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WHEN JACK WAS ABOUT SIX WEEKS OLD, one of our good neighbors brought him to our house and gave him to my younger brother. He was little, almost tiny, with a short white fur covering his fat body. The only break in his white covering was two brown spots, one on his rump and one on his head.
His tail was quite long for such a mite of a dog, and it always curved gracefully over his back. My sister, Hattie, said one day that it was Jack’s handle. Seldom did his handle droop, but a few times in the face of overwhelming odds from a large canine opponent, it did drop between his legs. But not for long. As soon as assistance arrived, he would hoist it again like a triumphant flag and go marching along.
The most beautiful thing to me about Jack was his eyes. They were big, round black eyes filled with love. As a child, I remember sitting on our back steps one day crying. He came to me, pushed his small head beneath my arm, and looked as if he wanted to share my sorrow. I thought that I saw tears in his eyes also, but whether I did or not, his presence comforted my young heart.
Jack seemed to have almost uncanny sense when it came to being able to differentiate between our clothes. As in most families, we had clothes for play and better clothes for uptown and church wear. Jack would watch you closely when he saw you begin to change your dress. He seemed to sense that when you dressed in certain clothes, you were going somewhere, and he wanted to go along. In fact, he did his best to go along.
We let him follow us everywhere in the neighborhood. If we went to the store ten times a day, he went ten times with us. But when we went to town, we wanted Jack to remain at home for fear he would get lost or run over.
I remember getting ready to go to town one day. Jack was lying on the floor, head between his paws, watching me change my clothes. As soon as I was dressed and started out, Jack rushed up the road. I gave chase and threw a rock or two at him. Jack seemingly turned around and started to go back. I continued my walk thinking that he had gone home. But to my dismay when I passed my aunt’s house about four blocks away, Jack sat on the porch waiting for me. He had taken the other route because there were two ways to go to town.
Jack was our constant companion and protector. He loved each member of the family dearly. Nothing was too large for him to attack if he thought we were in danger. He would give his life for us at any time.
I remember testing his love one day. My younger brother said that Jack loved him the best. I said that I was the recipient of the greater love. We decided to walk together to a certain spot and then walk in opposite directions to see which one he would follow. Poor Jack was bewildered when we reached the top of the hill and split company. He ran after my brother for a while and then he turned and ran after me. He saw that my brother was going farther away so he turned and ran after him and then again after me. We both looked at the little dog, felt sorry for him and walked back together again. He was wearing out his little body trying to show both of us that he loved us dearly.
Jack had an uncanny sense about time also. He knew that all of us went off each morning and returned in the evening. For days at a time, he would go up to my aunt’s house, lie on the porch or hang around until school was over. But at two-thirty or three o’clock, he would get up and start for home. Nothing could keep him from being there when we got home from school.
He seldom tried to follow us to school even though he tried to go everywhere else we went. On one occasion, he did decide to go to Myers Street School where my mother taught and where we attended school. In some way, he eluded detection until he had climbed the wide front stairs that led to my mother’s room. Then someone saw him and tried to put him out. There was a commotion of barks and wild yaps. In the confusion, Mother detected Jack’s shrill barks. She quickly opened the door, and there he was with his feet planted firmly on the floor, barking for dear life and doing all that he could to stay in the building. When he saw her, he rushed like a whirlwind into her room and laid serenely under her desk. His mission was accomplished. She let him lie there the remainder of the day. In the evening, dutifully and meekly he walked home with her. I don’t remember him going back to school again.
At one time during Jack’s life, Mother kept a flock of chickens. A fence surrounded the big chicken coop, but true to chicken nature, they would fly over the fence when they decided that the garden held something good for them.
Several fat hens of varying breeds and one or two cocky roosters, depending on whether or not the larger rooster would let the other one remain in the pen at peace, usually lived in the pen. Once we had two roosters together, a big Red Plymouth Rock and one that looked as if he was a member of the Game breed. They were continually in combat until one woebegone-looking creature with a well-pecked head would run if the stronger opponent merely looked at him. Sometimes when the battle waxed too hot and the weaker one was losing, he would duck his bloody head and rush in among the hens to hide from his opponent. We had to make them part ways before the weaker rooster had an early demise.
Jack considered the backyard as his special domain. He tolerated Billy because he was kept tied most of the time and because he would charge him with his horns if he was annoyed by him. But the chickens were in another category. He knew that they belonged to us and had no fear of them, but he required them to stay in their appointed place.
After the garden was planted ant the vegetables were growing successfully, it seemed that the flock would get the urge for green things and bugs and worms. Vegetable peelings and bits of grains did not suffice. They just had to scratch and peck, and the best place seemed to have been Mother’s cucumber hills, bean rows or other inviting places in the garden.
Mother usually spotted them first because she kept a dutiful watch over her plants. Sometimes the neighbor’s chickens would join our hens in their feast. Jack would come rushing whenever he heard the call, Here, Jack, chickens are in the garden. Get them out! all he needed to hear was the word chickens, and he sensed that we meant for him to remove them.
This day he rushed into the garden for a great performance. With his ears cocked and his tail wagging, Jack instantly recognized that some strange chickens didn’t belong in our yard at all, so he had to get them out first. He looked them over as a beef buyer might do a prospective herd of Hereford cattle before making his attack. By some means, he could always distinguish our chickens from any that didn’t belong to us.
He did this quickly and began to stalk the intruders one by one. At first, his movements were slow and stealthy. But as soon as he got one close to the fence, he would give a sudden burst of speed which frightened the chicken, and she would fly over the fence fluttering and squawking in wild pandemonium. This procedure continued with them one by one until every foreign chicken was out of the yard.
By this time, Jack was ready to herd ours into the gates of the pen. The chickens were frightened because they had seen how he had maneuvered the neighbor’s flock. When the gate to their pen was opened, they rushed in with Jack’s assistance. He was always close on their heels, and he never gave them the slightest chance to turn back.
Jack was a very necessary adjunct to orderly procedure in our yard. He tried to keep Mother’s garden growing without disturbance, but during the garden season, this was almost impossible. Almost daily, our chickens or the neighbor’s chickens would fly the fence to scratch and peck for bugs and worms, and Jack would dutifully repeat his performance.
We always loved our morning romp with Jack. He delighted in sleeping in a tightly rolled ball on the door mat. As soon as Mother opened the front door, he would bound in to tell everyone good morning. This greeting never lost its zest or enthusiasm. Each morning, he greeted us as if he had not seen us in years and years. He would excitedly run into each room until he spied my brother or me and rush to our bed. With little or no coaxing, he immediately jumped up for a lively romp.
My mother forbade us to let Jack get up in the bed, and he seemed to know this. As soon as Mother’s footsteps were heard coming into the room, we would whisper, Go down Jack. We would raise the cover a wee bit and Jack would crawl down quickly to the foot of the bed. He would lie there motionless until Mother left the room. Then he would come up to the top of the bed to join again in our morning fun.
One day, we couldn’t find Jack. We looked and looked for him, but it was all in vain. During the night, a large dog had killed him on the red hills we loved so well. There, his lovable little body lies, a part of the ageless earth.
Love, Rose Leary. Plum Thickets and Field Daisies: A Memoir. Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1996