Permit me to set the table by framing the players. Everyone loves a dog story. This is one of two that the Howes have had in the distant past. The following conversation took place at the Frank Good homestead where my Grandmother lived. Going toward the Big Horns from Lovell, the homestead was on the right side of the present causeway. There was no lake then. Nor even the possibility. Grandmother’s name was Martha Pearl. She was born in 1890. Newel (born 1913) was her first son. Her brother, Forest (born in 1886) had dropped in unannounced as brothers do. Her brother, Lou (born in 1888) and his wife, Lida Grant, had left their daughter, Elsie, age 3 with Martha Pearl to watch. Lillian was Newel’s younger sister and Grandmother’s first daughter. They all had a part in this dog tale. The homestead was a two bedroom log affair that the wind just sort of blew through on the way to Chicago. During the winter it was cold as hell. The cabin sat below the railroad tracks of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy RR. It was a hot summer day.
“Newel, grab that cat and throw him out. Don’t want him on the table. The rest of you help set the table. Uncle Far is starvin’. He ain’t et.”
It was a run and grab, but Newel caught the cat and threw the dirty white, long-haired beast out the front door. She landed on her feet, moving. Ring promptly put her up the elm tree out in front of the log house.
“That damn dog,” Martha said. “He’s always givin’ that cat fits.”
“Yeah, Mom, but he’s careful not to catch her,” Newel observed.
Elsie–all three foot of her– had worked herself close and was sitting on Forest’s knee at the kitchen table.
“You should have been here yesterday, Far,” Martha said. “That girl–she was nearly the death of me. You’ll never believe it. I gotta tell ya. Lillian, Elsie, and me were walking home from goin’ to the post office and the store. You know. It’s in Kane. We were walkin’ down the tracks ‘cause it was shorter than the road. That stinker, Elsie, was way out in front of me sittin’ on a track waitin’ for me and Lillian. She was throwin’ rocks at the dog. Lillian starts screamin’ “Mom, mom, a train, a train!”
Lillian looked up at Forest. “I was loud, Uncle Far. Real loud.”
“Forest. I looked. A freighter was comin’ round the bend. I started runnin’. The engine was comin’. It wasn’t slowin’ down and I was runnin’. I mean I was really runnin’. I dropped the bread, busted up the eggs; five pounds of flour was all over the tracks. I was screamin’ to that child, waving my hands, Elsie, Elsie get off the tracks. She just sat there watchin’ me sprintin’ towards her.”
“All the eggs were busted, Uncle Far,” Lillian said nodding her head.
“Far, I was goin’ as fast as I could. My God, that engineer was layin’ on the air horn and Elsie was just sittin’ on the track pretty as she could be.”
“And Momma was screaming, Uncle Far,” Lillian said. “And Elsie was just sittin’ there watchin’ her yellin’ at her, wavin’ her hand.”
“I wasn’t gonna make it, Far. I just wasn’t gonna make it. I could see it. I could see the engineer, his head outta the window. You’ll never believe it. Out of nowheres, that damn dog beats me to that child, grabs her by the arm. Scares her plum to death. He drags her off the tracks, pullin’ her off the rail and down the embankment. She was just a screamin’ like she was bein’ murdered twice over. She was bawlin’ and wailin’ like you can’t believe. That dog never let go of her arm, draggin her on and on.”
“Yeah, Uncle Far,” Lillian said, “that Elsie was real mad. Ring wouldn’t let go. Her arm was all scratched up by his teeth. Do you wanna see? Look. She’s got bruises where Ring grabbed hold of her. Right there.” Lillian was pointing. Elsie was hiding her arm.
Martha ran her hand through Elsie’s hair as the girl sat on Forest’s lap. “You sure scared us didn’t you, Elsie?”
Elsie smiled at her aunt and nodded.
Martha looked at her brother and shook her head. “Someone was sure lookin’ out for us, Far. I swear. I’d never have made it. If it weren’t for that dog. Someone somewhere likes that girl. When I finally reached her, I picked her up, the train roarin’ by and we were just a’babblin’ like a couple of crazies. It was so close, Far. I could feel the wind the train was makin’. The tracks were shakin’ like crazy. Oh my God. I thought I was gonna die.”
Lillian nodded. “It was God,” she said. “ Uncle Far, He really likes Elsie.”
“I’ll be damned. Well, Lil, it was certainly lucky He and that dog were watchin’ this baby.”
“Yeah, Uncle Far, we ain’t yellin’ at the dog no more.”
“I’ll bet he gets to eat first. Sleeps in the livin’room on a pillow?”
Lillian looked at him, thinking. “Naw, Uncle Far, he has to eat outside. He ain’t got no manners.”
“I see,” Forest said.