I am one of those people who, placed in a room with many others talking at the same time, become lost in the noise. It’s ok. I would rather listen and watch because I have learned that squelching the need to talk has always been the way I learn the most. From observing life I have witnessed some sacred bonds that exist between people. I have watched my Mom and her sisters during the 50+ years of my life care for one another with calls, cards, letters, and certainly prayers. I have even seen them at family reunions taking pictures of each other taking pictures of each other. I have watched my in-laws, Tom and Rae, and I see the special looks that pass between them. True love truly does last a life time and there is a sparkle in their eyes that communicates volumes. I have bumped into brothers who stand together as one covering each other’s back. These are bonds not easily broken.
This story is not about bonds between people, though, as important as those are. It’s about the bond between a man and his dog. As long as Grandpa lived at Harrison, he had at least one dog. I don’t remember all the names but one was “Jack” and another was “Just” and while I can’t list them, I can say Grandpa and those dogs had a special bond. Here is a picture of Homer with one of his hounds in 1955, before my time.
Our neighborhood has gone to the dogs with many homes having more than one. For the most part these are lazy mutts sitting in air conditioned comfort investing their hours watching TV. And a couple of times a day they are turned out into the backyard to take care of business, bark and disturb the neighbors. That’s it! The sum total of their contribution to society as far as I can see. I understand the concept of pets but those modern day animals are not in the same class with Grandpa’s dogs, His dogs worked for a living and earned their keep.
Grandpa was the alpha male and his dogs knew that completely. He was the one in charge and his whistle or voice command was all that was needed for a dog to act. A relationship of that caliber took time and patience to develop and there was respect between the man and the dog. I had no doubt any of those dogs would have given his very life to defend Grandpa. Grandpa’s dogs watched the property and alerted him with a bark if someone approached. I am sure they chased away their share of wild animals but most importantly, those dogs were hunting dogs. For Grandpa, hunting was not a sport. It was a way to put meat on the table and survive.
Grandpa’s hunting dog would run through the hills ahead of Grandpa. The dog’s job was to flush out squirrels and chase them. A squirrel being chased by a hound has one idea in mind – find a big tree and climb up very fast. The dog would then stand at the base of the tree with his front paws on the tree barking until Grandpa arrived to take his shot and bag dinner. It was an efficient way to get the job done. I have seen squirrels fall and many times the dog would have them before they hit the ground. Rather than munching on Squirrel Nuggets, the dog would gently bring the squirrel back to Grandpa.
One year one of Grandpa’s hunting dogs sired a litter of puppies. We went to visit and saw the pups in the pen. I thought they looked like cute little stuffed animals but kept that to myself. Grandpa knew the lineage of those hounds and was certain at least one in the pack would become a great squirrel hunter, a prized possession for a mountain man. The day of our visit, Giving Grandpa, with his heart of gold, already knew which pup in the litter was the winner and had his eye on that dog. Grandpa also knew how badly my brother Jeff wanted a dog. Grandpa had Jeff sit with those dogs and hold each one and told him, “Pick the one you want!” Mom and Dad had OK’d this, of course.
Jeff had established himself in Grandpa’s eyes as an up and coming hunter (more on that story in a later episode) and Grandpa wanted to see if that ability included picking a good dog. Jeff held every pup, petted them all more than once as he sat in that pen the entire visit. In the end he held up his choice for Grandpa. “This is the one!” I didn’t know much about reading faces back then but looking through the images in my memory I can see the look on Grandpa’s face. It was joy and pride mixed with a bit of sorrow. Jeff had picked the winner, the one Grandpa intended to keep, and Grandpa had given his word. I never knew Homer Miller to go back on his word so we brought a puppy home in the car, and Jeff assigned its name on the spot – Sport! What a name for a dog and what a dog he was.
Jeff trained that dog until Sport proved himself to be the champion squirrel dog Grandpa knew him to be. Many were jealous of Jeff’s dog and the dog’s hunting ability. Some tried to buy the dog. One man offered to trade a new motorcycle for Sport but Jeff and Sport were bonded and that was that. The bands of squirrels terrorizing the hills around Brown’s Creek where we lived knew their time was up. And Grandpa loved to sit with Jeff and hear about every hunt.
I have a scrap book Jeff created to chronicle his hunting career. It does not surprise me there are notes and cards from Grandpa included in that collection. Jeff had written Grandpa to share the details of his successful first hunt with Sport. Sport treed 2 squirrels in one tree and Jeff took them both. Jeff included the picture above in his letter and Grandpa saved it in his own album. Grandpa sent a note back to Jeff:
There was no way Homer would take Sport back even though the second choice dog was not working out very well as a hunter. Homer was proud his grandson showed such promise as a hunter and he was tickled to death to know the dog was a champion. I learned something from Grandpa in this story. Life is not about how many possessions we own. Life is about character and if I give my word or make a promise, I need to honor it. Even if it means giving the best dog to my grandson!