did Sam have to go?"

Despite Fess Parker's best attempts to console us Joel, Roy and I were still straining mightily to hide our wet cheeks from the cousin when the credits began to scroll. We sniffled our way to the lobby where we'd been told to wait until Aunt Harriet came to fetch us. A half hour later; still no sign of the the New Yorker. Then through the theather doors we heard Old Yeller's pleading barks, so we happily trompled back up the balcony stairway. It was thrilling to see Old Yeller alive again, but the second time Tommy Kirk cured his hydra-phobey, that lead ball's shattering my still-beating heart hurt just as much.


Hula Doula said...

Another masterpiece.
Your story telling is truly a gift.
*sigh* Precious memories.

Theresa said...

Amazing story. My girls cry when they watch that movie, which is nearly a dozen times a year...I may have shed a tear or two myself.

Jomona said...

I just wanted you to know how MUCH I enjoy reading your blog. I find myself transported to places long ago and far away, yet they seem so familiar.
Thanks for sharing your life and your talent. Interacting with you is always a joy...Really! ;-)

Bob said...

Jomona, if your dad ever denies that he blubbered too, don't you believe it. It's always a joy visiting with you, too.

BTW, I have a little Jomona story yet to tell, you know.

Barbara said...

Too bad I never knew Sam but it is nice hearing the stories. You do have a real knack telling stories and making us feel like we were there.