Author: Faubel, Carolyn

Ol’ Greentongue
 
Reading the lovely stories of the charming pets of some of my bluegrass acquaintances, I had to sit back and ruminate over a dog we once had. Ah, yes, that little mutt, that poor thing we rescued, that familiar tenseness of the gut that I’d thought I’d left behind but always seemed to crop up when I thought of…

I am not a dog person. I am a cat person. I like the idea of dogs with their loyalty and friendliness and wagging tails and always wanting to please you. I like the idea that you can take them for walks on a leash and then proudly show off their tricks and how well-behaved they are. However, I haven’t found the idea matched up to reality with the dogs in my life. While I was growing up, most of our dogs misbehaved, chased cars, slobbered, dug holes, and shed.

No, I didn’t care much for dogs, but I did love my new husband, Wes, and he was a dog person. So of course we had dogs. We started our dog collection with a huge, hairy, gentle giant whose name was Ben. Incredibly this mastodon had been living in the tiny back yard of my husband’s co-worker. Ben’s master was thrilled to see him go to live at a nice house in the country. That was when I realized the manner in which Wes’ family accumulated all their dogs—other people’s cast-offs. He never saw the need to go through the puppy business when so many people were willing to give up a full-grown dog. Sometimes that worked out well, as with Ben, and sometimes it didn’t work out so well.

Our honeymoon house was on about 3 ½ acres in a little country neighborhood. Everyone around us had dogs and cats, horses and cows. We wanted to put our pastures to good use, so we bought a couple of little Holstein steers to graze out back to fatten up. I was content with our bucolic life; Dum Dum and Feisty doggedly converting grass to steaks, Ben patrolling his little kingdom, a cat for the lap, and a little cottage to play house in. And then Wes brought Luke home.

Luke was a runty little German Shepherd-looking mix. His neck was sore and weeping where the chain had rubbed it raw. It was easy to see that he had been punished often because every time my hand would start to raise he would cower and try to slink away. He was a mixture of emotions; fearful, fawning, happy, and withdrawn. His former master didn’t want him anymore and offered him to Wes.

“We don’t have to keep him if you’d rather not,” he said. Truthfully, I’d rather not. One dog was enough, and this one was definitely not what I would have chosen in a pet store or a newspaper ad. But I couldn’t help it. I had an attack of soft-heartedness for both the ill-treated mutt and my dog-loving husband and said yes.

Luke wasn’t a bad dog, but he wasn’t an easy dog. He wouldn’t mind well, he got into things, was unpredictable, and a little obnoxious. Any kind of harsh words or punishments were useless; due to his past, he could not accept them but would shrink back or slyly slip away. I remember the day he earned his sobriquet. Luke had been frolicking and exploring with Ben around the place and came galloping over to me for a pat. As I reached down he looked up with a big grin and panted, his tongue hanging out in that doggy way. It was a deep, earthy green color. He had so obviously been out to visit Dum Dum and Feisty and had sampled their wares. From that moment on he was “Ol’ Greentongue,” and he managed to prove his nickname about every day.

Being newlyweds, Wes and I had not yet had occasion to discuss how far we would go to save a pet’s life. So when the crisis came, we were unprepared. The ax fell, or rather the car hit, the morning of my sister-in-law’s wedding. When I came home from bridesmaid practice there was a note from Wes, who had just left for groomsman practice.

“Luke was hit by a car and his leg is hurt. I took him by the emergency vet. When you get home, go over there and see how it is.” What I saw was a hundred dollars for the emergency care and another four hundred for surgery to pin his broken leg if I so cared to schedule that. Wes was unreachable, the wedding was in a couple of hours in another town, my husband’s dog was lying there swathed in white and I had a Visa card in my pocket. I charged it.

When the confusion of the day was past and we had a chance to talk, we discovered a few things. Such as that neither of us was very fond of Ol’ Greentongue, and we likely would have had him put down under calmer circumstances. But the old guy pulled through the surgery and came home, a little stiffer and more cautious, but the same little mutt. It took a long time to pay off that Visa bill. I felt tense when I thought of him. On the one hand, he was our five hundred dollar investment, and we needed to nurture and protect that. On the other hand, this non-descript dog had sucked the life out of our budget and I resented that.

About one year later, we were preparing for my family’s annual Easter picnic. My folks owned 40 acres of beautiful Yokohl Valley foothill property and every year they hosted a big family get-together among the wildflowers, knee-high grasses and mountain oaks. We loaded up Luke and Ben and my little toddler and headed up the hill for the gathering. My sisters were there with their little children along with aunts and uncles and grandparents. We drove the pick-up along the dirt track that led to this year’s spot. A rope swing hung from a big oak limb with the big cousins swinging out over the gentle slope. The dogs bounded out to explore. Then we heard the most peculiar noise. A buzzing sound, rather high pitched, intruded into the normal noises of grown-ups visiting, children playing. Luke was staring intently at a spot in the grass a few yards from the group of picnickers. Wes was one of the first to realize what it was. He dragged Luke back to safety and the men took a shovel and chopped off the head of a big rattlesnake.

Several weeks later, Ol’ Greentongue just up and disappeared. He’d previously lost his tags on the property somewhere, and no one reported finding a dog thereabouts. We guessed that he might have fallen into the canal, or maybe a rancher had found him in with some livestock and shot him, but we never knew for sure. The one thing that we did know for sure is that events can work themselves out in strange, unforeseen and sometimes wonderful ways.
 
Posted:  9/27/2004



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