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After Work: Swinging On The gate

Dona Gibbs was swinging on the gate when down the road came a police car.

"Now that was out of the ordinary, indeed. We lived on a farm surrounded by other farms. Our nearest neighbor was a half-mile away...''

Young Dona suddenly found herself plunged into the sort of drama you only read about in newspapers.

For more of Dona's matchless columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/after_work/

I was swinging on the gate, a forbidden pleasure.

“It’ll make the gate sag, Dona,” my father warned me.

Ha, he was out of town on a business trip. I could swing all I wanted.

My Cocker Spaniel, Button, was sitting beside me on the dirt road, watching the road and me equally, and hoping that I’d toss his prized possession, a tennis ball with the fuzz chewed off. He carried the ball around so much that he had an overbite and had ruined any chance he’d be trotting around any show ring, though he did carry the pretentious name of Dona’s Black Velvet Button. That was my mother’s doing. Button was AKC registered, although she cared little about the pedigree of humans.

Down the road came a police car. Now that was out of the ordinary, indeed. We lived on a farm surrounded by other farms. Our nearest neighbor was a half-mile away – and still too close for my father who said, quoting Daniel Boone, I think, that he didn’t want to see the smoke from a neighbor’s chimney.

As an only child, I was desperate to see the smoke, or better yet, be invited in to sit next to a neighbor’s hearth.

So when the police car pulled up next to Button, and me, I hopped down from gate swinging and Button dropped his tennis ball and wagged his tail.

It was a sheriff with his deputy, both in Smioky Bear hats.

“Little girl,” he began.

I nodded eagerly. My pigtails probably bounced. My mother dressed me like Norman Rockwell might pull up and ask me to pose in my plaid shirt and rolled up jeans.

“Would you kindly help us out?”

You bet I would. I had read all the Nancy Drew mystery series for girls, some twice and others three times. I had been waiting for this chance.

“We’ve got an escaped convict. Run off from a road gang. We think he’s in these woods somewhere. If you see anybody come outta the woods, let us know.”

I nodded excitedly.

They slowly pulled away. Button looked dejectedly at his ball, still un-thrown. He always hoped to engage the unsuspecting, but these two candidates hadn’t even stepped out of the cruiser.

I ran into the house where my mother was washing up from breakfast.

“A convict escaped from the road gang,” I sputtered. “And the sheriff just asked me to help.”

She nodded and went on washing.

“Can you dry these for me, please?” she asked.

She thought I was in my made-up mystery mode, a state that often overtook me after summer afternoons reading Nancy Drew and eating saltine crackers.

I had recently shouted out in terror in the middle of moonlit nights. I had seen the shadow of a man in a broad-brimmed hat. My parents comforted me, night after night. Investigation later proved it was only the peculiar shape of a bush that cast the strange image.

So, at first my mother chalked it up to an overactive imagination of a lonely nine-year-old.

“I’m going back to my post,” I shouted. Button trotted behind me.

I resumed my job of forbidden gate swinging.

“Rrrr,” Button commented.

I looked up.

“Rrrr,” he repeated.

I saw a man walking down the dirt road.

Button dropped his tennis ball, better to enunciate.

“Woof, woof.”

The man dashed into our woods, white shirttails flapping and tripping over his pant legs.

Could that be the escapee? I held my breath. I had expected stripes.

I raced into the house and babbled out the sequence.

This time she took me seriously, and, after all, my father was out of town and we were way out in the sticks.

We had no phone so we couldn’t phone the sheriff. Ten minutes later, he and his deputy rolled by. I told them what I had seen. A few minutes later, a truck with three bloodhounds showed up and soon the woods were filled with their cries and whoops.

Yes, you read that right, bloodhounds.

“We’ll let you ladies know when we catch him.”

“But he didn’t have on stripes,” I put in. I was a stickler for details.

“Stole them clothes off somebody’s clothes line,” the sheriff winked.

Two, three hours passed.

The afternoon was turning to dusk. Then down the road a car and truck crept. It was the sheriff.

“Well, we got’im”,” he gestured with a meaty thumb to the truck that rolled up behind them.

Inside the kennel, where the bloodhounds had been, was a dejected looking man, wearing a white shirt and khakis. The bloodhounds were sitting the cab with the driver, drooling out the side window.

“Thanks for your help, little lady, “ the sheriff said to me.

My mother wheeled around and snarled at me, “Now are you happy?” She wailed, “They didn’t have to bring him by. They didn’t have to put him where the dogs had been. I didn’t want you to see that.”

Then I really didn’t understand. I didn’t understand the range of adults’ emotions --- the exuberance of the sheriff or the despair of my mother.

Now I think I understand both – but just a little.

And I was certainly no Nancy Drew.

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