My dog Sam, part 1

Sometimes God steps in for little boys, I know He did in my case…

There isn’t much joy in life when you are a poor kid raised on welfare without your father. We moved around a lot when I was younger, sometimes I would go to two or three different schools in a single year. It seemed just as things were settling down and I’d start to make new friends that I’d come home to the announcement, “We’re moving!” and the process of uprooting my fragile security would start all over again.

I remember when I was about 8 years old one of the houses we lived in out in the country had open pastures next door to us. I spent time meandering around that entire property and particularly the hilly field that livestock roamed with impunity. It was there one day, laying on my back and gazing up at the clouds for what seemed hours that I came to the realization that I was poor and had no chance of recovery. I recall feeling the earth rotating while watching birds soar overhead, witnessing the serenity of cotton candy cumulus rolling past… and me, earthbound to an existence that I soon became embittered with.

We don’t get to choose where we live and what circumstances we are born into. It seemed cruel to me to be put in such a position of humility and want. I couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong, what great offense had I caused to make me as miserable as I was? There seemed to be no equalizer for me, no way out and very little hope for the future.

My mother tried, but always seemed to meet the wrong men with the end result meaning more children and deeper poverty for the family. We’d end up sleeping on the floor at my grandmother’s house or sometimes over at my aunt’s. I was too young to understand the context of our troubles, but I did know that we dodged landlords repeatedly in those days. Many times my older sister and I would go to the door to tell a bill collector our mother wasn’t home when she really was… we knew and they knew it, too.

We’d go to social services to get powdered milk and peanut butter; commodities, they were called. We used food stamps at the local grocery and my mother got a monthly check from the government. You could always tell what time of the month it was at our house. Mom watched the calendar like a parson watches his flock each time the new month finally rolled around.

One day we moved again. This time we were to be in a house provided for us by my grandfather that we were supposed to pay rent on. It was a two story white house that had nearly lost all of it’s peeling paint, leaving exposed clapboards to the elements. I remember when we pulled up into the dirt driveway and first layed eyes on it how we all groaned. It was tucked back off the main road, a road that led to a rural community of sorts that had small houses, mobile homes and shanties lining the banks of the Iowa River. An area known as the Sand Road.

The Sand Road was south of the tracks both literally and figuratively. Many of the folks living there were down on their luck, poor and uneducated. Since it was on the outskirts of town it was considered to be in the country. There were cornfields and pastures all around with the Iowa River forming a boundary lined with trees that sat low below the upper bank where our house was situated. The main road dipped down a bit as it passed our place to a lower section where the river bank wasn’t near as high. Thus the terms “upper road” and “lower road.” We lived on the “upper road,” and it was the closest thing to status our family had ever seen up to that point. A two lane blacktop stretched straight as an arrow for a couple of miles several hundred yards from our house and we actually sat just outside of the city limits. But it was a rural community all the same; with old junk cars and trash barrels for burning, clothes lines, gardens, some flower beds, large propane gas tanks, yard ornaments and the occasional outhouse. And the dogs that ran free.

My grandfather was a carpenter. I remember him taking a file to sharpen his hand saws and several bits for the braces he used for drilling. In those days power tools weren’t as common as they are now, air and battery tools were decades away. If my grandfather hung a door he hand planed it then used trim nails and a hammer to secure it. There was no such thing as a pre-hung door, each hinge had to be carved out by hand and fitted just so.

Our house became a week-end project for him, each and every week-end for a while, sometimes week days if his work was slow. He re-roofed the house and we all worked at painting it battleship gray, a color of paint that was no doubt on sale. Several places needed new windows and eventually he added a second bathroom downstairs on what was originally an enclosed back porch. Though the house was a two story it only had two bedrooms upstairs with the original bathroom. The ceilings partially followed the roof line before they flattened in the middle. Downstairs was the main house with a fairly large kitchen, dining room with a narrow, winding and enclosed stairwell leading upstairs, and a living room that was made into a third bedroom/T.V. room. There also was a wet basement that housed the furnace. I slept downstairs on a hide-a-bed.

We had a large yard with a free standing garage out back that was old and dilapidated, having a dirt floor it was hardly fit for storage. Mowing that yard became my job, which I hated. If ever a yard needed a riding mower that one did. But the best I could hope for was a gasoline powered push mower that my grandfather supplied. That yard took hours to mow and when my grandfather showed up with the mower I dreamed up all kinds of excuses not to mow; feigning illness, predicting rain or leaping into another project… anything to keep me from mowing that retched grass. Sometimes my craftiness worked, but usually if I delayed mowing the grass grew tall and the work was harder than if I would have just kept up with it.

But a 10 year old always learns things the hard way.

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4 Responses to “My dog Sam, part 1”

  1. Marge Says:

    I love this. It brings tears to my eyes to read how things were for you at your age….before I was born!!
    I have my own bittersweet memories of the “Gray House” but I love reading about yours.
    Thanks for this.
    Love you!!!

  2. 1poet4man Says:

    Very nicely written…with heart and the actual experience of hardship…Bravo for your honesty…and I await part #2…:)

    Poetman

  3. chrisfiore5 Says:

    hey marge,

    it is a story worth telling… but don’t give away the ending! I love you, too!

    thanks Poetman, glad you enjoyed it so far and appreciate you coming back around.

    peace, ya’ll

  4. Cyndi Says:

    Ah, so many memories. I am anxious to see what you do with this also. I can see Sam now; such an ordinary looking little mutt, but oh so clever and so loyal to all of us.

    Love ya.

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