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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 29

Bertie Stroup Marah, continuing her not-to-be-missed autobiography, tells how Sarge the dog lost his enthusiasm for riding in vehicles.

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One of the greatest gifts in life is the unselfish love of a good dog. We had some fine dogs in our lives and loved them all. But none was so cherished as our wonderful dog, Sarge. We found him wandering along the highway between Hope and Artesia. Jessie, who loved dogs better than he liked most people, spotted him first. "Look at that dog runnin' out here in the middle of nowhere," he yelled. P.G. stepped on the brakes and backed up for a closer look. The minute the pickup came to a stop, Jessie jumped out and started calling to the dog, "Come here, boy, come here." With his tail between his legs Sarge cautiously approached Jessie. He looked hungry and when he bowed his head, Jessie reached out and stroked him. Sarge received the caress gratefully and showed his appreciation with a wag of his tail. "Could we please take him with us so he won't starve," Jess pleaded. We sensed there was something special about this wandering canine, and with my folks' approval, Jessie loaded him in the back of the pickup.

The pads on his feet were bloody from running in the rocky desert and he thirstily lapped the water we poured from our canvas water bag into an empty coffee can. Our new dog was grateful but not greedy for the scraps of biscuits we shared with him. We guessed that Sarge had been an Army guard dog because of the tattooed numbers in his ear. During World War II there was a military installation not too far from Roswell, New Mexico, which was rumored to have been a German prisoner camp where guard dogs were used.

Sarge was a beautiful mixed breed with brindle colored curly hair, a white collar and markings similar to those of a collie. He was smart and loved the family, especially Jessie. He and Jessie were inseparable and spent many hours playing and roaming the hillsides.

We had an old 1934 Model A pickup that looked like it had been attacked by a mad butcher wielding a giant ax. The top of the cab had been hacked off after it was damaged in a wreck. Only the windshield had survived. For a very long time the Model A was our only means of transportation. The ease of getting in and out of this rattle trap was its best feature. If you couldn't get the door open, all you had to do was step on the running board and hop over the door into the front seat or, for us kids, into the back.

One day Mama was driving this eyesore from Weed over the hill to the sawmill to haul some slabs of waste lumber to burn in our wood stoves. Jessie sat in the passenger seat fiddling with the pair of leather gloves he would use to load the firewood. Sarge stood behind the seat in the back of the Model A looking straight ahead. They were rounding a curve on the rough gravel road when the steering mechanism broke. Mama lost control and started veering off the road. "Hold on Jessie," she shouted, as the Model A lurched off the road and into a ditch where it came to a sudden stop astride a large stump.

Jessie hit the dashboard with a thump. Poor old Sarge took the worst beating of all. He had been standing astride a large chain saw in the back of the pickup. As he stiffened and squatted to keep his balance, he slid down the length of the saw raking his private parts on the teeth of the saw. With a terrified yelp, Sarge leaped from the pickup and hit the road racing for home. He slowed only once casting an accusing glance back at the Model A.

Sarge's experience in the first wreck didn't lessen his desire to ride in the old Model A. Anticipating another ride, he waited patiently in the back while the Model A was jacked up on blocks and Willie, who was fourteen at the time, made repairs.

The day the repairs were complete, Sarge danced in a circle in the back of the pickup, wagging his tail furiously, grinning and eyes gleaming with excitement. Willie jumped in. "O.K., Sarge, let's take her for a spin." Sarge, who had been ready for days, assumed his passenger position standing in the back with his head up over the back seat looking straight ahead through the dirt-streaked windshield.

In his haste to drive the pickup, Willie didn't notice that the brake fluid had leaked out. The pickup started gaining speed as it rolled down the hill. To his horror Willie realized he had no brakes. He looked over his shoulder at Sarge whose expression had turned from happy to terrified in a split second. As the old Model A bounced across the cattle guard at the bottom of the hill, running at full speed and gaining momentum he was forced to make a radical decision. To stop the runaway bucket of bolts, he steered it into an old cottonwood tree that stood beside the school principal's house.

The impact was worse than the other wreck and poor old Sarge was flipped over the back of the seat where he landed on the floorboard with his feet sticking straight in the air. He had the wind knocked out of him. Finally coming to his senses, he shook his head vigorously and frantically jumped from his death trap. Whining and yelping he staggered back up the hill to the house and safety under the back door steps. Sarge's love of riding was over. He never went near a vehicle again.


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