My dog Sam, Part 8

Fall is my most favorite time of the year.  Autumn on the Sand Road transforms the area from a dusty, ramshackle river side community to a crisp and breezy avenue  shaded with majestic oaks, maples, spruce, pines and birches.  Squirrels jump from tree to tree, chattering their instructions to each other, busy in preparation for the coming winter.  Birds congregate in the branches above; counting heads, working out flight formations and picking squadron leaders, making ready for their migration south.  Any of a dozen places could have easily made a Norman Rockwell setting with myriads of colors blended onto the painter’s palette.  During the splendor of Autumn, it is difficult to walk down the Sand Road and not feel connected to the river, the people and the land.  The sweltering summer has passed.  Winter is reaching with it’s willowy fingers.  Bringing with it the last hurrah of the harvest, Autumn is a blend of blessed relief and reflective angst. 

Sam was gone again.  It got to where we didn’t think too much about it for the first few days.  He’d arrive all strung out and tired from his romp with the gang; eat, sleep and lay low for awhile.  Then one day someone would ask, “Have you seen Sam?” and then we’d all be on alert trying to recall where we’d seen him last and when.  But he always came back. 

The evening of Sam’s second run in with Frankie was a night like any other night.  It was cold outside, enough for frosting the pumpkins and reminding us why we dreaded the approaching barren and brittle winter months.  It seemed we could never prepare for it. Our house was a drafty old barn with a propane gas heater in the basement and a silver 300 gallon above ground container that sat in the back yard like a Sherman tank.  The furnace had one main duct that ran up the center of the house with a couple of floor registers that kicked out nothing but psychological warmth.  Dead winter snows would find us huddled near the main vent.  Since we usually hung our clothes outside to dry, (rendering them a musty odor when winter dictated we hang them in the basement) often times clothing that had to be worn to school the next day would get draped over a chair in hopes that it’d be dry by morning.  It was not uncommon for me to wear jeans that still had a damp waistband and inside pockets to school.

I was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework, it was long past dark.  Mom had finished doing dishes and was preparing coffee, her favorite beverage.  My mother drank gallons of coffee morning, noon and night and then couldn’t figure out why she didn’t sleep when the time came to retire.  I remember we were having light conversation about something when from the outside we could hear a commotion, familiar sounds I couldn’t quite place. 

Through the crisp, night air came the reverberations of the domesticated wild.  Yelps, screeches, barking and vicious growls clawed their way unto my ears.  But not from one or two dogs, the pandemonium was a collage of excitement, anger, rage and fear from an array of different voices.  Flipping on the outside light, I ran out the front door and onto the porch. 

From the solitary security light stuck in the middle of our yard I could see a group of dogs, at least eight or more encircling a couple of fighters that were ripping and tearing at each other while the onlookers clamored for their blood.  The carousel swirled through our yard and zig-zagged it’s way towards our porch where I was standing.  As the gnawing agitation came within a dozen feet of me, the light from the porch  illuminated the proximity of our yard.  At the top of the steps I could see the dogs that were in the nucleus and causing all the ruckus.  One was the size and shape of a German Shepherd.  He was being backed up and put on the defensive by a smaller dog, an enraged and fearless animal.  This canine was fighting for his life with all the grit and purpose of a champion gladiator that knew he was in a death match.  A brute that though lacking in size fought with heart and sheer guts.   A cur hopelessly outnumbered but brave until the end. 

My dog.  My dog, Sam.

In the thick of the other contenders was Frankie.  While Sam was taking on the frontal assault of the Shepherd, Frankie the coward attacked Sam’s flanks and latched on to one of his limbs.  The Shepherd clamped down on a tuft of Sam’s neck and between them they pulled and tugged on Sam like he was a rag doll.  The circling mass of hyenas would nip and rip at Sam in rapid succession, causing his attention to shift and dart to respond to another chomp, each bite, every tear. 

I knew that they were set on killing him, and in that moment my heart stopped as I watched my pet valiantly try to make his way home; to the sanctuary of his tree, the solitude of our porch, the arms of our love and the protection that he had never required from us before.  Until now.

But it only took one resuscitating heartbeat and I was in the thick of the fight with Sam.  Kicking, swinging and screaming at the top of my lungs I jumped in at Frankie first and placed a toe hard against his ribs.   I could feel the other dogs teeth on my pant cuffs pulling at me, biting at the back of my legs through my jeans and grabbing onto my arms, ripping my shirt. 

The noise from those dogs was deafening and disoriented me, making my counterattack unbalanced.  Before I knew it I was on the ground.  Sam, emboldened by my arrival and subsequent fall, struck back at each dog that lurched in my direction.  But the confusion only lasted for an instant.  The Shepherd and Frankie worked around me, clamoring to get at Sam while I fought off the rest of the battling brood.  Sam struggled to protect me and defend himself at the same time.  It was hopeless and desperate, but Sam had the heart of a lion.  He was king of the Sand Road pride and not going down while he still had life in him. 

We were surrounded by chaos.  With both panic and fury I fought like another animal, swinging wildly at the dancing descendants of primordial wolves.  I don’t know how long we lasted; kicking, screaming, biting and barking but finally above all the commotion I heard another sound, the sound of relief.  The sound of re-enforcements, like the cavalry in the nick of time,  the marines leading the charge with gung ho bravado.  All this and more at the hands of an unlikely ally.

My mother was yelling, “Get out of here!” and swinging her broom, thwacking the Shepherd on the head then following through like she was wielding an axe at the rest of the startled mutts. Whatever her efforts; between that, my cursing and windmill flailing of arms with Sam’s courageous determination, the dogs scattered. 

It was all I could do to hold Sam back to keep him from running after them, but afterwards he allowed me to pick him up and carry him inside… exhausted, but alive.  Sam’s front leg had been chewed and bloodied just above the paw clear up to the joint, nothing but mangled fur and raw meat.  His ears had been ripped with chunks removed and Sam’s face had several gashes in it.  As I laid him on the kitchen floor Sam licked at my hand as if his only concern was my well being. 

My mother had grabbed some dish cloths, wet them down and begun dabbing the blood off Sam’s fur.  She was crying for him and I realized then she might have loved our pet as much as I did.  Sam had given us all something to hold on to, a status of sorts that even my mom recognized.  He was the family hero.  Sam had made a mark on our little corner of the world and asked nothing back from us, because he required naught.    And now as we tended to his injuries we feared that Sam’s light was dimming.

Sam caught his breath after resting for a while.  Soon he got up and stood by the front door wanting out.  Try as I might to get him to lay back down on our make shift bed there on the kitchen floor, Sam was insistent.  

I went to the front door, Sam hobbled through onto the porch.  With my mother standing at the entry to the house I crossed the porch and opened the screen door.  Sam pushed past me to stand at the top of the steps and peer out into the night.  He breathed deeply a couple of times through his nostrils.  Then came the sound I recalled hearing for the first time not so long ago when we came to form our friendship.  Sam let out a low, long and loud howl of defiance… hurled at the ghosts of darkness. 

“He just had to let them know he was still here, didn’t he?”  My mother mused.


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5 Responses to “My dog Sam, Part 8”

  1. msdane Says:

    Wow! This is really something. I’d forgotten about the yard light but could picture it clearly as you described it. I could see it all playing out in my mind as if I were there at the time–which I know I wasn’t.

    I so loved that dog. There will never be another like him.

    I also feel connected to that dirty, ugly, Iowa River. When I really need to sort things out I will go and park somewhere by the river and it soothes me, granting me solace from my troubles. When night is on us you can see different lights from town shining on it and the woods surrounding it and it is a beautiful thing with the night cloaking the muddy water and just reflecting light, and from the Sand Road we could look across the river at the woods and it was a thing of beauty. Thanks for reminding me of all this.

  2. chrisfiore5 Says:

    hey msdane,

    that was a night to remember, I know I’ll never forget it…

    I miss that time in our lives, it will always be home to my heart.

    I love you.

  3. Sean Says:

    What happened the next day?

  4. msdane Says:

    Don’t mean to be a pest, but still waiting for part 9–this is why I like to wait until something is all written before I read it. Then I can decide where to take a break.

    Love you Brother.

  5. chrisfiore5 Says:

    I am happy to oblige, Part 9 is now posted…

    hope you enjoy.


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