Friday, January 25, 2019

An Outdoor Dog By R.W. Dufresne

Near the end of World War II, R. W. Dufresne's character wants a dog of his own, but will his overbearing father let him?

Butch was a comical little puppy with short brown hair, a long tail that rolled up over his back like a big question mark, or maybe a hook to hang him in the barn with. He had a white patch over one eye and the tip of his tail was white, too, like he'd dipped it in a can of paint. The eye under the patch was blue, but the other eye was brown. His head was round, but flat in front like his father's, with pointy ears that stuck straight up, like his mother's.

It was 1944 and my father told me, "There's a war on." I wasn't sure what that meant, but I'd seen the posters at the post office: "We Can Do It," and "Loose Lips Sink Ships," and "Buy Bonds." Sometimes we'd sit around the radio and listen to President Roosevelt. He talked funny and I didn't understand everything he was saying, but I liked the sound of his voice. I remember we hated the Japs.

And I remember there was lots of food and other things that we couldn't buy at the store because of something called rationing. My father raised chickens and rabbits. The man next door, Mr. Olson, had a cow and pigs. He had fruit trees, too - apples and apricots, peaches and plums and prunes, cherries, and oranges - two of each, so they could "propagate," my father said. We had a vegetable garden with green beans and carrots and peas and beets, and potatoes and onions, and broccoli and asparagus... and rutabagas (I didn't understand why, but my mother liked rutabagas). My father traded stuff back and forth with Mr. Olson, so it ended up we all had pretty much everything there was to have, even with the war on.

Mr. Olson had a dog named Winston, and sometimes I got to pet him, and he'd wag his rear end like he didn't know his tail was missing. I wished I had a dog like Winston.

An old spinster woman lived in the big house across from our place. It sat back off the street behind a wall with a wrought iron gate. I used to stand on the sidewalk outside the gate and peek in. There was a long walkway leading to the house with lots of green lawn on both sides. About halfway to the house the walkway turned into a circle with a big fountain in the middle, and water spilling out of a little bowl into a middle-sized bowl, and then into a big bowl, and there was a statue of a naked lady on top, dipping her toe in the water. I was mostly interested in the lady, She had her poppa lilies covered up with a towel.

I'd seen her - the spinster woman, I mean - I'd seen her once at the store. She was tall and skinny and I noticed she didn't have poppa lilies. Not to speak of, anyway. Her face was kinda pretty though. I mean for an old woman. You know?

My mother saw me looking at her and told me, "Her name is Mildred Forsythe." Then, my mother thought better of it and said, "Mrs. Forsythe to you."

I said, "Yes, ma'am," but I thought, Mildred? That's a silly name; it sounds like mildew.

But, I was going to tell you about Butch.

It all started that day Princess crawled out from under Mildew's gate. I was on my bike, finishing my paper route, and I saw Princess run over to Mr. Olson's house. Winston was out too, and they started playing in Mr. Olson's yard. I stopped and petted both of them.

Princess was a real pretty dog with long thick hair. She was all white and had blue eyes and a pointed nose and pointed ears that stood straight up. She was kinda skinny, and had long legs and a long tail that curled up over her back like one of those - whatchacallits - a plume, I think.

Winston was short and fat and his legs were short so he ran "close to the ground," was what my father said. He was brown with white spots and a white place on his face that made it look like he was wearing a mask. He didn't have a nose. I mean, his head was fat like the rest of him and where his nose should have been there were holes - you know, nostrils - but nothing stuck out, and he had big floppy ears, and his tongue hung out of his mouth on one side like he was out of breath all the time.

Anyway, I think that was the day it all started, because the next thing I knew Mildew was over at Mr. Olson's house and they were standing in his front yard and Mildew was yelling (she wasn't being, you know, lady-like) and Mr. Olson was yelling back, "That bitch a'yourn come wanderin' into my yard, and she'as askin' for it. And Winston? Well, he'as just takin' care'a business."

Then, I saw my mother in our front yard. Her mouth was open and her eyes wide, like she couldn't believe what was going on in Mr. Olson's yard. And then she turned and looked at me and yelled, "You come in the house right now."

"I haven't finished my route."

"Right now, young man."

I remember thinking, geez, what did I do? I mean, whenever she called me "young man ..."

You know?



A few weeks later I was finishing my route again and I saw Mildew carrying this puppy, and she was going door to door asking if anybody wanted him. I stopped next to her and said, "Hi, Mrs. Forsythe." (I didn't want to call her Mildew to her face).

She snapped at me, you know, the way grownups do when they're upset. "Yes?"

"Is it a boy or a girl?"

"It's a male." She still sounded upset.

"You already get rid of the rest?"

"There were no others. Princess had just the one. Thank God."

I thought that was a strange thing to be thanking God for, but I said, "I sure would like to have him."

She held him out to me, "He's yours, and welcome."

I'd wanted a dog for as long as I could remember, but when I'd asked my father for one before, he'd said, "No. Dogs are just a nuisance."

"What's a nuisance, sir?"

"Someone has to feed them, and see they have water; and someone has to pick up after them, and bathe them... they're more trouble than they're worth."

"I could do all that stuff."

"I said, no," he scolded, "and that's the end of it."

I'd never had the nerve to ask again, but there was Mildew offering to give me a dog, and I couldn't just say no, so instead I said, "I'll ask my mom if I can have him."

"I'll wait," Mildew said.

"I need to finish my route first."

"I'll wait right here," she said.

I threw my last three papers, and I went and asked my mom and she said exactly what I was afraid she'd say: "You'll have to ask your father."

Mildew handed me the puppy, and we all walked around the house and found my father in one of the chicken houses. He was scraping chicken poop off the floor and shoveling it into a pile outside. If you've never been on a chicken ranch, I'll tell you, chicken poop smells awful. Worse than the limburger cheese Grandpa eats, or that fried liver my father likes. Worse even than the bathroom right after Uncle Walter's been in there.

So, Mildew had a handkerchief in her hand and she was holding it over her nose and there were tears running down her cheeks and my mother was trying to keep from laughing out loud at her and I held the puppy up for my father to see.

"What's that?" he said.

"Princess threw this puppy ..." (I gotta tell you I was real proud I knew to say 'threw' instead of 'had.' I'd heard Mr. Olson say it that way when one of his sows gave birth to piglets.) "...and Mil... Mrs. Forsythe wants to give him away."

My father looked disgusted (like when I slipped and fell in the chicken house and got up with poop all over me). He frowned, and I thought I probably shouldn't have asked. But he took the puppy from me and held it up, and he was turning it every which way and shaking his head the whole time.

"That's the ugliest dog I've ever seen."

I just knew he was gonna say I couldn't have the puppy, and I couldn't help it - I got all choked up and started to cry. And when I looked up, my face was all wrinkled up and tears were running down my cheeks, and I was surprised to see this different look on my father's face. It was like when my mother ran the sliver under her fingernail and it hurt real bad and she was trying not to cry and my father had his pliers and he was pulling it out. It was that kinda look.

"Does he have a name?"

I didn't expect him to say that, but I stopped crying right away and I said, as clear as I could manage, "I thought I'd name him, Butch, sir."

Right then, Butch's tongue was dangling from his mouth in a kind of stupid grin, and my father laughed out loud and said, "He looks like a Butch alright."

Then my father smiled, and said, "Okay, you can keep him."

I couldn't believe it. "I can?"

"But he's not to be in the house, understand? He'll be an outdoor dog and that's that."

I was disappointed Butch wouldn't be sleeping with me, but I thought I could work my mom for that later. Right then, my father had said I could keep him, and that was all I needed to hear.

"Gee, thank you, sir." I threw my arms around my father's waist and pressed the side of my face against him. I felt his hand on my shoulder, pressing against me. I'd have given anything for a hug or a pat on the head, but it felt more like he was pushing me away.

"Just remember, he's an outdoor dog," was all he said.



I liked everything about having a paper route. I liked folding the papers, and riding my bike, and seeing if I could hit the porch when I threw one. I liked my customers, too, and I really liked having money to spend. The best part, though, was my father's approval. I could tell he liked that I was being "responsible."

But, while Butch was growing up, you know, changing from a puppy to a dog and learning to be responsible like me, I wished I could just forget about my paper route and go straight home after school and play with him.

When he finally got big enough, I did. I'd go straight home from school and get him and take him with me on my route. I taught him to stay between me and the curb and when I stopped he knew to sit and wait for me to start again. On weekends, we'd go fishing and he'd lay beside me until I pulled one in and then he'd bark and dance around like he was as excited as I was. I taught him to chase my baseball and bring it back, and to roll over and to play dead. I learned to make a noise by sucking my lips and somehow he knew that meant "come" and he'd come to me every time. And I taught him to "stay," too. He'd follow me while I did my chores and we'd, you know, just be together.

Until that fateful summer morning when my father came running in the house.

"The rabbits are out!"

I was sitting at the kitchen table, a spoonful of cereal halfway to my mouth.

"You, boy! Go get that dog of yours and bring him in the house!"

"I sat there, confused, "What?"

"Get that damned dog in the house before he kills my rabbits!"

"Yes, sir." I jumped up and ran out the back door.

There, just as my father had feared, was Butch with a rabbit trapped in the corner where the fence joined the garage. "Butch!" I yelled, "Leave that rabbit alone!"

But Butch didn't mind me. He hunkered down on the ground and just stared at the rabbit. I thought, he's telling that rabbit, "Move and I'll eat you."

My father was standing in the middle of the yard, watching Butch and the rabbit and I thought, he's gonna kill my dog, sure.

But my father knew more about dogs and rabbits than I did.

"I'll be damned," he wondered out loud.

My father ran across the yard, reached down and scooped up the rabbit. Then, he stood and watched while Butch singled out another rabbit and herded it into the corner between the fence and the garage. When Butch hunkered down and started staring again, my father walked over and picked up that rabbit, too.

"Look at that," my father yelled, "he's catching them for me!"

Sure enough, one by one, Butch corralled all the rabbits and my father picked them up and put them back in their hutch.

My father called Butch over and patted him on the head and said, "Good boy, Butch... good boy."

I have to admit, for just a minute there, I felt jealous of Butch, and I wondered if my father would ever tell me, "Good boy."

But, after that, Butch got to be in the house all he wanted, and that was a good thing.

When the war was over, my father decided we'd move to Texas. His twin brother lived there and they were going to buy a weekly newspaper in a town called Littlefield.

"Your father's going to drive down in the car," my mother told me. "We'll wait till you're out of school and then we'll go down by train. Won't that be exciting?"

"What about Butch?"

My father said, "Don't worry about Butch. I've built a cage for him, and he'll ride down on the train with you."

You should have seen the cage my father built. The frame was made of two-by-fours with mitered corners and metal bracing. The door had a one-by-four frame with mitered corners and a cross-piece brace and it was put together with those squiggly metal things you hold on edge and pound in with a hammer. My father put it all together like a box about three feet square and wrapped the whole thing with heavy mesh wire.

"Butch will make the trip just fine, son. I promise."

"Gee, thank you, sir."

"Of course. I'm not going to let anything bad happen to our dog."

The train ride to Texas took two days and a night. I remember sitting next to a window and staring out at whatever went by. Sometimes there'd be buildings and streets filled with cars and then the train would stop and there'd be people walking back and forth and then I'd hear a whistle blowing and the train would start up again. Sometimes there'd be fields with stuff growing in them and tall round buildings and barns and houses scattered around. For awhile there were tall green trees and snow. Then, there'd be more buildings and people walking around and whistles. For a long time there was mostly nothing. I saw some funny looking machines with an arm that went up and down and tall wooden tower-like things that looked like something you could make with an Erector set.

Finally, the train stopped at another one of those places with all the people walking around, and Mom said, "Here we are, son."

"Is this Littlefield?"

"Come on, let's see if we can find your father."

We found him alright, and right away he took me to rescue Butch from his cage. And then we all went to see our new home. It was a lot different than the chicken ranch. There was a little white fence around the yard and a lawn and big shade trees. There was a vegetable garden in the back yard, but no chickens or rabbits. I had a room of my own and my father had thrown a blanket on the floor in one corner, "For Butch," he said.



One day, I was walking home from school and when I got to the corner right before our house I saw Butch running to meet me like he always did.

I saw the car coming, too, and I yelled at Butch, "Stay." But I was too late, and the man in the car didn't see him, and after he drove by there was Butch lying in the street. His legs were moving like maybe he thought he was still running, and there was lots of blood and when I got to him he was whimpering.

When I reached down to pet him, he snapped at me, so I sat back on my heels and looked around and my mother was running toward us and I yelled at her, "Mom, help! Butchie's been run over!"

She knelt down beside me and looked at Butch and all the blood around him and she started to cry, and I started to cry, and she put her arms around me.

"I'm so sorry, baby, but there's nothing we can do."

"Is he gonna die?"

"I'm afraid so."

We stayed there, right in the middle of the street, me sitting on my heels and Mom kneeling, and we just watched. It didn't take long. Butch took a deep breath and let it out and I saw something I'll never forget. It was his eyes... one second he was looking at me, and then he wasn't. It was like I saw his life just get up and leave.

When my father got home from work I told him what happened and how Butch tried to bite me, cause I didn't understand why he didn't like me anymore, and my father said, "Butch loved you just as much as you loved him, but he was in a lot of pain and he knew it would hurt if you touched him."

My father put his arms around me then and said, "Let's see if we can find a place for him in the back yard."

I started to cry again and my throat closed up and when I said, "Okay," the word was high-pitched and whiney.

We found a spot under my bedroom window and I went and got a shovel. When I got back, my father asked if I wanted him to help, and I told him, "No, sir... but, thanks."



It was maybe a year later when my father asked me if I'd like to get another dog.

"No," I told him. "Some other dog wouldn't be the same."

"I know how much you loved him, son. Your mom and I loved him, too."

I got all choked up then, and tried to smile, but my eyes got all teary.

My father smiled and put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me against him and I felt his other hand stroking my head, and he said, "I love you, too, son."

I started to cry out loud, and the words came out all blubbery, "I love you too... Dad."

A couple weeks later, I asked Dad if we could get another dog and he said, "Sure."

We went to the pound together - just me and my Dad - and I saw a funny looking puppy, and I asked the woman in charge, "What's he made of?"

She laughed and said, "He's part English Bull Dog and part Lab."

I looked at Dad and he nodded his head and I told the lady, "We'll take him."

7 comments:

  1. Whew, that tugs at the heart strings. Butch brought father and son closer together, it seems. Good dog.

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  2. I found this story excellent and a real rear jerker! The story is simple (so what!) and superbly written.
    Do yourself a favour, read it!

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  3. Sorry, last comments by
    Mike McC

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  4. What Mr. Henson and anonymous said and we have gone through that many times with some excellent cats. They are frequently in my stories.

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  5. Beautifully written. Touched my heart. Thanks!

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  6. I liked the homespun voice and dialogue. Puts you right there like you are sitting next to him, remembering.

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  7. A charming, heart-warming story told simply and effectively. Very enjoyable.
    Beryl

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