Category: Animal Fiction


Chapter 2 Farm Life

I will never forget my first sight of La Belle. We drove through a big iron gate between tall stone posts up a road to the biggest house I had ever seen. It was white with columns on three sides. The roof sloped out over these columns creating a verandah encircling the main body of the brick building. The lawn on one side rolled down to a creek and on the other side to a driveway where cars parked. The front of the house had stone steps, rising from the acres of velvety green grass that undulated in waves down to the gate. What a surprise to find out that only one person lived in this big house!
Bubba wasn’t anything like Don. He could never get the hang of the schooling I had. He had a difficult time concentrating on anything for a long time. He could do sit and lie down, but we never did heel, stay or shake a paw. I think he could’ve used some schooling himself.
Bubba’s job was to keep the farm in some kind of order. He made sure the cows and horses were fed and watered. He was also in charge of cleaning the concrete pond across from the big house. He wore big, heavy boots, blue jeans and a shirt with skull and crossbones on it.
He had a hard time remembering things he was told to do, so this was the way it worked: Boss Lady Brunell told Bubba and Bubba told me. I was the farthest down the pecking order, the bottom of the totem pole, the lesser flea, and the most expendable.
Boss Lady Brunell was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She had black hair cut straight across her forehead and long in the back. She was tall and slim and coltish. When she smiled, it was sunshine. She talked in a low voice. So low that Bubba had a hard time understanding her.
I couldn't say anything. I was tongue-tied. Awe-struck. I started to bow. My rear end went up and my front paws went down in a beautiful way. I couldn't help it. It was my first and one of the few meetings I ever had with the boss. After that she ignored me. I became invisible.
"You wanted him, Bubba. You take care of him," she said. I don't want him in the house and he better do the job or he can find himself another home."
I don't think she said another word to me for the next six years. I saw her getting in and out of her car with the two Rs on it. I watched her pack to go back and forth to Texas where she lived most of the time. But I do not remember getting a pat or even a “Hello.”
I didn't have to go back to the barn. Instead I had a bed made for me out of a large box in the garage. There was a machine that supplied heat when it got cold. The only others living there were a few mice and, rarely, the visiting pets from the big house. I had my own bowl, that was filled in the middle of the day with plenty of plain, but filling, food. An occasional cat wandered in but I left it alone if it minded its own business. Cats can get you into trouble if you let them.
One day, out of curiosity, I trotted up to the old truck barn where I had had such a miserable puppy life. In the corner were the remnants of a tattered cardboard box with moldy scraps of cloth. I saw a few rats, much smaller than I remembered, loitering in the corners. “Go away, dude, and leave us alone. We ain't botherin' you.”
I snarled and lunged for them. They scattered, terrified of ME. My anger left me like air from a burst balloon. They were pitiful bullies living under the cover of darkness plaguing lesser beings despised by everyone. I left there a wiser dog. I left them alone from then on.
I used to think humans were the ones who made things happen but it didn't take long to realize they weren't that smart. Oh they could make you do what they wanted, but they had no real control. I learned this from seeing the weather change. The leaves fell, the snow came, and then things became green again - without human help or interference.
Oh, the snow! I remember the day I woke up to it the first time. I left my warm bed by Bubba's fireplace to make my morning rounds with him. (Sometimes, when he was in a good mood, Bubba would let me sleep in his little, two-room cottage.) There, at the door, was a wall of white. It was soft and cold as I burrowed through it. You had to make great leaping jumps to get over it and it flew everywhere, light as feathers. It was cold as ice but if you ran fast enough you didn't feel the cold as much. The trees sparkled and the slightest breeze would whirl the snow around in eddies. I would bite it in the air and on the ground. It would thaw into water with such a clear, clean taste compared with the pond water or the water left in my bowl. I really felt I could do anything during those days of new snow, my energy never flagged and I could run and jump all day. The snow gave me a holiday by making the driveway too slick for cars to drive up. I could run off to the far end of the farm and chase to my heart's content.
At the farm there were lots of cows and horses to hang around with and get close to for warmth. A few of those guys would give off enough heat to stop the occasional shivers. The mares enjoyed having me around to give them something else to think about besides their waiting-to-foal condition. They were glad to see me again and complimented me on my newfound education. "How you have grown. You certainly aren't the scared little puppy we remember. Look girls! How smart our big friend is! Handsome, too!" They made me feel wonderful and wanted. They loved it when I chased a wild dog away from them or warned them about a foxhole.
The nights were clear and the stars seemed to come nearer and nearer. The moonlight shone making daylight fingers dance through the trees.
Sound carried at the farm. The dog “grapevine” could be heard for miles and all of us caught up on the local news. I had nightly chats with the basset hound that lived at the farm adjoining La Belle. He got his news from a collie farther down the road. By morning I knew all the county’s doings.
In the winter I could walk across the creeks because the water had gotten hard and cold. I saw the deer a lot easier, although they were way too fast for me. I also saw the coon and the foxes. I loved to dig in the snow. It was easy digging until I got down to the dirt that was as hard as a rock. After a long day out in the cold, exhausted from the chasing and running, there was Bubba's fire and an extra bowl of something to eat. Life wasn't bad at all.
Important things seemed to happen at night. When I rose in the morning, many things had changed. But it was hard to figure out just how they had come about. Just when I got tired of the hardness of the snow, and it becomes too slippery to walk on, the next thing I knew, the birds had come back.
The wind stopped screaming around the barns and the garage and the broodmares laid down on the ground and pushed out their foals who gazed around wondering where they were. The cows calved in about the same way until one day, in the early spring, the farm was suddenly full of new beings. I liked hanging around with the foals. At first the mares were nervous about this even though they were used to my protection. They weren't sure if they wanted me close to their little ones. It wasn't until they realized that I would protect their babies from marauding wild dogs and the occasional wolf that they allowed my unlimited visits.
I remember this one foal, a filly, I think, and as pretty as a horse gets. She had a pearly, chestnut coat with Appaloosa markings beginning to show. She looked as if someone had splashed bleach all over her rump then taking a paintbrush, flicked layers of color on top. She had beautiful, soulful, liquid eyes that reminded me of Celia. Her tiny hooves danced deer-like when she tossed her short mane and baby, taffy tail.
Like Celia, this filly also had a pedigree. Her mother told me she was bred for shows. "We show for ribbons and silver trophies. Sometimes, if we are fast enough, we race against other horses with saddles and riders and crowds cheering us on.”
I knew what a show was. We compared our performances, and I thanked Don over and over in my mind for giving me the experience, which allowed for this conversation. I called the little one, Winnie. I watched over her while she napped in the grass. That gave her mother time off to gossip with the other mares. I was amazed at how petty and spiteful a bunch of females could be. Not Winnie, though. Not yet anyway.
The squirrels, the mice and the raccoons were also producing more of themselves, which suited me fine. There were more for me to chase around. I didn’t consider them cute and playful little additions to the world. I perceive them to be new, disease-spreading vehicles, that were destructive to property and begging to be exterminated. I am a hunting dog. I hunt to kill. Chasing is the fun part of my job. Killing is the end result. Boss Lady, Bubba and the large animals hate chipmunk holes. I like to give 100 percent to my job.
The grass has turned soft and sweet. A wonderful place to nap when the air is gentle and the sky is clear. The trees are growing leaves again to give us some shade from the summer sun that broils the earth and dries up the creeks.
The downside of all this perfection is the rain. Sometimes it drips. Other times it sweeps through, sloshing water down the driveway and even into the garage. I hate water beating down on me. It makes me cold and shivery. I seem to be in the minority, however, because humans love it.
Bubba takes care of a concrete pond, which visitors can't wait to jump into. The dogs who visit love it too. They lie on the steps leading down into the middle of the pool. You won't catch me in it, though, because it's very hard to get out of.
The house pets have a place to go when it really rains. But I am out in it all the time with only the trees and porches to protect me. If Bubba forgets and closes the garage door at the end of the day before I go to my box, I am out in it all night. And, let me tell you, the lightning is no joke. Rolls of shotgun blasts and earth-shaking tremors that echo across the fields and scatter all the living creatures to their shelters, chase those flashing blue and white zigzags. I have a hard time finding a place to hide. I can’t squeeze into a hollow log. I have to make do with the space under a bush or lean-to. It’s inadequate to say the least.
Boss Lady always came to stay awhile in the summer and filled the big house with visitors. Some came in sleek, shiny, black cars that were twice as long as Bubba’s pick-up truck and were driven by uniformed chauffeurs, and some came by taxi. They brought luggage and the occasional pet. A few of them I liked.
There were big parties outside by the pool where the visitors ate barbecue and clinked glasses with each other. Sometimes there were guitar strummers and drumbeaters. The guests were very important people, as one of Boss Lady’s husbands had been an ambassador (that’s some kind of official greeter) and I was told to mind my manners and be entertaining. The smell of the hot pork fat dripping onto the charcoal fire in the outdoor grill was more than I could bear and I couldn’t stop myself from grabbing a rib or two off a forgotten plate left on the ground or a low table. One night as I foraged through a bowl of leftover potato salad I saw a tiny little dog doing the same thing.
Maudie was a Pomeranian who came to visit with one of Boss Lady's daughters. She was black, too, so I felt a kinship even though she only weighed about a pound. Little she might be, but also a powerhouse of energy. She could do the best tricks, turning a complete somersault in the air and dancing on her tippy toes. She liked to cuddle up with me under my favorite bush and sing Spanish songs (since she was a Spanish dog). “You are zo ëandsome,” she cooed, “how I love to watch you be ferocious.”
Did I love her? You bet. I tried to take her hunting with me but the squirrels were bigger than her and sat there laughing their sides off. Maudie was soft and fluffy from all the brushing she got. At times she looked like a tiny poodle all decked out for a show. We got to be good friends when she stayed a long time one summer. The big house folks wouldn't let her go with me to the outer boundaries of the farm for fear she would get lost or a wild dog would eat her up. As if I would let it happen!
ChooChoo was another frequent visitor. He belonged to Boss Lady's other daughter. He was an aristocrat with a very long pedigree and name to match. Sir Charles, Duke of Manchester, was a King Charles spaniel with brown spots decorating his long, white, beautifully brushed hair. He always looked like he smelled something fishy. Actually, with his big, liquid, pop-out eyes, ChooChoo rather resembled a fish.
“Contemplation is the answer to the meaning of life,” was his reply to everything. I didn't see much of him because he spent his time curled up in the wicker rocker on the creek side of the house, venturing out, I suppose, to delicately relieve himself in the bushes.
His human companion waited on him hand and foot, carrying him everywhere. “He no sheet,” Maudie said one day. “I never see him, do you?” I really hadn't thought about it. But Maudie got me thinking. I spent the next day watching him from a hidden vantagepoint and I never saw him move a muscle. Just a big, deep sigh every once in a while to let me know he was still alive. Maybe when he was carried around he let one loose here and there.
The warm weather also brought out the snakes. I don't know where they live in the winter, but they really love the summer. They slither up from the river and through the creeks looking for mice and chipmunks. I watched a snake eat a rat one afternoon. His jaws opened wider and wider completely enveloping the rat that died mercifully. Little by little the rat was absorbed into the snake's body. Days later when I killed the same snake he still had a lump in his middle.
Killing snakes is easy when you know how. Some of them give you no trouble. Some of them will whip around, sink their fangs into your neck and that’s the end of you. Period. The ones with the noisemakers at the end are the most dangerous. Bubba says I am poetry in motion when it comes to killing them. Here’s how you do it. First, you have to approach them from the back. Then curl your lip back and grab that sucker at the tail end. Whip him up and down and around and around. Then when he is stunned, reach up and bite his head off. Works every time.
This act is a showstopper. I sometimes keep a dead one around for a few days before burying him giving me the opportunity to do another show for the farm visitors. They don't get close enough to notice if it is alive or not, so I can do it over and over. This is usually good for treats and pats. It really doesn't take much to please them here. When Boss Lady is in town and has a lot of her friends over, I love doing it for a larger audience. A man, from a White House in Washington, wanted me to try it on some Republicans. He said they were a kind of snake. The ladies always scream and applaud when I do my thing with the snake. Afterward I take a bow. I don't know whether it is the bow or the snake act that does it, but it's nice to be the center of attention.
Life is wonderfully organized, I think, as I look up to see the white clouds constantly changing in the blue beyond. I feel the warmth of the sun on my hide, and watch the small businesses working away in the grass. For every good there is an evil. The way I see it, for every beautiful flower and icy-cold, clear-running stream there will be a snake-in-the-grass nearby ready to strike.

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