My father had a fixation for collies. He thought they were the best thing since sliced bread. He even went out and paid good money for one.
He named that collie Ring for reasons I never knew, but the name fit to a tee. The dog had this ring halfway up his nose most of the time from sticking it in cow pies. He loved fresh cow pies. Had the greenest teeth of any critter for miles around. Then again Father could have named him Halitosis. This was one dog you didn't want licking your face.
When Ring wasn't eating fresh cow pies or rolling in some dead critter's carcass, he would stand and bark. He would bark at leaves or fence posts or anything else he thought needed barking at. He could bark for hours on end and since our nearest neighbor was over a mile away he only drove us nuts.
And of course Ring loved to "help" when we were trying to drive cattle into a corral or through a gate. He had the uncanny ability to figure out exactly which gate or corral we wanted to drive them through or into and he would immediately get in the opening, face the oncoming cattle and start barking his fiercest bark. No matter how big a rock you selected or how fast you threw them, he would dodge with the greatest of ease and never miss a bark. In fact the more rocks you threw and the louder you yelled, the more he seemed to think you were shouting, "sic 'em!" We would have to take at least one person off the drive to take care of the dog and get him out of the way, which was no easy task. Collies are supposed to be good cattle dogs, but this one was pathetic.
One day I was out with my trusty Red Ryder BB gun trying to find some poor sparrow to practice on. As I walked past the corral with the bulls in it, there was Ring doing his usual thing, standing about two feet to the rear of one of the bulls barking his fool head off. It didn't seem to bother the bull, who just continued to chow down, but I had been listening to this infernal yapping for at least half an hour or so and it was getting on my nerves.
On the spur of the moment, I cocked my BB gun and started to pull down on Ring. Then I halted. That thick fur of his would stop any little old BB. He wouldn't even feel it. Then I saw the perfect opportunity. It wasn't the blasted dog I would shoot at but the bull. I pulled down on the bull's scrotum and let go with a BB. The BB flew true and struck the bull square in the rocky mountain oysters. The bull's double hoofed kick caught Ring flush in the ribs. It was a thing of beauty to see that dog rising in slow motion into the air with the breath going out of him in one of the loudest wheezes I've ever heard from any set of lungs. He must have gone thirty feet up and thirty backward. When he hit the ground he was gasping and running as fast he could.
At least I had peace and quiet for awhile. Ring didn't come back for several minutes and when he started barking at the bull again he must have been fifty feet away.
The bull filled me with awe. I caught him by surprise with the BB but he didn't even stop eating when he launched Ring into orbit. That was one tough bull!
My Grandma Fleming was short but not so little and was known for her cooking, which is something to brag about in a farming community. But as a nine-year-old I didn't know about bragging rights. All I knew was I wanted to be with Gramps and to eat Grandma's cooking when I got hungry. Things are generally pretty basic for a child.
When I wasn't "helping" Gramps with the chores, I would be up at the house "helping" Grandma with the cooking. I would get stuff out of the cupboards and fetch jars from the root cellar. There were times of real work for her, like when she was making butter. The churn, wooden butter mold and paddle could do magical things in Grandma's hands. On the other hand, my most important job was taster, and my favorite was the tasting of the pies. Grandma always did what she called test strips of the crust and would sprinkle them with sugar and cinnamon. It was my duty to be sure she had done okay. The only problem was that everybody else thought they should have my job. Sometimes I hardly got any at all. Especially if my brother or cousins were around. Life was not fair.
It is funny the things you remember from your childhood. I remember seeing a picture of Gramps as a young man. It wasn't the fact of his having once been a young man that amazed me, but the idea of him ever having a full head of hair. After that I would often steal glances at his bald pate, looking for some sort of evidence. Another thing I remember about Gramps was, though he never used deodorant, he never smelled bad. He had an odor of clean hay and leather. To this day those are smells of refuge and comfort.
The things I remember about Grandma were different. She was efficient to the core when it came to working in her kitchen. The rest of the house definitely looked lived in and in need of a little straightening up. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't dirty, just messy at times. I recall her puttering around the house doing strange things to African violets or going outside and working for hours in her iris beds. But in the kitchen she was like the captain of a ship. She was in command and there was no doubt about it. Sometimes she would use measuring cups and spoons and other times she would just shake a little bit of this or that into the palm of her hand and then toss it into what she was making. And I remember how she would sit on her stool that was too tall for her but just right for the sink. She had the rungs almost worn through from perching her feet on them while she peeled potatoes, apples, or whatever else was in season.
Grandma used an old wood stove for cooking. She would bank the fires hours before she baked and keep an eagle eye on the oven. When she had the cakes and pies ready she would check everything again and then place her pastries, etc., just so inside, often changing their positions two or three times while they baked. She made everything from scratch and it always came out perfect.
And then Grandma got sick and Gramps took out the old wood range and bought a new fancy electric stove. All I was told at the time was that Grandma's heart was acting up and she couldn't do a lot of the things she used to do. So there was no more gardening or working in the iris beds. She couldn't get around the kitchen much. She still talked to her African violets and loved them as if they had a soul. Her speech was slower and she dragged one of her legs a little and hardly used one of her arms any more. Then Gramps hired a lady to do the cooking, washing, and cleaning. Grandma helped out where she could but she couldn't do much. She mostly sat out on the porch looking out at the pasture.
Things had changed. Something was wrong. Mom told me not to say anything to Grandma or ask any questions that would embarrass her or make her feel uncomfortable. I didn't know what might be the catalyst, so this order of the day put a virtual seal on my lips for anything but banal banter. Fortunately I was pretty good at running my mouth and not saying anything.
Then Grandma got sick again. This time she was gone for almost a month. When she came home she needed help even getting up, eating, and dressing. She didn't talk nearly as much as she used to and now she was harder to understand. One of the most disturbing incidents for me was the time we were sitting together out on the enclosed porch looking out at the apple tree, pasture and alfalfa field. It was a real pretty day with light, white fluffy clouds in the sky. A good day for enjoying. Then, for no reason, Grandma started crying. It was a quiet cry. Mostly tears rolled down her cheeks silently accompanied by only an occasional sob or shudder. I tried not to watch, not wanting to do anything wrong. Finally I got her some Kleenex. I didn't know what else to do. It made me want to cry.
As Grandma got better, she would go back into the kitchen from time to time. She would stand there looking around for a few minutes and then slowly walk out without saying a word. It was kind of eerie watching her go in there. I wondered what she was thinking but knew I wasn't supposed to be asking her any questions.
After a month or two, Grandma did so well that she went to town a few times and helped do the shopping at Uncle Byron's grocery store. She and Gramps would come home and then I would help Gramps unload. One time when we were unloading I found a marble cake mix. Grandma took it out of my hand and put it away on the bottom shelf with the pots and pans. I didn't say anything but I wondered what Grandma was doing with a cake mix. I didn't even know she knew what one was.
A few days later when I came up from the creek and walked into the house there stood Grandma grinning from ear to lopsided ear. She had traces of flour on her face and clothes and there was the smell of baking in the air. She signaled me to follow her and we went into the kitchen and there on the cutting board sat a cornbread pan filled with the cooling marble cake. She went over to the fridge and poured a glass of fresh cow's milk with the cream floating on top and took it over to the table and told me to sit. She then went and got a knife and cut me a piece of the marble cake. A big piece. She gave it to me and sat down across the table from me and waited with obvious expectation.
All of a sudden alarms went off in my head. I was scared and didn't know what to do. I sat there motionless. Grandma shoved the plate a little closer and told me to eat. I took a bite and almost choked, it was so dry and tasteless. And then Grandma said, "Well how is it?"
I had me a problem. I looked at Grandma and my mind started racing. My grandma could cook and cook good. This was not good! And yet across the table sat my grandma, smiling and waiting for the praise she had always gotten for her cooking. She had given me a piece of cake that was as tasteless and dry as if it had been three days old. I couldn't lie to my grandma and yet to tell the truth would break her heart.
And then in my own guileless nine-year-old way I realized the grandma who could love and be loved was still here. The grandma who knew what a dash or a pinch meant had been replaced by a more childish grandma who couldn't always remember the date or time or where she had just put her glasses. But she was my grandma and I loved her. I looked up and gave her my best smile, hoping she wouldn't detect the lie, and said, "It's real good, Grandma!" She got up, came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek, rumpled my hair and, grinning, puttered around the kitchen while I ate the cake. I was grateful she had gotten me a glass of milk with which to wash it down.
It wasn't long after this Grandma had her last stroke.
Our dog was named Useless for reasons that soon were apparent with even the most casual acquaintance with him. The only command he knew was, "come", even if it sounded remarkably like, "sit," "halt," "go," "roll over," or "you dummy!"
I will give him credit for being a very nice looking dog. He was a quarter Collie, a quarter German shepherd, and half cocker spaniel. He had the long collie hair with German shepherd markings and a full-sized body with cocker spaniel legs. He was also endowed with the perpetual grin often associated with deficient mental capacity.
The bane of Useless' existence was the half dozen house cats and one hyperactive female ocelot named Techie whose sole purpose in life was to ambush him. It was a love-hate relationship: she loved him and he hated her.
The house cats feared and hated Techie, but they only hated Useless. Every time they had the opportunity they would dutifully sink a carefully pre-sharpened claw into the end of his ravaged nose, which was only held together by blood clots.
I think the happiest I ever saw Useless was the time Shorty (a house cat who was particularly short on brains) was run over and summarily flattened. As Mother was fixing breakfast she looked out the big picture window in the kitchen to see Useless, for the first time in his life, being chummy with Shorty. She told me to get a shovel and terminate the one-sided case of infatuation before the five-man crew arrived from town to begin work on the remodeling we were having done to the house and outbuildings. She was going to be feeding them dinner (lunch to city folks) and didn't want any squashed cat lying around wrecking their appetites.
I did my duty for Shorty out in the field by the driveway. Useless sat on the lawn over by the lilac bush watching the proceedings. I think if he'd had a hat he would have held it across his chest.
It wasn't two hours later when I heard Mother's melodious tones calling me to the house. Without a word she handed me a shovel and pointed towards the broken, abused maple sapling we had out in the front yard. By it sat Useless, grinning from ear to ear, with Shorty patiently lying at his feet.
Being economically oriented when it comes to labor, I proceeded to the grave site, bearing Shorty with solemn gravity upon the blade of the shovel. Again Useless took his vigil by the lilac bush and watched as I added another foot to Shorty's recently vacated abode. As an extra precaution I tamped every few inches as I filled the earthen sepulcher to the brim.
Mother had prepared her usual hearty meal fit for a harvest crew of twenty--mashed potatoes, milk gravy, steaks, creamed corn, homemade bread, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, radishes, salad, and three steaming apple pies sitting on the counter waiting for the vanilla ice cream.
Everybody had washed, slicked back their hair, and were filing in around the table in front of the big picture window with Mother supervising, when across the lawn from stage right came Useless bearing Shorty high in the air. Mother let out a big exasperated sigh, put her hands on her hips, and with great concern in her voice said, "Darn that Useless! He's going to wear poor old Shorty out!"
After dinner I went and scrounged up Useless and Shorty and took the deceased back to his recently emptied residence. This time, though, I took a four-inch-thick flat rock over a foot in diameter. I had to enlarge the hole to get the stone to fit but Shorty didn't complain and Useless gave up trying to start up a meaningful relationship with him. It was my turn to grin. It had taken me only three tries to outsmart Useless.
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Craig's Story List and Biography