Depression Soup
Chapter 16: My Dog

Copyright© 2011 by TC Allen

The next morning, Dog, as I had begun to call him, followed along with me when I went to bring the cows in. As soon as he saw the little milk herd, he trotted toward the stragglers at the rear and started to herd them toward the barn. It was obvious Dog had worked stock before.

Even though the cows knew where they were going, Dog followed and kept them bunched up close together, nipping a leg here and barking an order at a wanderer there. They headed for the barn and each cow went to "her" own feed box. Dog lay down in the door on his belly, chin between his paws and watched.

I gave each cow her ration of grain, took the milk buckets down from their pegs and started to milk my first one. At the first sound of milk hitting the bottom of the bucket, the cats all hurried into the barn. At the time we had about six or so cats in residence.

For some unfathomable reason we seemed to have a constant cat population of six or eight cats. I oft time wondered where the extra ones went because I never saw any dead cats lying around.

The cats looked at the strange dog trespassing on what they considered their territory, hissed and started to back away. He ignored them and concentrated on me. He watched me intently as I milked.

I shot a stream of milk at him and his mouth opened up wide and he gulped the warm, delicious liquid right down. The cats forgot all about their dislike for the dog when they saw him get their milk. They started to make a jealous yowling so I gave them some next. Then the dog got more and after that the cats received their ration.

I gave a little extra to the cats and by the time the milking was over, they accepted Dog. His lack of interest in them reassured them in some way. I carried the first two buckets of milk up to the milk house and went back for the next two. Every day a gallon or more of the whole milk was strained through cheesecloth and brought to the house.

Some of the milk was purposely left out on the covered back porch to sour and then clabber. Ma boiled the clabbered milk down until it separated into curds and whey. I got to drink the whey, the sourish liquid left after the curds were removed to eventually become cottage cheese. In time Dog begged to share the whey with me. Most of the milk was run through the separator and fed to the chickens and the hogs.

Everything on the farm got used "except the squeal of the pig." Even the pulled weeds were tossed onto the compost pile to become fertilizer for the vegetable garden. Pa mixed manure from the barn into the pile. Even though we were not precise or scientific in the way we blended our compost, it gave us the desired results...

Around the fourth day Dog was with us he sat on his haunches and watched me separate the milk. All at once, he picked up a small tin washbasin we washed eggs in some times. He dropped the bowl at my feet and looked at me expectantly. Then he looked back down at the bowl. He was not the subtle kind.

I laughed and dumped it full of the separated milk. He "woofed" once to thank me and buried his snout in the frothy liquid. He seemed almost to inhale the milk in one long, continuous slurp. After what seemed mere seconds he licked the bowl clean.

I laughed and gave him more. He gulped the second one down too, belched and returned to the door to lie down and watch me. He had to be the belchingest dog anyone ever owned. Right then I was fearful he would not care to stick around.

After the hogs and chickens were fed, I started on my share of the early morning chores. I headed back to the house and washed up for breakfast. Dog followed and flopped down on the porch to wait for me. The beef and the milk had already begun to revitalize him. Most of the weakness had left him and he seemed to be well on the way to regaining all of his strength. Pa came out of the house and examined the dog and told me why he was recovering so fast.

"Davy, this beast is not much more than a puppy. I'd say he is pretty close to a year old, if that. He might even grow to be something over two hundred pounds." Well, I thought it was great. Every boy wants the biggest and the best. I already decided he was the best, and now Pa was telling me he was the biggest. I decided I could live with the burden of having the biggest and the best dog in the state. The bond between Dog and me was instant and strong.

"Son," he warned, "If he starts after the calves or the chickens, I'll have to put him down."

"I understand, Pa. But I don't think old Dog will cause you any worry. I watched him bring the cows in and the way he was with the cats. He is a farm dog and a good one." I was positive Dog would never disappoint me.

"Which brings up another point, Son. He may want to go home some day after he has recovered from his ordeal. Are you ready for that?"

"No sir, I am not. I never really cared if we had a dog after old Bunker died, but I surely hope this one sticks around." Old Bunker was my dog who had died two years earlier and I never wanted another dog until now. But this ugly beast was a perfect replacement in all ways. Dog had made himself at home on our back porch, as if he had always rested there. We went in to eat breakfast. Afterward I gave Dog the meat scraps. He inhaled them and lay back down on the porch to wait while I went back inside.

As soon as I excused myself from the table I went back outside to weed the garden. Dog followed me and plopped down in the shade of an elm tree that grew alongside one edge of the garden. From there he could watch me work in relative comfort.

Weeding a garden is one of the worst jobs on the farm. Well, that and cleaning out the barn, which was my next job. The weeds were piled on the compost pile after they were pulled.

Pa had rigged a pipe from the backyard pump to the garden and the chicken yard. I took the gallon can of water sitting there and poured it down the pump to prime it. I pumped water back into the can and then began the task of pumping water into the garden. Our big garden took a lot of water.

Normally the windmill did the work for me. But there had been not even a breeze for two days. First we had winds that blew everything over, then none at all. Because of the recent rainfall, I only had to spend a half hour on the pump.

Dog followed me out to the barn and watched as I took a wheelbarrow and began to clean out the barn. He seemed to know just where to sit to be out of the way. He watched everything I did as if he wanted to memorize it for later reference. I couldn't get over how he just seemed to fit right in.

That evening I lit the Coleman lamp in the living room and got out a book to read. Pa came in and sat in his easy chair and, with his eyes closed, he just rested. Ma darned some socks with holes in the heels. Our evenings were not the most exciting in the world, but they let us sort of unwind and relax after a day's hard labor. Later we went to bed and to sleep.

In the middle of the night I heard a loud yelp and a series of barks, then another yelp of pain and more barking. I threw on my overalls and ran bare footed out of my room. Pa came out of their bedroom with his shotgun in his hands. Whatever was the cause of the noise was way out of the ordinary.

We hurried to the back door and saw Dog in a death struggle with two coyotes. He finally clamped those big jaws on the one and I could hear the crunching sound as he bit through the animal's neck, He twisted in mid air, dropped the one he had just killed and engaged the other. He made fast work of him too.

Then he staggered over and picked up a dark bundle and brought it to me and laid it at my feet and collapsed. I could see he was hurt and all done in. The dark bundle was a hurt chicken. He had saved the chicken from the coyotes.

"Well Pa," I told him proudly, "I think he's going to earn his keep. I also think we don't have to worry about him killing' our chickens."

"Yup," Pa answered and squatted down to see just how bad the dog was injured. He was bleeding from some of the bites, but seemed just worn out otherwise. He was still weak from his previous ordeal when he came to live with us.

"You got a good dog here, boy." This meant Pa approved of Dog all the way. Pa was slow to give praise, except where I was concerned.

The next morning I got up a few minutes before five, as usual and headed out the back door. There was no Dog. He was no place to be seen. I got worried something had happened to him. Had he gone off somewhere to die? I wondered. Maybe he was hurt worse than we thought.

I was worried about Dog, fearful that something had happened to him. However the chores on the farm always came before my worries or anything else. Chores don't wait. As it turned out all my worry was for nothing.

I grabbed the clean milk buckets off the back porch and headed out to the barn. When I got there, I found some very indignant cows milling around waiting impatiently for the barn doors to be opened. Dog had taken it upon himself to go round up the cows and herd them in. I opened the doors and the cows shoved their way inside and took their usual places.

"Dog, you really are a very unusual animal. Just wait till I tell Pa. I don't think I ever saw another dog like you."

I noticed how his ears perked up a little and twitched when I said "Dog." He already knew and accepted "Dog" as his name. He sat there all proud and happy and grinned as I got my milking stool and sat down, bucket between my legs. As I began to milk he sat up straighter and watched me with great attention. As the first milk hit the bottom of the bucket, the cats came running.

Three cats lined up on one side of him and three on the other. I gave Dog the first few squirts and the cats began to meow their protest. I gave them each a few squirts and Dog barked to signify it was his turn. I laughed and gave him his and then the cats demanded some.

I could have emptied our old Swiss cow completely and they would have still been making noises demanding more. "No more!" I yelled at them, but not too loudly. The cats then hurried off to do cat things and Dog lay there on the dirt floor of the barn, panting, and watched me finish the milking.

When I began to turn the crank on the separator after filling it with the whole milk, Dog brought the old washbasin over and set it down for me to fill with separated milk. I obliged and he went through the same slurping and gulping until the milk was gone and then licked the bowl clean. I refilled it and he did it again, belched and lay down and waited for me to finish.

Breakfast was on the table as I brought the daily gallon of whole milk inside. "Pa, we got a rare dog there." He raised his eyebrows and waited for me to explain. But I had already shoveled the first bite into my mouth.

"Chew with your mouth closed, David." Ma was always saying that to me.

"How so, Son?" Pa asked me. "I know he's trustworthy around cats and chickens, I saw for myself how he acts around them."

I swallowed another too big bite and told him, "Dog went out and had the cows herded in to the barn yard all waiting for me. My old dog is pretty smart. In fact, I bet there ain't another one smarter anywhere in the whole U.S. of A."

"Don't say ain't, David," Ma corrected me.

"Yes ma'am," I answered automatically and turned back to Pa.

"Well, I wouldn't go quite as far as to make that claim, but I'd say he is a pretty smart animal. I'd also say he belonged to a mighty lazy man who would let a dog do all his work for him. It might be best if you go with the dog tomorrow so you can see just how things are in the south pasture. A dog can't tell you when something is amiss. You might also check out the dam and the pond.

"I have a hunch we might find the river is down and if we take a net and a few five gallon buckets of water and head down to the river, I just bet we could stock the pond with cats in no time."

"Uh, Sir?" Pa looked at me expectantly, "I think it may be a little too mushy to take the road. It would be hard work for a team to get through."

"Well, then let's not take the road then. Why don't we go through the north pasture and cut across the old Simmons place? We'd be on sandstone and shale all the way." My Pa always seemed to stay step ahead.

He continued, "Besides, I want to look the place over. The bank took it over, what, about two years ago? They haven't been able to sell it. The owner of the bank would like to get something back on his money. So just maybe we can make a deal for cash."

"I don't see what you want that place for, Pa. Even though the property borders on the river, it only has one well and it went dry. The whole place is covered with timothy and wild oats and wheat left to sprout on its own and grass and..."

I looked at him. "Pa you thinking of starting a beef herd?"

"Don't hurt to look, Son." Pa looked at me and smiled. I knew Pa had been thinking hard for about a week. Usually, in the evening, he read a book written by some dead person or other. Yet for over a week he had been sitting and pondering.

"I don't know what you got in mind, Pa but I bet we don't lose money on it." It was a safe bet. Pa never stuck his neck out. He just seemed to sort of ease his way through life, being a good neighbor to all and then when he saw a deal he liked, he'd snag it. He never cheated of forced anything to hurt anyone, ever. But he also made sure he didn't get hurt either.

It set me to remembering how we got the last four Percherons we had. He picked them up as yearlings at a country auction where nobody else attended but him and some managers of the big farm outfits. The sale was supposed to be held on the quiet because a few of the "big boys" wanted to grab whatever they could first without anybody else knowing about it. By chance Pa found out about the sale and decided to see what was there they thought was so great.

The sale was held at another bankrupt farm. The owner was what we used to call a "gentleman farmer." He had been a rich oil man who bought a section of so-so land where he spent his summers. The farm had the best of everything including a string of American saddle horses, some Percheron draft animals and farm equipment that appeared to be hardly used.

The other buyers snubbed the American saddle horses and concentrated on the draft animals. There were four yearling Percherons that all looked as if they had been badly neglected and improperly fed since the bank had taken over. Alongside the big Morgans and other large draft animals, they looked mighty puny.

Pa knew horses the way a preacher knows the Bible. He got them for a hundred dollars for all four. Of course he had to finagle a little. Pa usually knew just how to get what he wanted and still stay honorable and mostly honest.

One thing in what he called his "buying strategy" was to tell me in a voice loud enough for others to hear, "Davy, If we can get those young Percherons cheap enough, I can sell them for thirty dollars a head and make a profit. Nobody knows the story of these poor beasts back our way."

One of the buyers took the bait and asked Pa, "Howdy, neighbor, what you think of those young Perch colts?"

"Oh," Pa answered him, "They might make fair plow animals if the crazies don't show up in the blood line. You know how some lineages of Percherons are pretty inbred for many generations.

"I know I would not put a small child untended on the back of one of those four right now. They're just too untrustworthy as they are."

Let me tell you one thing here. Pa would not put a "small child" untended on the back of any horse. To Pa, a "small child" is under five years of age. About the time the fifth birthday rolls around, there are "little chores for the young child" and learning to work horses is one of them.

When the bidding started, Pa bid forty dollars for the four of them. One of the big shot buyers bid fifty. After showing great public indecision, Pa bid sixty and the other bidder came back with seventy. Pa put on a big show of anguished indecision and finally said, "I bid eighty dollars because I can sell them for a hundred. If the man bids eighty one dollars he can have those four crazy two year olds."

The buyer who had asked Pa about the colts in the first place pulled his friend aside and whispered in his ear. The one who had bid against Pa made a sour face and turned his back on the auctioneer. Pa bought four blooded Percheron yearlings for eighty dollars. He didn't get the pedigree to go with them, but like he said, "Papers never pulled a plow."

Those horses, even in the midst of the depression were worth two hundred dollars apiece in any big market back east, or down south in Kentucky or Pennsylvania where they were prized. We already had three mares and a fine young stud. These four were mares so we had a fine beginning of a horse herd.

Pa had gotten the first four by using the other man's greed against him. He agreed not to bid against the man who wanted a matched team of six Morgan geldings. The truth of the matter was Pa didn't care for Morgan horses. He felt they were too delicate for heavy farm work.

We tied the four yearlings behind the wagon and started the long trip back home. We had the choice to either push on through most of the night or else we could stop after four hours and rest the horses and then go on.

Where many would have thought only of a warm bed, Pa thought first of the horses. In the back of the wagon were four canvas bags of water. Each held a little over two gallons of water. There was also a basket of chicken Ma had fried crisp with flour and seasoned breadcrumbs, cold boiled baby rose potatoes, buttered bread and some pumpkin pie. We brought enough oats for a gallon ration for each horse. As usual, Pa came prepared.

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