Tramp… The Rest of the Story

 I told you about my first dog, Tramp; the one that was half coyote, half border collie. The coyote part of him made him a sneaky little dog, and at night he would roam the nearby hay fields, hunting rabbits, mice or other small game. I never actually saw him hunt, but he was free to roam, as we had no fence, and I often saw him trotting away toward the fields. On a few occasions, I found him with blood on his muzzle in the morning.

I remember times, I’d be sitting in the back yard; Tramp sitting beside me; me, just coming down from an exciting day, or just simply thinking the thoughts a young boy thinks; random, nonsensical, worrisome thoughts; you know what I mean. Then, as if called by the wild of his coyote ancestors, Tramp would simply rise from his position beside me and trot off into the night. I can still see him as he moved off toward the fields, and some of those times, he would stop and look over his shoulder as if to say, “This is dangerous business, my man. I guess you know, I might not come back.” Then he’d do the open-mouthed doggie grin, all dogs do, turn, and lope into the fading evening light. One day he didn’t come home.

I wasn’t there, actually; It was summertime, school was out, and I think I was in Texas visiting Cousin Ed. Mom told me about it when I got back home.

“Charlie,” she said, after I’d been home a few hours and noticed Tramp wasn’t around. “I have some bad news.” Not giving me time to speak, perhaps knowing it was best to charge ahead and get things said, she stated bluntly, “Tramp died while you were gone.” I remember thinking Tramp was too young to just die like old dogs did, and he’d never been sick a day in his life, but I also knew dogs got run over, and shot by farmers for messing with livestock and such. We’d also had a boxer dog that had gotten cancer, and after a few short weeks had died. I grew up knowing dogs didn’t last long, to put it ungracefully.

I took the news without grief or tears; I was just a twelve-year-old boy, and Tramp was just a dog; life was hard, and dogs didn’t last forever. Then Mom did one of those things she had a way of doing that would both make us laugh, but at the same time, wonder who this wonderful, odd, and funny person God had given us for a mother was. She grinned and put her hand over her mouth to cover it; the twinkle in her eye could not be hidden.

I stared at her, kind of shocked that she could find humor in my dog dying. Then she explained.

“I’m sorry,” she said, lowering her hand and struggling to hold back laughter, as she continued. “But, Charlie, something funny happened with Tramp and your little brother.”

“Which one?” I asked, still wondering how the death of my beloved Tramp could turn out to be funny.

“Billy,” she said. She was having a hard time, knowing this was not funny, but on the other hand knowing it turned out to be just that. She went on, telling the story rapidly. “Billy found Tramp after he’d been gone a few days, and I think Tramp had been dead for awhile, because he had that rigor stuff and was all stiff. Billy (he was nine, by the way) came home, got a cardboard box, went and put Tramp in it, and brought him home. He came in the house, stood at the back door, holding the box.” Mom had to stop at this point in the telling, because the memory of little freckle-faced Billy standing there holding the box with Tramp in it was making her eyes water—not with tears, but rather, with suppressed laughter. She swallowed and went on, still talking fast. “Tramp’s legs were sticking straight up out of the box, and Billy had this sad, yet quizzical look on his face and he said, ‘Mom! Sumthin wrong wit Tramp!’”

I couldn’t help but give a little sideways grin at the thought of that; Billy was a hoot, and it was not hard to picture the look he would have had on his face. “That’s pretty funny, mom,” I said. But, she wasn’t finished; there was more.

“Then,” she said, wiping a tear from her eye. “The bottom fell out of the box, and Tramp landed with a thud on the kitchen floor. Billy looked down at Tramp, then looked up at me, and the horrified look on his face… well, you know what I mean.”

I could see the complexity of emotions in Mom’s face, as she fought the equally powerful urge to both laugh and cry at the same time. She wanted to be sympathetic, yet she was dying to burst into laughter. I envisioned the scene, and with the information ping-ponging in my mind, shook my head slowly side-t-side then said, “Mom. That’s messed up.”

I wasn’t happy about the news of Tramp’s demise, but I wasn’t terribly upset, either. It was part of life, and I was raised to be tough, and not cry. I wandered around the back yard a bit then sat in the place I used to sit with Tramp on those evenings before he’d go off to hunt. A smile came onto my face, as I pictured my little brother holding that box and saying, “Mom! Sumthin wrong wit Tramp!” I laughed then a tear rolled down my cheek. I wiped it away then sat staring toward the hay fields in the distance; picturing Tramp looking over his shoulder at me, with that I-might-not-come-back-look. Tears began to trickle down my cheeks; I laughed and let them roll for a little bit.

4 Comments »

  1. Sherry Mashburn said

    This made me cry .. . the image of a 12-year old boy sitting on the back porch seeign his dog in his mind’s eye.

  2. Faye said

    That was so sad. It made me cry.

    • Well like I tell Sherry when something I write makes her cry, “that’s my job.”

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