Dog, The Man and Squink

Janet Bell

Copyright 2001 by Janet Bell 

Photo of Janet's dog.

For the past few years I've enjoyed telling the stories of my  youth to my now grown children. They in turn, have been telling me, "Mom, get that stuff written down before you kick  the bucket." I decided I'd acquiesce to their wishes and jot  down a few of my tales. It is really turning out to be all fun and  no work on my part. The little girl that has been hidden in me  for over half a century just takes over. The words flow down to my pen as she relives the events and brings back to life people she loved or feared.  So, if my stories seem to be written by a child, they are! 

My Daddy was the only person who ever called me Squink. He gave me that nickname because he said I was bigger than a squint but too small to be a full wink: hence, Squink. So, to tell my story, I'm going back to the 1930's and once again I am Squink.

In the mid to late 1930's, our country was slowly climbing the ladder out of its' Depression. Our family though hadn't even reached the bottom rung. There weren't many houses or kids in our neighborhood. However, there was a playground, Heggie's Field, several blocks away. Naturally, I was drawn to the park where I spent a lot of my playtime. To get along at this park there were two rules you learned quickly or life was made so miserable you just stayed away all together.

Rule #1. You never ever cried there. You want to cry? Go home and do it where no one had to see your ugly face all screwed up, or listen to you sob.

The penalty for crying at the park was you were labeled as a "Sissy, Pissy-Pants Cry Baby." If anyone who'd been named that had the guts to show up the next day, the bully boys chorus would sent him packing again by half singing, half shouting...

"Sissy, Pissy-Pants Cry Baby.
Cry Baby, Cry Baby, Cry.
Waaa Waaa Waaaaaaa."

By the time they got to the waaa's, they really had to belt it out because the poor kid being sung to was usually out the gate and running for home, crying.

Rule #2. You're on your own. You stood up for yourself by yourself, and if an argument led to a fight, no one was coming to your aid. Which was good, cause you knew no one was going to help the other kid either.

I was five or six years old and the daughter of the Grand Master of the Cussing Brigade. Adoring my father, I just took for granted that what I called "Daddy Language" was how you expressed yourself when you were mad.  And, express myself I could.  

Also, I had something else going for me. I was too tiny and skinny to defend myself with fists like the bigger kids did.  But, oh brother, could I kick! Both legs would be kicking, arms flailing, head jerking side to side, WOW! Would bullies run when faced with that! So, armed as I was with a kicking machine and a mouth that would make a sinner weep, I'd make the long trek to the playground, always confident that if any kid there was looking for a fight, it wouldn't be me he'd be eyeing for it.

Most of the walk to the playground was a dirt path that bordered Highway 4A. Half way along my route but across the highway stood two tall abandoned houses. Then, overnight there seemed to be dozens of people living there. The next couple of weeks a lot of speculation was flying back and forth about these new neighbors who made no attempt to become acquainted with the rest of us. The reluctance to be neighborly was all explained away one day by Freddie, our sixteen year-old neighbor who made it his personal mission to know and report on everything that went on in and around the neighborhood.

The way Freddie explained it was that these new people were really very nice hard working individuals. Most of them didn't speak English. They just wanted to exist in their own little world without trouble or interference from anyone. We all respected their wishes.

Freddie also got the scoop on the man who always seemed to be just sitting on one of their porches. He wasn't at all ill like we assumed.  On the contrary, he was there to protect his people.  And protect he did.

According to Freddie, the man was the ugliest, fiercest person he'd ever seen. He claimed the man's eyes shot daggers when he looked at you. His ability to fight with fists, clubs, or knives soon became common knowledge so that none of the women from the houses were ever so much as whistled at, not one of the boys was ever teased, nor were any of the men ever challenged to a fight. When he walked into the tavern at night, every patron there gave that man plenty of elbow room.

Neighbors didn't like him sitting there on the porch day after day. They claimed he gave them "the willies." When they spoke of him, they would always, in disgust, refer to "That Man!" To me though, he was a hero. How brave of him to come to this country to protect his people. So, in awe, I always thought of him as "The Man."

Being so young, I had no business walking the long distance to the park by myself, but since no one at home ever questioned where I was going or where I'd been I was on my own to do whatever I pleased. 

Sometimes when I'd get across from The Man, I'd stop and give him a big smile. One time I got real brave and gave him a little wave. He in turn took to leaving his perch and following along behind me, on his side of the street, until I got safely to my destination. He was now my protector too. How safe it made me feel to have a friend like him looking out for me.

We had no indoor plumbing, so after dark and throughout the night we’d “do our duty” in a big white pot my Mom referred to as a “bed chamber.”  In the morning, unless it was too full, it was my duty to empty the pot in the outdoor toilet.  One day I’d emptied the pot and was just sitting there in the outhouse contemplating what I’d do that day when I heard a rustling sound coming from the garbage dump behind me.  Lowering the wooden seat cover, I climbed up and, standing on my tippy-toes, I could just see out of the little ventilation hole in the wall.  I couldn’t believe my eyes.  There, digging in the garbage, was a large, skinny dog.  Oh, he was beautiful.  I jumped off the toilet seat, tore out of the outhouse, and then cautiously peeked around the corner.  When the dog spied me he came waddling up, tail wagging back and forth, and his ribs pumping in and out of his thin sides as he took his breaths.  His tongue was hanging out of his mouth and I swear he had a smile on his face.  Immediately, I knew he was mine.  “Yippee!  I had a dog!”

Some neighbors had a collar on their dog in case it got lost. I didn't know the collar had an address on it, I just knew my dog needed a collar. I cut a piece of my Mother's clothesline and loosely tied it around my dog's neck. Next, he needed a name. What better name than Dog?

I was so happy. I wanted to share my dog with my friend The Man. How proud I was walking along the highway with Dog beside me. When I got across from the two houses, we stopped and just stood there. I think Dog realized he was on display because he stood quietly at attention next to me. The Man, seeing us, stood up, walked to the edge of his porch and leaning forward made a big show of looking across the highway at us and giving Dog a good look-see. Dog started wagging his tail so hard. I knew they liked each other. 

What a glorious summer that was. Dog was my shadow. When I played in the quarry and strip mines, he was at my side. When I went to visit the guards in the guard station at the penitentiary across from my house, Dog went with me. At the park, he played with me and the other kids. He got most of his meals by hunting. If he was off tending to dinner, I had only to call and he'd come running.

One day when I was ready to leave the playground, I called and called, but no Dog. He must be hunting deep in the strip mines I thought, or else he went home early. I had just turned the corner of the alleyway to get to the highway when I got a heavy jolt to my heart. I could see in the distance a car parked half on the highway and half on the path. 

Three young men were out of the car looking down at something by the fence. I just knew it was Dog lying there. I just knew it. I tried to run to him but my legs felt like two sticks. When I reached Dog, he was lying on his side but he was lifting his head trying to snap at the young men. I spoke to Dog and when he heard my voice, he laid his head down and closed his eyes. 

One man was laughing and making jokes with gestures about how "the mutt flew through the air" when the car hit him. Another one said, "Well, that's soon gonna be one dead dog." 

Boy! Did I blow my stack! I don't think I've ever again been that angry and that upset.

My mouth took over and I really let them have it. All my choicest "Daddy words" and phrases just poured out. Now, I can't even think like that, let alone use that language, but I will never forget my parting words and threat to them. I was hollering at them about what dummies they were. "You're so G-- Da-- stupid!" I bellowed. "You don't even know pig sh-- from apple butter and all you do is stand there making noises with your big ugly mouths saying a dog is dying when all he's doing is taking a nap! Get out of here! Go on, get! I got in one good kick that missed its mark but splattered one man with mud before they made it to the car that sped away.

I sat down in the mud, leaning by back against the fence. Dog's head was on my lap. How long we sat like that I couldn't say. I remember telling him about some baby bunnies I'd found in a hole in the hills behind Heggie's Manufacturing Company. I promised we'd go together and see them after he rested. I told him why one stocking was all crumbled down about my ankle. It wouldn't stay up by itself anymore so I put a rubber band around it. My leg started tingling at the park so I took the rubber band off and the stocking fell to my ankle.  Then I told him if he opened his eyes he'd think he was looking through rabbit ears.  The shoes I was wearing were real narrow and long.  Like all our shoes at that time, these were given to us.  My Mother stuffed stockings in the toes so they would fit me.  As I sat there in the mud with the shoes sticking up at angles to the sky, they reminded me of rabbit ears.  But Dog didn't feel like opening his eyes just then.

After a bit, The Man came across the street carrying a shovel. He stood near a large hole in the fence. Once I looked over my shoulder at him. It was the first time I'd seen him up close. He was bigger and uglier than what had been described. But I didn't see that, I just saw the sorrow in his eyes. They were deep brown and I knew he was feeling as sorry for me as I felt for Dog. He just stood there and waited. After a while I didn't hear the rumble in dog's chest and it wasn't moving under my hand - not even
a little bit.  

I looked back at the man and he nodded his head. I schooched out from under Dog and tried so gently to lay his head down. When I stood up I noticed my knees had made two little cup indentations in the mud by his head.  My back was to The Man as I leaned over to wipe the mud from my one stockinged knee and the other bare one, but it just smeared.  I was wishing it would rain again so The Man would think my face was wet from the rain and not from tears.  I didn't have to worry about that though cause when I turned around he had his back to me.  I thought he must have a runny nose cause he was wiping it on his sleeve.  I started home and when I looked back he was digging a hole just inside the fence.

During the three years he lived there, The Man and I never spoke but he continued to look after me. One time he did it by clobbering with a pipe a man who had intentions of harming me as I walked by the hole in the fence. But, that is another tale too long to share with you this time.

As the years passed my kicking machine was outfitted with high-heeled shoes. All of Daddy's words have faded from my memory. It's been 60+ years since I ran with Dog at my side, since I smiled at The Man sitting on his porch across the highway. 60+ years, but in my heart I still hold dear the memories of the friendships between Dog, The Man, and Squink.

My biography in a short paragraph. Oh dear. You ask the impossible of a woman who takes three sentences to say, "Hello," but all I can do it try. I was born during the Great Depression that gripped our nation in the 1930's. Age wise, in the minds of many young people, that puts me right up there with Methuselah. For the past forty-seven years I've been happily married to my husband, the light of my life. My greatest accomplishment has been raising five children, every one of whom has turned out to be a source of pride and joy. They in turn have given me six wonderful grandchildren. What else can I say? Life is great. 

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