Compleat Idler, Education

Compleat idler — Stubby

(c) 2012 Earl L. Haehl Permission is given to use this article in whole as long as credit is given. Book rights are reserved.

NOTE: A couple months back we did animal stories at the storytellers group. On the way home, Anne told me I should do a story about Stubby, one of the bright spots of my childhood. She identifies as a storyteller and also believes in telling stories as therapy. I started to write this, and it is short because I know how it ends. There may be a time when I can tell it without tears, but until then no public performance.

I was five when Mom got married and we moved to San Jose. I could not take Stubby with me and she stayed with my grandparents.

I did not know life without Stubby. She was four months old and I was nine months old when she was brought home and given a bed underneath my crib. She was a present from the Gegleins—I think they were cousins of my grandfather on his mother’s side. Her mother was Grampa Geglein’s bulldog bitch and there were numerous suspects, mostly terriers on the surrounding farms. With her lineage and looks she might be shunned today as a pitbull but folks called her a nanny dog.  She was called Stubby because there was just a stub where her tail should have been. At any rate, everyone thought a dog like that would keep me out of trouble.

I felt alone in a strange place—in a city no less—without my dog, but it was California and pets were no-nos when you rented.

We were in California for two years before moving back. And this dog and I were inseparable for the most part. We could easily have taken her when we went to Wyoming and lived in a mining camp, but the allergy doctor said no and even recommended I not live in the same house with the dog. So for the two years between Wyoming and Nebraska we lived in a cabin out back and I hiked up to the main house in the morning to meet Stubby before we went on adventures.

Talk about patience. That dog wore a circus costume and we hitched her to the Radio Flyer wagon and she would pull it for a good half hour before lying down. She would lie down a lot—when I was real young she would sleep in the yard under the maple when I was playing with my trucks or my fort. When I was in college the neighbor explained that any time anyone came in the yard, there would be a bulldog between them and me.

In the summer of ’54, just after Little Britches, I built a chute and we ran her through it to where I was waiting with a lasso. I roped and threw her which was quite a chore as she outweighed me by 15 pounds—there were no girls around to be impressed but I was 10. I got the three legs tied. I loosed it up and she disappeared. She also disappeared every time she saw me getting my ropes out—even though I just did it to practice spinning ropes like Monty Montana.

But 1954 meant she was ten years old and as those things went she was slowing down. I was not aware that her eyesight and hearing were beginning to go. She was missing the Checkers that I tossed her and eating from her bowl. She stopped following me to school and generally slept in my grandmother’s dining room. We still went after rabbits along the irrigation ditch, but she did not move as fast. When I went up to the ranch in 1955, I knew I would see her at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The first year in Nebraska I was unhappy. And when given the opportunity to write a story, I wrote an adventure tracking a badger with Stubby and Red Ryder. We actually had followed weasel tracks in the dry irrigation ditch and as I look back on it, Red fired a .177 copper plated BB and would have been of little use had we encountered a real badger. Ten year olds are not realists a and we were an underarmed kid with a mostly blind dog. But I felt good while I was writing.

And I spent part of the summer of 1956 with my grandparents. Stubby was quieter. We still walked and went places, but more slowly. No rabbits. We sat for long hours on the sofa with her head in my lap. When we got in the car to head home I hugged her and told her I would see her at Thanksgiving. Mom got the letter the last week in October—cancer. I went in the bedroom, chased my brother out, locked the door and cried for twenty minutes. And I wrote no more adventures.

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