Times Past, Pausing to Remember


My grandparents had a farm in Iowa that was the delight of my life during summer vacations from school. I was always a city kid who needed to be in the country, and I never outgrew that. Grandma and Grandpa (Bernice and George) raised their five sons and two daughters on that farm during the first quarter of the last century, then kept farming until George decided it was time to retire to town when he was well into his 70's.

The farm was fields and ponds and orchards and woods and creeks. It was also animals - horses, pigs, cows, sheep, chickens, ducks. And one old dog.

Sport was the family dog, but no pampered lap sitter. He was a real working farm dog, helping George and the boys round up the cows, sheep, or whatever needed gathering. He would romp alongside the plow in the spring and the harvester in the fall, scaring up anything that might spook the team of horses. Grandpa's farm knew the real meaning of "horse-power." Very few things on the farm had motors in those days.

Sport also had talents in other areas as well. He was a performer, entertainer, comedian. In the evenings, after the chores were done, meal eaten, dishes washed, dried and put away, and while the human folks were digging into the home-made ice cream, Sport would hunker down nearby and wait.

Then it would happen. Someone would put down a spoon long enough to say, "Chase your tail, Sport!" Up he'd bound and around and around he would go. Soon he was just a blur, going faster than even those sturdy little legs seemed capable.

People who had seen the show dozens of times still slapped their knees and laughed until the tears came. Newcomers gaped. Was that whirling dervish really just a small dog? Eventually, Sport would begin to slow down. Still circling, he held that small tail ever so gently between his teeth. Then he'd let go, drop to his haunches and grin from ear to ear. How was that, folks? Pretty soon, up he'd bound again and tear down to the pond to see how the little kids were doing with their fishing.

That farm was a very safe place for a little dog. Cars were scarce. What few there were made such a racket that they could never take you unawares. There were no mean spirited people around who would harm a man's dog, and epidemics didn't seem to happen that far out in the country. Sport looked as if he was going to have a fine, long life.

Then one day he got snake bit. There are more grammatical ways to put that, but with an Eastern Diamondback's venom in a small dog, grammar doesn't count for much.

Someone saw it happen, and saw Sport hobbling off toward the pond. There was nothing to do for the dog; he could not survive for long and there was no treatment available for a snake-bit farm animal. Farm folks live closer to nature than the rest of us and adversity doesn't often come as a surprise. Still, the family mourned Sport, knowing there would never be another quite like him.

About a week after his loss, George sat on the back stoop, not thinking much about anything. Something caught his eye, moving through the long grass between the pond and the house. What in tarnation...?

George loved to tell the story, and told it every time in just the same way. "Here comes this critter, staggering along, sorriest looking beast you ever saw, poor excuse for a dog, I want to tell you. Caked two inches with mud from tail to nose, skinny, starved, could barely stand. It finally dawned on me what I was looking at. 'Why, Sport, you old fool! What hole did you crawl out of?'"

"And that's just what happened," Grandpa would always say. "That old dog was smart. He buried himself in that muck by the pond 'til it drew out all that poison. Then he came on home. Needed a good meal. And a bath."

Sport went on to live a long life. I don't know about a lot of people, but I'm sure Sport made it to Heaven. I can see him helping Saint Peter usher in the newcomers. He would study every face, to see if he knew someone from the old days. Then the newcomer would grin. Chase your tail, Sport.