“Minnie and Charlie’s daughter must be visiting. I saw that strange girl of hers, and the dog’s gone.” Now, over forty years later, that’s what I imagine people on Pine Street said when I went with my parents to my grandparents’ house.
As soon as I’d said hello to grandma and grandpa, I’d be out the door and heading down toward the woods at the end of the street. Along the way, from three doors past their house, I’d start collecting dogs. I didn’t steal them or let them out of fenced yards. No one had fenced yards then and dogs just laid around their front steps or in the yard. If they saw me, they’d come out to the sidewalk and come along with me. If I didn’t see one where I knew it lived, I might call “here doggiedoggie” or call its name if I knew it.
On a good day, I’d have seven or eight dogs with me by the time I reached the end of the two block street. At the end was a ravine, wooded with a trail going through it to the railroad tracks and also running parallel to the tracks along the creek. The dogs and I would walk through the woods on the creek path, staying away from the tracks and never going further than a couple blocks either direction from Pine Street.
I don’t remember what we did for the hours we spent there. I threw sticks for them maybe. When it was almost dark, we’d walk back up Pine Street or sometimes Pearl Street. The dogs would all turn in to their respective homes. I’d get back to Grandma’s by myself just in time for supper. If we were staying overnight, next day I’d be back down the street collecting the dogs and we’d do the same thing. Before we left, I’d make a hurried trip down Pine Street to collect the dogs for a quick goodbye to them all on the street. They seemed to know I was leaving and just went back to their doorsteps.
I think there were other kids sometimes along with us too, but I can’t remember any of them clearly. Some of the dogs I knew by name, Bingo and Rex and Lady. I must have talked to some kids to know that. I don’t think I would have talked to any adults. And I don’t recall any adults asking why I was taking their dog.
I remember the dogs. A beautiful collie that lived in a two-storey frame house on the corner of the lane that ran between Pine and Pearl. A bulldog, some little shaggy haired mutts, a couple big Shepherd crosses. They all got along, there was never a fight among them. None of them ever ran off from our pack. They never chased cats sitting hunched up or standing backs arched in driveways further down the road. They never came back to my grandparents’ house with me, and they never came on their own to visit me there. I don’t know if, when I wasn’t there, they rounded themselves up and went for walks in the ravine. I don’t think I wondered about that at the time; all I knew is that they were there for me when I came to visit.
I loved going to my grandparents. I liked seeing them, being in their house, looking in cupboards at treasures I’d seen before and finding new ones. But I especially loved my time with the dogs.
Pine Street woods aren’t there anymore
Now, when I go back and drive past my grandparents’ house, I want to park the car and walk down the street looking for dogs to walk with. The houses on Pine Street look pretty unchanged from the 1960s. But the woods aren’t there anymore. The ravine is there, but the creek is gone. It’s been diverted, I guess, and the bed paved over. A new subdivision is on the other side, in what used to be the woods between the creek and the railroad tracks. Even if I found dogs sitting on doorsteps or laying in the yard, there’d be nowhere woodsy to walk with them.
So I stop in front of the house on the lane. It’s still got pale yellow siding with the same windows and front cement step. I say “hello Lassie” to the dog I see in my mind. Then I drive a few streets east, turn left and stop at the recreation field. There’s a ball diamond there and a soccer field. At the back of it, there’s woods with a trail going through to the railroad tracks. I get my dog out of the car and we walk through the woods.
I didn’t know then, when I was eight or ten, that this would be a constant in my life: walking with dogs and remembering dogs. Like the kids that were part of Pine Street, many people have been in my life over the years. But it’s the dogs that stand out most vividly.
Originally posted in Stories on my St. Thomas Dog Blog on July 4, 2010. The photographs of my mother, grandparents and their house are from my mother’s photo albums.
It took a year but I have my grandfather’s poetry book in pdf format. If you would like to print it out, click here and download the file links on the page.
I don’t know when he began writing poetry but the 1st edition of his booklet was printed January 1946. The 2nd was printed in June 1958 and the 3rd, nine years after his death, in 1974. It is the 3rd one that I have scanned. There are some different poems in the first two and I will add those later.
He used poetry in two ways: one as a way to witness for his faith and the other to comment on life around him. The subtitle is “Poems concerning the things of today and poems confirming the Heavenward way” and that pretty much sums them up. If he were alive today, maybe he’d make his observations through Twitter. But I’m glad he chose the medium of rhyme. Again, his own words best describe that. In “The Poet’s ‘Must’”, he writes, “Yet must the poet keep his feet – And beat it down the line; – And make his feet the accent keep – Or lose the swing and rhyme.”
What his poetry also did was to make the writing of poetry a part of life. It wasn’t something rarefied, that “ordinary” people couldn’t dream of doing. His children and grandchildren grew up with his poems and poetry books around. My mother said she’d see him at his desk in his cement shop, with a pencil stub and scrap of paper – working out words and rhyme while they were in his mind.
His children naturally turned to putting their thoughts on paper too. While none of them wrote as prolifically as he did, they too wrote poems of their faith. And they didn’t just stick the final product in the back of a drawer as so many of us do; they had them printed and distributed. They had seen him do it so knew it could be done and there was an audience out there.
Perhaps too it was their church that helped them to know how to print and distribute and that there was an audience out there. A church that always had a good supply of Gospel tracts, telling real life stories of conversion and discussing points of Scripture.
Whether it was the example of their church or my grandfather’s love of language and human observation, writing from life and belief came naturally to his children. They recognized his ability and treasured it. I have a notebook in which my Aunt Ada carefully transcribed in longhand her father’s poems and gave to him as a gift. My mother spent the evening before her wedding transcribing his Christmas song in words and music in preparation for printing. But maybe the greatest gift they gave him was in their own writing. They remembered the grammar that their mother had taught them and kept the “swing and rhyme” that he showed them.