For a few brief months I lived on Fifth Avenue South in Columbus, Mississippi with my mother, stepfather and my youngest sister, a female enigma some eighteen months older than I. We lived in a small one-story frame house, home for us between moves to and from Tennessee in the Oak Ridge area—my stepfather, Papa John, was employed as a construction superintendent with the J. A. Jones Construction Company, one of the entities engaged in the atom-bomb project during World War II—his employment rose and fell with the company’s need for his services. This was the second house we lived in on Fifth Avenue South. The other house was a two-story antebellum home that was converted to apartments to provide additional housing during the war. Click here for a posting of notable activities at that location.
Our family included a small Spitz dog, a beautiful female identical to the image pictured here. My mother claimed ownership of the dog, but my stepfather had severe reservations about the animal—he had neither patience nor liking for any animal or any person that made no contribution to the family, and that little dog definitely made none. It’s a wonder that he tolerated the dog, and its ultimate abrupt and final separation from the family came as no surprise to us.
Our next-door neighbor to the east kept chickens, something that may or may not have been in accordance with city regulations—not that it would have mattered. In our neighborhood, as in most neighborhoods on the south side of the city, very few regulations were enforced.
The image on the left shows a male and a female chicken—a rooster and a hen—the hen is the smaller one to the right. Our little dog had the speed and strength and the urge to waylay a hen that had flown over the fence that separated our houses, and she managed to kill the bird. Papa John expressed his disapproval vocally with words that can only be described as other than appropriate for the ears of his two stepchildren, apologized to the neighbors and made some sort of remunerative reparation for their loss of an egg-laying hen in the prime of its life. He also vocalized the future action he would take should the act be repeated—he said he would kill the dog.
Our little Spitz female had drawn blood and I believe she lay in wait for another victim to fly over the fence, and predictably one did, on a bright summer Sunday noon while we were having lunch. Papa John heard the commotion in the backyard and took in the situation at a glance—dog growling and mangling hen and hen squawking, literally, for dear life. The image on the right is probably how the dog viewed the hen.
Our stepfather hastened to the bedroom for his US Army regulation .45 caliber semi-automatic firearm, secured it, returned to the kitchen, ripped open the kitchen screen door and ran full-tilt down the steps and across the yard toward the corner where the Spitz had the hen down.
The pistol was always ready to fire—Papa said that if everyone knew it was ready to fire they would not be tempted to handle it—he was wrong—in his absence I handled it many times, sighting and making the sounds young boys make to simulate gunshots—I even simulated ricochets, the sound made when the bullets hit a rock instead of the outlaw.
In this instance the pistol was already pointed at the dog as Papa ran, and we knew how this would turn out. We were wrong. Papa John returned to the house with the weapon unfired. There was a wire clothesline strung across the yard between the hen’s death struggle with the dog and the swiftly moving would-be dog killer. Papa John met the tightly drawn clothesline wire at the bridge of his nose, a very prominent member, a proboscis that some might classify as Romanesque—others might consider it bulbous, similar to the one sported by the late W. C. Fields—see image at right.
The wire stopped Papa, but not in his tracks. It stopped his nose but his feet kept going and he fell flat on his back with a grunt that was audible to us from our vantage point on the kitchen steps.
My mother screamed and my sister and I giggled, but the giggling stopped abruptly as Papa John struggled to his feet and slowly, haltingly, returned to the house, bleeding profusely from the point where the wire made contact and the pistol unfired. There was very little discussion from that point on. My mother applied makeshift first-aid to the damaged member and Papa John spent most of the afternoon abed.
This story is almost over—stay with me for the finale. The incident took place on Sunday, and the good news is that the hen survived—the little dog released her when he saw Papa John hit the wire—actually the dog heard rather than saw the encounter. The next day was a school day, and my sister and I dutifully attended school, and when we returned home at the end of our school day we immediately checked the backyard to see about the little dog.
As the reader has probably surmised, there was no dog, not in the backyard nor in the house. Our normally garrulous mother told us, in terse words and somber tones that she had inadvertently left the gate open and that the little dog apparently ran away. We knew that was untrue, and she knew that we knew it was untrue, but we accepted her story on its face—we had no other choice. We knew that Papa John had, in one way or another, completed the action that the clothesline wire had temporarily averted. The incident and the missing canine were never subjects for conversation from that point on, at least not while Papa John was within earshot of such conversations.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
June 15, 2010 at 9:31 am
One of those houses, I think I might actually remember. It seems like it might have been an old antebellum house that had been divided. Which ever one it was, it had a closet that had a door inside the closet that led to the crawl space under the house. I think it was said that it was a secret escape route during the civil war. Am I imagining this?
June 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm
Hi, Larry. You may be thinking of a huge two-story antebellum house located on the north side of Columbus, just off the highway leading to Vernon, some thirty miles across the Alabama state line—Hwy 12, I believe. That home had also been converted to apartments, and Jessie lived there with her family in the downstairs unit on the right. I spent some time there on my 10-day delay enroute to Rantoul, Illinois after finishing basic training. I believe my Uncle Noah, Mama Hester’s brother, lived somewhere upstairs. I don’t remember any mention of a secret escape route, but it could well have been there. I never saw any of the house other than where Jessie lived.
There was a huge tree in the front yard with a squirrel nest in a fork of a limb some fifteen feet off the ground. I unwisely shinnied up the trunk and crawled out on the limb to see if it held any baby squirrels. It didn’t, but when I started down I had a problem. I had shinnied up the trunk and reached out to grab the limb and pull myself up on it. Hanging from the limb and grabbing for the trunk was a different matter. I was afraid to try it, and I sat on the limb clinging to the trunk until Jessie’s husband Victor, finally heard my mournful cries for help. He finally shook off his afternoon nap and came out, assessed the situation and brought an extension ladder from behind the house, propped it on the limb and held it steady until I was safely down from my perch, undamaged except for my pride.
June 20, 2010 at 2:12 pm
I remember the closet with the door and the steps, Larry. I was not quite 4 years old when we moved from there to the farm near the Air Force Base, but you would be amazed at the things that I can remember, including many of the things posted by the King of Texas.
Vicki Underwood Murphy
June 15, 2010 at 6:29 pm
Awww… poor little dog. I guess it willed the clothesline to get your stepfather’s nose. That’s the thing about dogs that want a chicken dinner, they’re wilful.