The photograph is curled around the edges, folding back onto itself against the black page of the album. The photo is in black and white, as all of them were back then, but touched with a tinge of sepia.
The boy in the photo is about 7 or 8. He’s wearing short pants, a matching jacket and a cap. The boy is me and I’m squinting at the camera, as if the sun is in my eyes, and I’m thinking, “Hurry up and take the picture, woodja?” It feels like a Sunday morning, this photo, with Mass lying in wait, the smell of incense already in my nostrils.
My hand is atop the head of a dog which is sitting at my side. The dog is looking off somewhere as if he’s trying to remember where the heck he put that damn bone.
“Geez, lookit him. He’s part pit bull for cryin’ out loud,” my wife said as we thumbed through the photo album.
He was, although we didn’t know that at the time. He was just a mongrel who wandered onto the property on Crum Creek Road one day.
“Let’s name him Gone,” my dad said.
My sister and I said that was a stupid name, and besides, why would you call him that?
“Because that’s what he’ll be in the morning — gone,” he answered.
Except he wasn’t. He stayed.
The dog would wander off every morning, disappearing into the woods and meadows around Crum Creek Road, but would return at midday. Usually, he came back either muddy and wet, or bloody and muddy, or some other combination of mayhem and disorder. If the boys in “Lord of The Flies” had had a dog on their island, this would have been the dog.
My sister and I named him Sandy, because of his color. After awhile, he began to come running to us when we called him.
“He’s always dirty. I don’t want him in the house,” my mother said, laying down the law.
The law was always being laid down in our house. If the law was a carpet, we would have been ankle deep in plush.
But then I got sick. At that age, it seemed I was always getting sick. Something to do with adenoids and ear infections. Missed a ton of school between the ages of 7 and 10. Spent more time listening to soap operas on the radio than I did in the classroom doing arithmetic tables. Or so it seemed.
To this day, I can name the order in which the soap operas came on the radio. First up was “Wendy Warren and The News.” Then came “Helen Trent,” then “Our Gal Sunday,” which, in its intro, always posed the question, “Can Our Gal Sunday, a girl from a little mining town out West, find happiness with England’s most privileged and titled gentlemen, Lord Henry Brinthrope?”
But first, this message:
“L-A-V-A … L-A-V-A … spells Lava soap. If you want your clothes fresher and cleaner …”
Oh, yeah, was sick a lot.
Didn’t mind it much, either. Because of the magazines and comic books and all. My mom or dad would return from “going to the corner” and put neat things on the bed.
The neat things that kept me from wanting to hurry back to school were comics like The Green Hornet (and his sidekick Kato), Captain Marvel and the escapades of Archie and Veronica. The magazines were SPORT, Street & Smith’s College Football Preview and a newspaper called The Sporting News, which was baseball’s “bible.”
Nothing was as exciting as waking up from a nap and spying a slick magazine on your bed with Doak Walker on the cover. Walker in SMU’s red and gold uniform, but without a helmet. Cool-looking guy. I told myself that someday I’d wear No. 37, too.
The only thing better than a sports magazine was getting a pack of bubblegum. Sometimes it was a pack of movie stars like Hopalong Cassidy or Ruth Roman, but usually it was baseball cards. Every now and then, after getting yet another card of Bob Kuzava or Augie Galan or Emil Verban or Pete Suder, a Jackie Robinson or Stan Musial would tumble out of the pack smelling of bubblegum. Was heaven. The cards, not the gum. Ruth Roman was fine to look at, too.
But the dog. One time I woke up from a nap with a fever and Sandy at the foot of the bed, commiserating, his chin across my feet. My mom saw him and went, “Aww-w-w-w …”
He’d been around for about a year, coming and going as he pleased with us always feeding him, when my mom finally said, “I guess we can keep him …”
There were dog fights. Nothing planned. They just happened.
There were these two boxers on Crum Creek Road. One belonged to the Bloodworth family and the other was from down the road a speck. Sandy, part pit bull and part whatever, would take them on. The boxers came in around 90 pounds or so, Sandy at about 60 pounds.
One time he and the Bloodworth boxer went at it on our screened-in porch. The boxer had Sandy by the throat … Sue and I screaming. My mom threw a bucket of hot water on them. They went through the screen and fell 15 feet to a terrace below. They came up growling, tearing into one another.
One time we figured out that Sandy’s record in fights was something like 1 and 7. But he would always fight. Always. Was a warror, that Sandy.
When we moved away from Crum Creek Road we just left Sandy behind. My mom said he’d be fine … that Crum Creek Road was his real home. By then I was 13 and there was this girl, Connie Coskerie, and Sandy wasn’t quite as important as before.
I got to thinking about Sandy recently what with all that Michael Vick business with pit bulls. A horrible thing to see, a dog fight. I can still hear the growling of the dogs and the screaming. But can feel Sandy putting his chin across my feet, too.
A wonderful thing, man’s best friend.
What to expect
Steelers 29, Browns 10, Dawg Masks in Dawg Pound 178, Dawg Pound Arrests 147, Other Arrests 109.
Contact Doug Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.