Thinking of Mama

Posted: May 11, 2014 in Writing Repository

The things we remember, even if they are thoughts of troubled times and difficult trials, all seem to settle into warm fondness and affection when it comes to my Mama. She has been a true bouquet throughout my trying years. Her petals are still lovely, though aged a bit. Somehow, age brings a quality to the bouquet, providing character and elegance as well as the most delightful and rich fragrance one could imagine.

I cannot deny that with every rose there are thorns. But, when concentrating on the flower in hand, the thorns are all but forgotten. The eyes and heart become consumed with the bloom itself. The gift is seen in the beauty of the resplendent color and remarkable design.

The years I have passed through have not have produced any great historical moments that mama can point to with pride and say, “That is my child!” and have her friends nod with admiration. This child has not gained great wealth …my home is meager and small. This child has not gained a lofty education in any great institution of learning. In seeing the success of others, I have felt myself to be defeated by life; a failure. Embarrassed and goaded by sadness and shame, I have tried to hide. Mama somehow has not seen failure and defeat. Somehow she looks past the performance and sees the real me.

I realize that I have been so blessed. I stand with a life devoid of great things, but I do have this rose, a truly God-given provision and I do declare to my children and their children with them, “This is my rose! This is my mama!” They call her blessed.

There is no greater prize God could have given me than the blessed mother he has provided. God has gifted me with a special one…and I have found that the heart of my mother is a deep abyss at the bottom of which I have always found forgiveness and acceptance and most of all….a home, a place of comfort and security. With my mother, he attended the best of schools a boy could attend …it was found on her knee as I listened and learned.

Through her love and patience, I was a regular student. Though it has been quite some time, I can still feel her embrace and I can still hear her reading my favorite Bible story as I drift off into a sound sleep.

I discovered early on that I could fool many folks regarding many things, but for some reason, I could never fool Mama. Somehow, Mama always knew. She knew when I was troubled. She knew when I was sad. Somehow, Mamma became God in the heart and mind of this child. Then, after time has escorted me into a life that has led down various roads, here towards the end, when I grow tired and my eyesight sight has grown dim, this child still shamelessly whispers with a hallowed reverence, “I love my Mama…” Oh, indeed, stop and remember.

Mama convinced me of a strength I possessed but never knew I had. She marveled at my smallest victories. I was King of the World because she believed in me. Her smile made me try when nobody else cared. In my failures, she wiped away tears when others laughed. A softer hand I have never known.

Mama never knew she was so special, I don’t believe. Kids seldom stop to say thank you. It was all just part of being Mama. In the passing of time, facts get lost and memories are forgotten. Pictures fade and the mind dulls. Eventually the burning coals that fueled the child’s devotion lose their flame as life crowds in. The coal seems to become ash. She feels alone, forgotten.

She is loved, but is she sure? It is a shame that she would need to be reminded. The ash still holds a smothering flame that must be refreshed and brought once more to breathe and flourish. It can return, because it never left. It is still here, only hidden, covered by business and neglect.

Oh, but now, is it too late? My body is worn out and broken, my life is winding down. Alone in my days, with my friends mostly gone, I find that these memories and recollections are what push me along. Weak, though I may be, I find that by fanning the memories, I can still stand a little taller. Remembering the goodness past and embracing the love that was shown, I stand and salute my Mama and lay before her the humbled gratitude of a prodigal son.

As an old and broken man, I cry, “Mama, it is all I have to offer, I wish I had more.” With not a moment’s hesitation, she quietly responds, “My son, you are all I wanted. You have always been enough.”

A late fall breeze blew through the door reminding her that winter was approaching. “Ah, the worst part of the year!” mumbling with her head shaking, she pushed the heavy oak door to a close. Making sure the lock was secured; she placed a rounded towel at the door sweep to help keep any of the chilly wind from crawling in. Having set the towel in place, she turned her aged and fragile body back towards the kitchen where her morning cup of coffee was waiting to be made.

It was difficult to imagine that seventy five years had come and gone in this  old Victorian style house. She knew every nook and cranny, having designed it along with her husband. She recognized every spot and scratch and the memories that accompanied each one. Each one had a story behind it, stories that fed memories of a life well-lived. The house was full of kids playing and running with laughter filling the now silent and painfully vacant rooms. She could still hear the echo of voices, slight though they were. She could hear the boys bouncing on the box springs upstairs and the girls giggling in their rooms as the discussed the boys in school. Six lives lived out here. Her four children grew way too fast and she and her beloved husband, Franklin grew old far too quickly. Still, she had such rich memories; history filling every bit of space. This was her home. She smiled and began to hum, “Be it ever so humble, there is no place like home.” At ninety three, she had memories that drifted back many, many years.

With her hand pressing on the door frame, she turned with a glance into the spacious living room. The windows were the old ‘pulley and weight’ style windows. They had received a few coats of old lead paint and dried closed. ‘Those windows haven’t opened in years’ she thought with a smile. The window glass looked as if it were wrinkled. The curtains were heavy and dark. The wallpaper was beginning to open in the corners, revealing old plaster that covered the walls. In the middle of the living room was an old wool rug that Franklin laid back in the mid-forties. It was nearly thread bear and the pattern seemed faded. The wainscot needed painting as time was causing it to peal. The grandkids had tried their best to remove it over the years. It was a room that was deserving of the name, “Living Room”, for this room had been lived in.

“Now,’ she was looking into the large living room, ‘the piano used to sit over there. You can still see the spot in the carpet.’ Her hand was holding her chin as she gazed over to the corner. “My, that is an old carpet” she thought. “We used to sit around listening to Lydia play as we sang along at Christmas. Dear Lydia stays close to her own home now. She has her family up in Ft. Wayne; Three lovely children of her own and two of the cutest grandchildren she had never seen, both about to graduate from college. “She’s pushing seventy-four now. My daughter is nearly seventy years-four years old. She was such a sweet child and smart as a whip. Got her a good man, too” her mind was recalling. She is still standing at the door, lost in this moment, taken by these thoughts. She shakes her head, touches her finger to her lips. She hesitates a moment then turns once more towards the kitchen. “Lillian, goodness girl, what are you doing…” she prods herself and once more moves in the direction of the kitchen.

The house is a large one, built back in the late thirties when craftsmen built homes, not just assembled houses. The Minor Home was built solid and true. Using solid oak framing, not one corner was out of square. If anything, the old home was in need of some of paint and paper. The carpet is old and worn, but that is not about to change. It is part of the beauty. These ‘old’ things hold the memories. They give the home flavor. Lillian slips through the dining room that leads into the kitchen. As she does, she placed her hand on the huge cherry dining table that filled the room. Glancing down, she notices that she is standing behind Robert’s chair.

For some reason, today is filled with memories. She crooks her pointing finger and lifts it to her lips. She sees his sandy blond hair and his chilled red cheeks. He is smiling up at her with his big blue eyes. This was his way of asking for another piece of pie. He was her cherished first born son. Oh, how she adored Robert Evan Minor. Franklin would walk him through yard, taught him how to ride his bicycle and how to cheer for the high school football team. When Franklin was at the office, he would play for hours in the back yard, running, swinging and chasing squirrels and such. He was a real boy through and through.

He was baptized young and told her quite often that when he was a man, he wanted to be a preacher. She would listen to his sermons as he stood on the ottoman in the living room and could almost recall every word. Moses and the whale and Jesus in the Lion’s den were two she recalled and let out a laugh. To be so young, he had the soul of a sage. As he grew, his excelled in his studies. He grew strong one day, when she was not looking, he became a man. He sat at the table with his brothers and sisters during meals and it was obvious that he was the leader and was aware of that fact. He stood a full head taller than his siblings due to the fact that he was the first born and had three years on the next closest. “Robert was the perfect son.” She whispered.

Uncle Sam called on him to come and serve his nation during his eighteenth year. He was so young, so, but had an air of maturity about him. He tried to act as a man, but it was difficult. He was afraid and she knew it. “Robert left with a salute for his father and a loving embrace for me’ she reminisced. “I thought I would never stop the tears. My son was leaving a boy and if he came back, he would be a man.” Lillian said this audibly.

Robert never returned home from his time in the service. He never got to preach to anyone other than her. She raised her hand and waved it through the air and thought, “Goodness, my coffee.” Wiping away a wistful tear, she continued to the kitchen.

She was actually smiling as she moved along, thankful for the memories but laughing at her absent mindedness. In passing through the dining room, she always admired the way the windows lined the eastern wall. She made sure these were installed when the home was built. These windows stood tall, allowing light to pour through. The glass seemed to have moved during the years, but there is a beauty in the way that looked to her. Through these windows she would stand and watch all four of her children as they would pile the leaves in the fall and play for hours with their father.

“Mama” she heard Jonathan crying again. She turned to look at the back door. Jonathan was trudging in with tears streaming.  He had fallen down as he ran from Robert.

“Come on over here, son. Let me see.” She knelt down and opened her arms up. Jonathan ran over to his mama’s arms and for a moment just sat there. At that moment, all was well. To Jonathan, it was as if the arms of an angel were wrapped around him.

Jonathan was the sweetest, most trusting boy. He loved his mama that was for sure. Being too young to serve, he missed Robert terribly. He never received his call to serve so he missed the war, thankfully, and worked in town with his father. He married a lovely woman named Rose and has three grown strapping men he calls sons. Yes, there are a few grandchildren in the family as well.

Together, he and his boys run the family business. Rose battled cancer for a number of years and passed away eighteen months back. She was a precious woman and a tremendous mother. “Goodness, Jonathan is to have dinner with me tonight. Oh, that’s right. I best get to the kitchen.”

Passing through the kitchen door, she was surprised by how much light had come into the room. Painted a light green with worn linoleum covering on the floor, the room was actually quite functional. Located near the rear of the house, it had served as the operational center of the Minor family for nearly all of her married life.

Naturally, back in the day, Lillian was nearly always to be found at the stove long before sunrise. Her kids ate right. That was something she determined was going to be true so long as she could help it. Biscuits, eggs, bacon, ham, grits, gravy, toast, homemade jams and jellies…these were standard fair at their home. The coldest thing the Minor kids ever had for breakfast was the stare they got from both mama and daddy if they did not finish the food that had been prepared.

Lunches were generally carried to school. There was no public school lunch program back in those days. Sandwiches with cookies were prepared and sent out with the children daily. The kids, she knew, would swap out with others, but none-the-less, she made sure that they never left the house without their mid-day meal.

Supper was always prepared and served precisely at six thirty every evening. The bell on the back porch would clang and the kids would come running from every direction.  Daddy would always walk in last, placing his hands on the back of his chair and would wait.  The chairs would be occupied and the voices would hush and daddy would bow his head earnestly thanking the Lord for the day’s provision.

All these things were so alive and made the house seem to be filled with such activity. “You know, it has been almost sixty years since I made a school lunch.” Her head was shaking in disbelief.

She looked out the heavy screen door that went out on to the porch.

“Mary Ann,’ she recalled calling out to her baby daughter, ‘don’t forget your lunch.”

“Mama, I am not taking my lunch to school again. It is always the same thing day after day. Thick, dry bread with mayonnaise, ham and two sugar cookies. Even my friends won’t trade with me anymore.” Mary Ann was the most stubborn of the four children, and by far, the most determined.

“You will eat this lunch for dinner, my dear. We will not waste food in this house.” She was warned. With a roll of her eyes and a shrug of her shoulders, she turned and left for school. The lunch was placed on the counter top.

That night, while the rest of the family enjoyed the family favorite baked pork loin, gravy, potatoes, green beans and biscuits, Mary Ann stubbornly stared at her sandwich, which she adamantly refused to eat once more. She was a tough one, Mary Ann was. Daddy told her quietly and in no uncertain terms that she was not to leave the table until she had eaten her sandwich and two cookies.

Around nine o’clock that evening, Mary Ann was to be found sitting alone in the dimly lit kitchen. The sandwich sat in front of her. The cookies? They were gone. In the end, daddy proved to be the stronger of the two as he woke Mary Ann up at the table and sat beside her as she finished her sandwich. He did provide her some milk to help wash it all down. She had slept at the table. Lillian stood there shaking her head.

Mary Ann was a determined and unmovable force once she made up her mind. When she made her mind up, that was that. She grew up to be her own woman. She also was her daddy’s little darling. Her devotion to her father was permanent. There were plenty of spats and arguments, if all be told.

Lillian and Mary Anne were so much alike, it was almost scary. In both looks and character, Mary Ann and her mother were carbon copies. Both were filled with joy and laughter and were honest and direct. Love radiated from them like heat from a fire. Sadly, Mary Ann passed away sixteen years back, falling to cancer.

Her family was a large one and she was greatly loved by all who knew her. Mary Anne was a mother to six children and a loving husband named Rodger, a well-respected lawyer. As the family grew, along came a house filled with grandchildren, toys and   plenty of fun. Mary Ann was loved deeply by all who met her. She was actually a great friend to Lillian once she was grown. When Franklin was in Washington, Mary Anne was with Lillian, cooking and sewing, helping the church or school.

“Oh, Mary Anne. My oh, my.” Lillian just smiled. Her coffee had yet to be made as she was getting swept away in memories all morning. Standing there in the kitchen, she was still looking back. Suddenly, she was startled by a voice she loved to hear.

Mary Anne? Lillian, here, here.  That, my dearest, was you!”

Mama turned with a startled expression. “Goodness gracious. Franklin? Franklin Minor? Is that you?” she was stunned. Standing breathlessly, she reached her aged, arthritic hand out and traced face of the man that stood in front of her. It was her Franklin, the love of her life. Having grown up together right in this small town, it was clear since her youth that there was no other man for her. He was as sold on her as she was him. It was something that just was meant to be.

As a young married couple, they struggled and worked hard to establish Minor’s General Store. As the family grew, each child was given a responsibility in the store. It was truly a family operation. Providing seed and feed for the entire valley and farm implements of every kind, Franklin became known as the farmer’s friend. He fought hard for the community and was encouraged to run for the office of County Magistrate. He was easily elected and did a tremendous job. Eventually, Franklin Minor was encouraged to serve as United States Senator in Washington, D.C. Again, he ran and was elected by a landslide. He was a credit to his people and they were so proud of him. He served three terms and stepped down so he could spend time with Lillian. Age was catching them both.

All the kids took turns caring for her needs, but Lillian called a halt to this when their kids were obviously in need to their <st1:translation_smarttag_14 w:st=”on”>attention. She managed to recover from the loss of her husband. Her love, though, never dimmed and she always had a bright smile that was genuine.

Sunday worship, even after twenty years, was still troublesome at times. Love lingers long and passion, real passion never fades. There were a myriad of things that brought back the fondest of memories. Some things the passing of time cannot erase.

Theirs was an open romance, one the entire town could see. The children grew up with a true knowledge of what true love was. They saw it. The town folks would say with admiration, “Where you see Mama you best know that Franklin ain’t far behind!”  The family business was a success because they worked hard, together. They both had the same interest and wants and desires.  They lived a shared life.

“It was a wonderful life, Lillian. I loved you every moment.” Franklin told his wife.

“Franklin, I have missed you so and longed to see you so many times.” She wept as she embraced her love from long ago.

“I suppose you know why I am here, don’t you?” Franklin smiled. He put forth his arm as if he was given the great honor and privilege of escorting her home…to glory.

“I suppose. Oddly enough, I looked in on all the children this morning for some reason. Let me get my bag and I will be ready.” She smiled and turned to go. This was typical Lillian. She always had to get ready…

“No,  mama.  Sit down, now. You made it to the kitchen. Now, stop and enjoy your coffee. I believe I would enjoy one myself.” Franklin reached up and retrieved his favorite cup from the cupboard.  “Now, what is this I hear about this new creamer they call “French Vanilla”. He poured their coffee and sat down, holding her hand. He could not stop smiling…

Jonathan came by after work that evening and found his mother sitting in the kitchen. “It was time for her to go”, he thought as he wiped away the tears from his eyes. However, he could not help but notice that daddy’s chair was pulled out. There on the table sat his Minor’s General Store mug the kids gave him years ago. It was his favorite. In the cup was a spoon. His spoon. The cup had been used.  A napkin was folded just like daddy used to fold his after a meal. Mama’s hand was outstretched towards his chair. She was smiling.

Chapter One

Meeting Sarge for the First Time

Hello. My name is Roland Hughes. I am just an old Kentucky man with a simple story to tell. It is a story that will amaze some and cause others to scoff in unbelief. Regardless of your personal tastes and feelings, it is my hope that it will bring a smile and help you see that while life has some ups and downs, it ain’t all bad and it is definitely a journey that can prove to be exciting, educational and truly satisfying. The extraordinary thing is that what you are about to read actually happened. I have withheld the telling of this story for many years primarily due to the fact that early on, folks tended to think of this as a fable, like it is some kind of fairy tale akin to Jack and the Bean Stalk or Snow White. I was accused of being senile when I insisted that these things actually happened, so I just got quiet. A few of my friends know the facts. I assure you that Liam “Big’un” Caudill knows and so does Bennie Ray Highsmith and Mr. John Rowlin. They know’em quite well. It goes far beyond that. Even my wife knew all the facts. So, now that I am an old man and my days of worrying about what folks think have passed, I feel comfortable in allowing others to hear what has been, for my family and I, a marvelous story…one we like to call, “Sarge Tales.”

It involves my dog, Sarge. Now, folks that I know quickly agree that there is nothing more delightful than having a good spirited, playful dog. Sarge fit the bill. As a pup, he was a cute a button and loved to play. He could not get enough play time into a day. He loved kids and was always out chasing sticks and balls and barking at bugs and grasshoppers and such. As he grew up, his playful nature stayed with him, but he had some struggles that he had to work through. This story deals with how Sarge grew from being just a playful puppy into being a loving dog that fit into our family in a very special way.

When I first met Sarge, I had been contracted to do a remodeling job in Stanton for a middle aged couple who had no children, but had plenty of dogs. Having been on site daily for well over two months, my job was wrapping-up. My last day there, we settled up and I loaded my truck and was preparing to leave when a little Beagle puppy came stumbling carelessly across the yard. I don’t know how he did it, but he managed to get tangled under my feet. The little puppy yelped as if I had stepped on him. Seeing that the poor fellow was terrified, I bent over, picked him up and offered as much comfort as I could to the frightened animal. When I did this, the man of the house asked me if I would enjoy being the proud owner of a new puppy.

I had no intentions of taking a dog home that day but thought about how my kids, Lindsay in particular, had been asking for a pet for some time now. This little critter I was holding was as cute as Shirley Temple singing solo and he seemed playful as well. I held him up to look into his eyes. “Sure”, I would be glad to keep him.”  I rubbed his head and felt pleased.

Well, his wife was not of the same mindset as he was regarding me having this puppy nor was she nearly as pleased as I was. The previous offer from the husband goes over like a tax hike at the Republican Convention.

The wife looks coldly at me and says candidly and without hesitation, “Mister, you don’t put that dog down right now, I’ll call the law.” She was serious. She cast a chilled look at her husband as I eased the dog back down onto the grass with a smile that dumbfounded men give in these situations.

At that moment, I wanted to jump in my truck and skedaddle, but the lady softens up a bit and says, “I ain’t meaning to be rude or nothing. It’s just that I love that dog and ain’t had him but just a week.” It was one of those strange moments where I really didn’t know what to say, so I stood there looking awkward and continued holding that dumbfounded grin. There were ten other dogs running freely around the house at that time. Each dog was different, but, if you are a dog lover as this lady seemed to be, each dog was special. Then the lady asked, “You really wantin’ a dog?”

I hesitated for a second.  “Well, I guess I do. I have five kids at home and they have been after me for a quite some time now to get them a pet. I am not a cat lover and pet birds and pet fish make no sense to me. I had never seen anybody walking a fish or teaching a bird to fetch. I reckon a dog would fit our family just fine. Ain’t no doubt the kids would love him.” I explained.

She signals for me to shut up by holding up a stern hand and says, “Hold on a minute.” Her husband looks over and says, “She is just like that. Don’t pay her no mind.” While he is talking, she pulls out her cell phone and dials up her brother.  After a brief conversation, she hangs up and tells me to go down to the Kroger parking lot in Stanton, which was located two miles down Highway 11. “Eli says he’ll meet you there in ten minutes. At’s my baby brother. He’s going to show up in a red Chevy pick-up with a big ole box of puppies. You can pick one of them, if you serious ‘bout wantin’ one. He’s got a bunch of Beagles.” She adds.  I shook hands with the both of them, bid them farewell, jumped in my truck and turned towards Stanton.  “Ah, come on, Rolland, why not…the kids would love it.” I thought.

Sure enough, the Kroger she mentioned was right down the road and I got there in no time. Her brother, Eli, showed up, just as she said he would. I spotted him pulling up in an old red Chevy truck. He had this big old cardboard box with “FREE PUPYS” written on the side, sitting in the bed.  (Don’t think the spelling to be odd. This was eastern Kentucky mountain country. Teachers here would argue that it should have been an “i” not a “y”, especially since it’s plural.)

“You the fellow that’s looking for a puppy?” he asked as he pulled up beside me. Eli gave no impression of being a Harvard graduate, or even a high school graduate,  to be quite honest. His head was shaved and covered with an oily ball cap. He had two teeth missing from the front his crooked smile and his beard looked to be about ten days shy of its last shave. His t-shirt was a dirty, faded red tribute to Dale Earnhardt. His truck was rusty red and sported a grey door, black fender and a blue hood and ran on a set of bald tires. The windshield was cracked and the engine smoked terribly. He could have graced the cover of Hillbilly Monthly. Suffice it to say he was not about to date either of my daughters.

I nodded with a faint smile and said, “Guess that’s me.” I exited my truck walked around to see his offering. I moved slowly, taking my time. I counted eight fat bellied puppies in all.

Eli started talking as soon I started looking, explaining why he was getting rid of his puppies. “I ain’t able ta’ feed’em all an’ I ain’t got time to wait around hopin’ they’ll sell. They’s getting’ too big now an’ if I keep waiting fer somebody t’buy’em, shoot, I’d end up taken’em all to the pound. Folks round here ain’t got no money and if they does, I am sure they ain’t gonna buy no dogs any time soon. Go on n’ pick you one out.” Eli pushes his ball cap back on his head as he leans his tall, skinny frame back against his truck bed and looks over the parking lot. He pulls a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and puts a bent-up Winston into his mouth. He lights up as I went about looking at the puppies. Almost instantly, I spotted this scrappy little pup in the corner of the box. He seemed to be ignored by his siblings. His big brown eyes looked so sad as he timidly stared up at me. I have always had a soft spot for the underdog, so I pick him and tell Eli thanks.

“You got’ya the prettiest one, Mister. Hope he turns out to be a good one fer’ya.” He said as I was walking back to my truck. He climbed back into his truck and tried to crank his engine. It spit and smoked but did not start. He lets out a few words, slaps the steering wheel and pumps the gas pedal a few times. On the second try, the motor turns over and he nods at me as heads out of the parking lot. Ten minutes spent looking and I had found a family pet that was going to change my life…yessiree, I was now a proud owner of a Beagle puppy.

Sitting in my truck, I placed the pup on the seat next to me. He did alright for a minute, but when the truck started moving, he had no desire to be alone. He started whining, as if he was calling for his brothers and sisters to come and gather round. He looked over at me and I guess he decided that I would do. This little feller crawls up in my lap and finds a place to lie down while looking up at me with those big brown eyes. He kind of smiles and I could have sworn that he winked at me. He slowly laid his head down on my right leg and rocking with the motion of the truck, eventually fell into a sound sleep. I am not normally an emotional kind of guy, but I was really kind of proud at that moment. “I got me a friend now” I thought. Turning down Route 36, I slowly drove back to my house over in Rowan County.

This little pup will be a welcomed addition to our little subdivision as well. You see, we live in a small, hillside neighborhood located on the west side of Morehead, Kentucky. This is a fairly busy little town in the eastern part of the state. There is nothing here in particular that would attract people but every now and then, somebody new comes along and settles among us. Today, a new little puppy would be a welcomed addition, bringing a little spring of life to the place. I would introduce him around to the neighbors. I am sure they will love him.

Morehead supports several factories and is actually built around a small university and a regional hospital. Teachers always seem to be coming and going and the factories have people coming in and moving out quite often as well, but the quantity of people is limited. Take away the university and it is just a rural town in eastern Kentucky with a hospital. Being the county seat, it does have a moderate amount of activity, but that does not change the fact. Morehead is country rural. All things considered, when compared to Louisville or Lexington, it is just a spot on the map and be the northern gateway to Kentucky Appalachia.

Our subdivision, even with all this other activity, seldom sees any of commotion created by the college or hospital. We live in an older, more established section that is hidden back a ways down Highway 60. It would be a great place for a dog in my estimation. Safe and quiet with very little traffic.

The newer subdivisions are being built down Highway 32 near the new Wal-Mart, which is located just off Interstate 64. Most new families seem to be attracted down that way when they consider relocating to Morehead. In that part of town you will find newer homes and easier access to the Dairy Queen and McDonald’s and some of the more trendy shops. City growth has been moving that way for the past few years.

I am fine with that. It takes the traffic down that way as well. This means that life is quiet and comfortable in our section of town. Another good thing is that we have very little turnover in our neighborhood. Folks have been living here for fifteen or twenty years. We all know each other so this will make it easier on the new puppy.

Pulling up the hill leading to our home, I drive into the driveway with my furry surprise. I honk and honk until everybody is outside complaining of the noise. I tell them to hold on for just a second and then I get out of my truck and pull out my little package. The kids were ecstatic. They passed this ball of fur around like he was a football. Caleb, my oldest son, came up and said, “Cool dog, Dad. Where did you get’im?”  While I was explaining this to him, Ethan and Lindsay started racing with the dog through the back yard. We all had a good laugh as the dog, while barking,  tripped over his feet several times trying to keep up.

Emily ran inside to get a camera and started taking pictures. Picking and playing, running and laughing, they all had a blast. The puppy kept up for quite some time until finally, fatigue caught him and he was forced to stop and lay down. After a long day, he was just worn out. The sun tucks itself behind the hills so we all knew that it was time to start getting the new addition settled in for his first night in our home. We headed out to the garage to get his bed all made up and everybody was making suggestions.

With pillows and blankets, a small pan of cold water and a huge ham bone, we had him fixed up for the night. He had his own box now along with everything else a puppy could want. He sits down, looks around for a moment when I notice his chest breathing in and out real hard. Like a nervous baby, his bottom lip curled under as he started whining and whimpering. His family is not here. For the first time he is all alone. The little puppy realizes that his siblings are gone and he feels loneliness setting in.

We took turns petting him and trying to console him, but nothing seems to work. Then, I got this bright idea to put an alarm clock in the box with him. I heard once that the constant ticking of the clock would help calm an animal and eventually lull him off to sleep. I placed the clock under a pillow so that the ticking could easily be heard. We all were watching as this little critter curled up and laid down, oddly enough with his head placed on top of the pillow hiding the alarm clock. It seemed to be working.

The ticking lulled him into complete relaxation. He was a limp as a noodle. It worked like a charm…until midnight. Then, suddenly at the stroke of midnight, the entire house is awakened as my little buddy started hollering like somebody had scared the daylights out of him. He was yelping and yapping in a total panic. I was out into the garage in a flash and all the kids were standing in the hall. What in the world could have happened?

I ran out to discover that the alarm had gone off at exactly twelve o’clock A.M.. The loud ringing scared the water right out of the poor little fellow. His eyes were wider than a Susan B. Anthony silver dollar and he stood with his paws up on the edge of the box. He was yelping and whimpering and really just scared senseless.

Reaching down into the box, I pushed back a couple of pillows and got hold of the alarm clock. I turned it off and set it on a shelf as I picked the puppy up in an effort to calm him down. It took his little heart an hour to settle down but he finally dozed off once more and slept right through the night. Only thing, he was lying beside me in bed and there was no alarm clock.

Momma was not too thrilled about having a dog in the bed, but soon, he laid his head on my shoulder and slowly, his eyes fluttered and rolled back as he drifted off to dreamland once more. She gave in saying that he was cute, after all. He seemed to be comfortable with me. I rubbed his head a bit, scratched his ears and for the second time, I thought I saw him wink at me right before he closed his eyes. That was a bit unusual.

Next day, the kids and I went to Wal-Mart and bought him a bag of Kibble n’ Bits dog food, dog shampoo, a brush and other play things so we can start taken care of him properly. I also purchased him his first flea collar. Putting it on him was hilarious. After removing the collar from the box it was easy to see that this contraption was as long as he was and looked like it would wrap around his neck three times, weighing his head down.

“We’ll have to cut that down some” I told the kids as I was throwing the bag and box into the trash can. That is when I spot the name, “Sarge” emblazoned on the box. I looked over at the puppy running around and called him by the name…”Sarge” and it stuck.

We gave him a good bath, a complete full body scrubbing and covered him in some kind of flea powder. He didn’t seem to enjoy this at all but seemed all excited and ready to play after we dried him off. He ran in circles doing all kinds of puppy stuff. He would start shaking his body, trying to get all the water of his fir, his ears would flap back and forth.

The ripple effect of laughter was contagious. As Sarge shook with all his might, he would lose balance and fall over. After two or three times of watching this, Lindsay began to laugh, then Caleb, followed by Emily, then Ethan and Katie.  Everybody smiled and laughed.  It seemed to invigorate Sarge. He would then continue the show as he would slide across the carpet with his face pushed down tight against the floor. I guess he was trying to dry his ears. Who knows? The kids laughed with delight. The puppy was an excellent fit and managed to find himself a secure place in our family. All the kids adore him and he is having no reservations in showing a special affection to each one of them. He plays and romps around the yard like he was simply a part of everything going on. All was well in the world.

Six weeks after Sarge arrived, school started and my kids were all excited with the business of beginning a new academic year. New grades, teachers, clothes, shoes and such. Every day is filled with something different. The only downfall to all of the school activity was the fact that the kids had to ride the school bus. They hated it. Every morning they would trudge down the hill so they could stand around and wait. Eventually it would show up, but never on time. It was supposed to be here at a certain time every day, but it has yet to be on time in seven years. The driver gets all bent outta shape if the kids aren’t there when he finally shows up, so it is just an exercise in frustration.

This year, though, the kids have a new distraction.  Sarge walks proudly and playfully beside them as they march down the hill. There is something about a playful dog that attracts the attention of any kid. At the bus stop, Sarge manages to draw all the kids together. Everybody has to at least pet Sarge once and he loves the attention. A routine is established and Sarge is found right at the center of it all. A great addition.

 

Chapter Two

SHOT IN THE DARK

Life was moving along just fine and after several months of following the established routine, Sarge is finding his place among the ranks. Yet, as time has a way of getting away from you, Sarge somehow had discreetly passed from puppyhood in to doghood. It happened, it seems, overnight.  Doghood sneaks up on a puppy much like manhood sneaks up on a boy. It happens suddenly and you never notice it until it is here.

Sarge was entering into doghood in plain sight, but we all missed it. Our realization of his growth came when he began disappearing for entire nights at a time. Indeed, we made every effort to keep him in the garage, but he would scratch deep grooves into the door and when it opened, he would shoot out and be gone for the evening. We came to call this attitude in Sarge, “Early Doghood Drama, or EDD.

I was of the firm opinion that Sarge had found himself a girlfriend and, due to his innocence and extreme emotional nature, his heart and mind had turned into a mangled mess of mush! “Dad,’ Caleb, my eldest son, said to me one evening, “I think Sarge has lost his mind.” “Yeah” I nodded. So, Sarge was out roaming the hills and hollows during the night and sleeping during the day. His biological clock was getting reversed.

Now, in any town you visit, there are particular areas that are not recommended for late night walks. They are dangerous and known for bad things.  Here in Morehead, we face the same situations. You have to be careful where you go and when you go there. Nothing and nobody is is considered safe in these areas. Granted, you are safer here than in south central Los Angeles or in New York City, for the most part, but there are some places you do not go unless you are well known and assured of a true welcome. When you start roaming the hills and  hollows of eastern Kentucky, after dark, safety is not guaranteed. With these things in mind, Sarge, by staying out all night had us all worried. I had to convince the kids that this was really nothing to worry about because Sarge was just being a dog and dogs do this sort of thing. Everything would be alright. The kids listened and after a while the children were not overly concerned.  Momma and I still worried.

Sarge’s disappearing act occurred off and on for nearly a month with no real problems. Then, one day as the kids were heading down the hill to catch the school bus, my daughter Lindsay comes running in the house screaming, “Paw, Paw! Sarge is hurt real bad!”. She fell into a chair weeping with a broken heart. She is crying her little eyes out.  I was stunned to hear this so I flew out the door to make sure my little girl was not mistaken.

When I saw Sarge, it was obvious that he was in a bad fix. It looked to me like he had been hit by a car. He was all torn up. He staggered up to the porch and raised his paw up as if he were trying to jump into my arms like he had always done, but this time he just couldn’t find the strength.  It was horrible. He was trembling, panting heavily and was extremely weak. My eyes filled with tears and my heart ached. The kids were all in shock and crying uncontrollably. Caleb looked at Sarge and then looked to me and asked what we were going to do. When she saw the situation, Momma was shaken up pretty bad as well, covering her mouth and shedding tears with the rest of us. It was a heart wrenching moment.

“Run get me a towel!” I told Momma. “Lindsay, you go get me a bowl of water. Caleb, grab some rags from the kitchen.” I was rattled and had no idea what I could do to help my buddy but I had to do something and do it quick.

After cleaning him up a bit, it was obvious that we could not take care of him here at the house. It was a life threatening situation. Wrapping him up in a towel and gently carrying him over to the truck, I was going to rush him over to the veterinarian’s office. Sarge was hurting so bad…every step I took made him cry out. Laying him down on the back seat with Lindsay sitting beside him, I jumped behind the wheel and sped off to the vet. I wasn’t too sure if this would do any good. Sarge looked that bad. I didn’t think we were going to be able to save him and this caused my little girl’s heart to break. “God, please help Sarge get better” she prayed. Sarge just looked at us as if he was crying for help.

We rushed into the veterinarian clinic and found ourselves standing in what looked like a retail store for dog supplies. There is no emergency room for injured dogs in this place. The lady behind the counter looked more like a secretary than a nurse, but when she saw Sarge, she immediately punched a button on the phone calling the vet to come up front.

He walks out and acts as cool as a cucumber, like he took in torn up dogs on an hourly basis.  He looked Sarge over carefully and treated him like he was a wounded soldier coming in from battle. Doc said, as he examined Sarge, he didn’t know how this would end up but he’d call us as soon as he knew something for sure. He admitted that it was serious but, he assured us, it was definitely not life threatening. This relieved us but did not take away our worry and concern.

Once word got out about Sarge’s injury, friends and family began to stream in to the Veterinarian clinic. This has been an eastern Kentucky tradition since hospitals began taking patients. People came simply to sit and wait for the outcome. ‘Comfort company’ they called it.

As time passed, our crowd grew. Nobody left. To leave after having shown your face, would be an indication that your concern was superficial. So, to avoid this sort of accusation, nobody left.  You would stand in the halls or walk the corridors if needed, but you sure did not leave. Why, you might as well not even come if you were  going to leave early.

Veterinarian clinics in eastern Kentucky typically did not come equipped with waiting rooms like those you encounter in hospitals. Folks that came to wait basically had to find somewhere to stand or else they had to mill about the clinic, looking at dog shampoos and collars and salves, comparing prices while they waited. Others were trying to read a copy of “Today’s Dog” or “Dog Day Digest” magazine as they leaned with their shoulders against the walls. There were only two issues available, so they had to take turns.

No televisions were provided, so ESPN was out of the question and women missed their daytime dramas. Also missing were coffee or soft drink machines. Add to this confusion the fact that there were only two chairs provided and these were situated directly in front of where you signed in. These had been filled early on by two elderly bearded men in overhauls.   The clinic secretaries were finding it difficult to get any work done with the old hillbillies constantly eye balling them.

Folks were sitting in their cars and walking around the outside of the clinic. The entrance sidewalk was littered with Pall Mall cigarette butts and Ale-8 cans. Inside, the clinic was shoulder to shoulder with people, people I had never seen. The doctor was extremely uncomfortable with such a crowd. He was a Louisville man, a transplant from western Kentucky. Comfort company was new to him. When he came out to discuss what was going on with Sarge, I could hardly hear what he had to say, so he spoke louder.

“There is no need to wait around. I won’t be done until sometime this afternoon. We’re not set up for this kind of crowd. Could you let these folks know this?” he said, obviously a bit frustrated.

I looked around and saw that the clinic was starting to take on the appearance of a bus station filled with transients. The place was packed and folks were still streaming in, folks I had never seen before. I readily and quickly agreed with the doctor. I stood up and made the announcement. Raising my voice over the den of noise, I thanked everybody for their show of support. I then informed them that we were violating the fire code regulations. The Fire Marshal had called. We had to go. It was time to leave. I felt bad for lying, but knew this would make the folks willingly move along. Otherwise, some would stay just out of sheer stubbornness to show their dedication, even though we did not know each other. I would venture to say that some had no idea why they were there or who was hurt. It was the principal of the thing. In eastern Kentucky, you show your support for the injured and suffering.

“The prognosis thus far is that Sarge is gonna’ be fine.” With this I jumped down off the chair I was standing on and within a few minutes, the clinic was emptied of all visitors. Cigarette smoke hung in the air like at a boxing ring and the place was a mess. Seeing this, I decided that it was time for Lindsay and I to get back home as well. The vet looked upset when he said he would call us. I am sure he was wondering who was going to clean up the mess.

Later that afternoon, I found I couldn’t wait any longer.  I got Lindsay, who was so emotionally drained I had to allow her to miss a day of classes. Together we drove down to the clinic to get an update. The secretary was busy cleaning when we walked in. When she saw us, she made her way to the desk and pushed her ‘call the doctor’ button. A few minutes later, the doctor came out and met with us.

He was very professional and kind enough to take time to speak with us at length. He again assured us that everything was going to be fine. Surgery went well and Sarge responded tremendously. There would be scaring and some tenderness that would endure for a year or so, but Sarge should return to complete health with no complications.

“Whoever shot him just missed killing him”, he said matter-of-fact like as he addressed us.  He informed us that he was unable to get all of the bullet out because it had fragmented, but he had successfully repaired everything else.

“Hold on. You are saying that somebody shot my dog?” I asked as a list of all my neighbors filtered through my mind. I was trying to imagine who would even think about doing something like this. Around my neck of the woods, you don’t shoot your neighbor’s dog and you never fire a gun in a subdivision unless it is for personal safety.  I was a bit upset by this news.

Immediately my thoughts went to “Wild” Bill Edwards, a rough neck that lived at the end of the road. Why, surly he wouldn’t do something like that, would he?  Granted, I had never met him but he did have a reputation for being as mean as a snake. Why, come to think of it, with his reputation, I wouldn’t put it past him at all. He would be the only one in the neighborhood I could come close to imaging doing something like this. He may have been in one of his drunken stupors. He was known for being reckless and wild, hence, the name “Wild” Bill.  The more I considered this, the more impossible it seemed. Somebody would have called the police. Our neighborhood is not about to allow something thing like this to happen. Somebody would have said something.

“Yes sir. I understand your surprise. Actually, it is fairly common around here. Sarge must have been where he should not have been, doing something he should not have been doing. However, it looks like he was a running when he got shot, though. The bullet came in from a side angle. If it was a straight on shot, Sarge would not have made it back home.” The doctor was very informative and was actually using a light board with x-rays to show me where the bullet fragments were located.

“We have done what we could. He is all bandaged up and well medicated. As a matter of fact, you can take him home if you wish. Just remember to give him his medicine every four hours and keep this,” he holds up what looks like one of my grandmother’s old lamp shades, “around his neck.” He called the contraption a “Halo” but medically, it is referred to as a ‘satellite’.

“It slides right around his neck and has a Velcro patch that holds it together.  This will keep Sarge from scratching at his sutures. They will start itching real bad in a few days. Also, we had to shave his chest and this, along with the sutures, will cause him to want to scratch all the time. This “halo” will not allow him to do that. You’ll keep this on him for the next month. It can never come off. No exceptions.” He nodded indicating that his assistant could go back to get Sarge and bring him up front.

During the wait, I was trying to make conversation and asked the doc, “How long you reckon Sarge sat in the yard all shot up like this? We found him first thing this morning around seven or so, but it seems he might have been there for a while. Ain’t no telling how long he had been sitting in the yard before the kids found him…” I felt this was a reasonable question and one that I had been wondering about anyway.

“He got shot last night sometime, of that, I am fairly certain. It took him a while to make it home though. He had probably been sitting at your door waiting for the kids to come out for a while. He was definitely shot sometime last night while it was dark.” he stated as if he had already considered all the events.

I was thinking he was trying to move along to something else and we needed to go.  Really, if you took everything the good doctor just said and think about it, he didn’t tell us anything all of us didn’t already know. I know he got shot last night and I know he was sitting at the door and had probably been there a while, waiting for the kids. If I was a betting man, I would have bet good money that he got shot while it was dark cause it was dark when the kids was heading out the door and, to go a step further, I am convinced it was dark last night. The vet best stick to animal medicine. I was irritated and felt like saying something, but I didn’t. The man may be a good dog doctor, but he sure is lacking in other areas. I was just wondering how long Sarge had been in this poor condition.  I guess it didn’t matter now that he had been fixed up.

I got to thinking how Sarge shows up at the house after being shot. He had to be determined that he was not gonna miss walking the kids down to the bus. This made me tear up with pride. Listen, this dog goes out, gets shot but still feels like he has got to be responsible enough to be there for the kids? “Lindsay, we gotta special dog in Sarge, you know that?” I looked down into her face. She hugged me and asked, “He’s gonna be Okay, Paw?” her eyes were still puffy and red and the look or worry covering her face reflected her deep concern. “He’s gonna be fine.” I winked, doing my best to reassure her.

No need for any more questions so we waited for the assistant to come back with Sarge. When she did, she was holding him like you hold a newborn baby. Sarge looked pitiful. His chest was all bandaged up and his hair had been shaved down to the skin.  This and the medicine made for one sickly looking dog. “Remember, when you get home, put that halo around his neck. Give him this medicine ever four hours and if anything comes up, give me a call.” We shook hands while Lindsay ran out and opened the truck door. With Sarge in my arms, I headed on out.

The news that my dog had been shot was more than troubling to me. Here, you can shoot the neighbor in a drunken stupor, and, according to the newspaper, that happens a lot. You can shoot a man because his name is Hatfield or McCoy or even Martin or Underwood, the main characters involved in the Rowan County war, where twenty one people died around the turn of the century. Why, you could even shoot a deer running across the yard because he was ruining your garden, but you just didn’t go around shooting another man’s dog, especially if the dog is playful and friendly and you knew to whom he belonged. Who would do such a thing?  Ruling out “Wild” Bill, I had to say, this entire incident took away some of the respect I have for my little community. The only way I would ever think about shooting a dog would be if he was dumping over my garbage cans on a regular basis. But Sarge was far from doing stuff like that…

How I feel does not matter much now.  Sarge is not going to be a running round much for a while and he is looking thin and weak. Lindsay and Ethan, my younger son, made him a little pallet in the living room so we could tend to his needs while keeping an eye on him. That first night with Sarge at home was quite a challenge. The kids all gathered round him to pet on him and love him. My little girl asked if we could light candles and sing Kumbaya or something…

“Is he gonna be able to walk again, Paw?” Emily asked. Me, Momma and all five of the kids were sitting round the kitchen table as a family.

“Sure he will. He just needs time to heal up a bit. He is gonna be fine according to the doctor. We just need to make sure to take good care of him.” I told them, trying to act like I really knew what was gonna happen. In reality, I had no idea how things were going to turn out, but I was somewhat encouraged because the doctor didn’t seem too worried. All eyes were on me as I was giving the news out about what the doc said. The kids peppered me with other questions as everybody was trying to think of who would have done such a thing.  Eventually, we all eased away from the table and went about our regular chores. Sarge lay sleeping in the living room.

Long about ten o’clock, it was time for bed. Saying good night, I made sure that all the lights went out. This being done, the house grew quiet.  I sat in the living room with Sarge, reading the newspaper with a lamp on beside me. I guess I nodded off for a while on the couch before I had to give it up and head for the bed myself. It had been a long draining sort of day and I had sat down got still. I was groggy and foggy minded as I eased down the hall. I was awake but in a semi-conscience state, you know. As I was heading into the bedroom, seems like I hear someone whispering in a rusty voice, kind of like he was needing to clear his throat…

“What a wild day. It was a wild, wild day, wasn’t it? Boss. Really nip and tuck, wouldn’t you say?”

I looked around behind me. All the lights were out and everyone was gone to bed. ‘Ha! I am already dreaming’, I thought. Being extremely tired and emotionally spent, I wandered on into the bedroom and crawled between the sheets. A deep sleep kept me pinned to the mattress until six o’clock the next morning.  I got up, made some coffee and was thinking about last night.

I could have sworn I heard somebody say something…

 

 Chapter Three

THAT AIN’T POSSIBLE

The morning routine around our house has been the same for the past number a years. The kids get up, eat something, get dressed, brush their teeth, then they rush out to catch the school bus. Then it is our turn. Momma gets dressed, heads on to work. We give each other a chicken peck on the cheek and I head out to work as well. Our day starts. Same routine for years.

Today was no different except we all took a moment to check in on Sarge.  He was still in the living room, lying in a make shift bed. That halo thing on his head made things look really bad, like we had a headless dog and we were just keeping the body around because we found we just could not let him go. Really, it seems as if Sarge was hurting a great deal more than when I brought him home.  The kids tried to feed him but he was not taking any food…not even the Kibble n’Bits he loved so much. Once the rush hour is over, I find myself alone working at my desk in the living room when I hear a voice say,

“Boss, that really was a close one, wasn’t it. Isn’t that what the doc said?”

I turn my computer off, thinking it was playing something. I check the television to make sure that it’s off. I check the kid’s room and find all radios are off. Still, I know I heard something but, finding nothing on, I simply shake my head as I set back down to my work.  Sarge is lying down over by the window with the radiant heat from the sun rolling across his body providing a blanket of warmth. Finding him comfortable and quiet, I settle in to reading an article when I hear this voice again…

”Hey, Boss, can you give me a hand over here?”

I look over at Sarge and he is staring at me like he had just asked a common question.  I look in the kitchen, wondering who was in there. I was beginning to get a bit nervous. There is nobody in the house but Sarge and I. No radio is on and all the doors are shut. I freeze and my eyes are opened as wide as they can be opened. The hair on the back of my neck is sticking straight up and I could hear my heart beat. Thump-thump….thump-thump

“Seriously now. I really need some help over here. You gonna lend a hand or not?” The voice says.

Every muscle in my body jerks in concert. Watching Sarge, I could have sworn I saw his lips forming words and heard a voice emanating from his mouth. I looked at him with fear-filled eyes. He was staring at me as if he was demanding a response to his very simple inquiry. I was at a complete loss.

Rising up from behind my desk, I moved casually albeit slowly out of the living room and into the kitchen. Once in the kitchen, I ran like a cat being chased by a pack of dogs straight into the garage and from there directly outside. I don’t know why, but I started running round my truck. I did it several times. I slowed down and started walking until, finally got my head together.

The postman showed up in her red Jeep, waving a handful of mail. I had to act reasonably sane and collect the mail and perhaps engage in some small talk. She handed me several letters then commented on the weather.

“What a day for a daydream.” She said, smiling. It was sunny and warm, a beautiful day. “The Loving Spoonful’ from 1967.” I said and she laughed. “Ah, guess I am showing my age.” I lamented.

“Yeah, but I am the one that said it. Plus, I thought it was the Monkeys.” she laughed once more as she drove down the hill. I laughed for politeness and smiled while she turned her Jeep round and headed back down the hill.

I still had to go back into the house. I felt like the man who was fishing and had a snake drop into his boat. Instead of taking the paddle and throwing the snake out, He immediately jumped into the lake. Like that fellow, I was a bit rattled. Inexplicably, I walked around my truck one more time, thinking,

“This is not something that is even remotely possible. My dog was just talking to me. He was actually looking at me and saying words that he seemed to understand and he knew I understood, in a conversational manner. Plus, he looked like he was sitting there wanting – no – demanding an answer.” I am talking out loud to no one.  I had no clue as to what to do.  I sure didn’t know what to say. A few more times walking round my truck, tryin’ to think through this one. I was in what is called a conundrum.

An hour passed and eventually I decided that I had to get back to work. I quietly eased back into the garage, quietly eased into the kitchen and slowly eased over to my desk in the living room. I was doing my best to act as if nothing had happened. I glanced over at Sarge. He actually startled me when I saw that he was still looking at me with his pup ears raised and head cocked back a bit.  That silly lamp shade contraption made him look ridiculous. All I could see was the steady stare of his brown yes and head.

“Well? Ah, are we good, Boss? Is something wrong?” he said as if I was obligated to respond. His eyes were focused on me and he appeared to be serious.

I gotta say that I nearly jumped right out of my skin and my hands were sweating. I was shaking uncontrollably and trying to act calm.

“You talking to me?” I managed to say as I cleared my throat. I peeked over and was captured by Sarge’s gaze. I again froze.

“Well, not to be rude, yeah. Who else would I be talking to? I need a hand over here.” His response was not delayed, but came as a direct response to the question I asked. He sounded a bit agitated. His agitation could possibly spell my doom.  This animal could have been sent here from and other planet and he is trying to capture my mind. I would disappear and nobody would know where I had gone. Nobody would know anything. I started laughing hysterically and caught myself slapping my leg. Sarge was getting a bit more irritated with my lack of response.

“What is going on, Boss?” he was acting like he was offended at my lack of response. “I ain’t asking you to do anything major.” He said slowly and clearly.

“Yet, you can talk?” I responded incredulously. “You can actually talk in an intelligent fashion. You want me to accept that as being something normal, nothing major? Sarge, this is absolutely shocking. To be quite honest, it scares the living daylights out of me.” My hands were shaking and though I did not realize it, I was standing up now, behind my desk chair. I think it was for protection.

“Why is that so hard for you two-leggers to get a hold of?” Sarge asked, as if I should be accepting this as normal and acceptable behavior.

“Well, Sarge. While you may not realize it, dogs can’t talk, you see. Dogs just can’t talk. That is a known fact. Yet, here you are talking.” I was shaken my head in absolute disbelief while my body continued to tremble.

“No, I did not realize that. What am I doing then?” he rifled back at me.

“Well…well, it is fairly clear that you are talking, I know..b-b-b-b-but this just is not normal. I mean, I never had a dog talk to me before and never had any of my friends mention talking canines. Never read anything that indicated there were talking dogs.” My voice was almost hoarse as I spoke, trying to explain something to a dog.

“Well,’ Sarge began to fill me in… “Momma talked to me and my four brothers and three sisters. I never met my Paw. Momma would sing us to sleep using beautiful words, English words, words that I would learn and use when I spoke to my siblings. I bet I know all the words to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and we used to move and groove to “Hot dawg, Hot dawg!” You should have seen my brother dancing to this one. He could really ‘cut a rug’, as they say. I have been talking since I was about three weeks old. You see, I’m a Beagle. Beagles can talk. We are truly a smarter breed, you know, special and unique in more than just talking. We also are excellent hunters.”

I did not know what to say or do. I was almost paralyzed with fear. I was afraid I was going to get zapped or something. This had me spooked to my bones. A talking dog. A very intelligent talking dog. I wonder if this is a Washington experiment gone bad and I have a rogue dog in my house… Sarge Bourne, Jason’s sidekick…I was wandering if Jason was anywhere around monitoring my reactions.

“Well, look, Boss, right now I just need an extra paw over here. I gotta itch that I cannot get to because you got this thing wrapped round my head. How long I gotta wear this anyway?” Sarge was tilting his head backwards trying to indicate where the itch was.

“You got about a month or more with the halo. Doctor’s orders, not mine. I had nothing to do with it.” I informed him.  We were actually engaged in an intelligent conversation. I was conversing with Sarge like I was talking to a, ah, to a…dog?

“What is it that you want me to help you with?”  I stepped over to the pile of blankets where Sarge was laying and carefully looked at his bandages.

“First, can you take this thing off my head?” He was pleading with me.

“Nope. Not a chance” shaking my head. “Not going to happen, Sarge.” I was as jumpy as a horse in a glue factory.

“Well, will you at least reach down here and scratch my itch?” he inquired.

I eased over and carefully knelt down. My nerves were on edge, so I am not moving fast at all. Sarge is looking up at me like he was appreciating my willingness to help. I ease in and am fairly close…

Suddenly he hollers, “BOOahhhh”

I cannot tell if I actually passed out or what, but I know that I jumped back so hard, so fast, that I lost my balance and fell against the couch, knocking a picture off the wall and throwing over a table. A lamp busted and I lay there in a sweat, waiting for Sarge’s final attack. Sarge, in the meantime, is laughing so hard he is starting to leave a small puddle… “Got’cha, didn’t I?’ he squealed between breaths. He was really tickled. “Your face….”he laughed… “you should have seen your face!”

I thought my hand was gonna be gone and was counting my fingers. I had been scared senseless. Slowly, realizing that I was still in one piece, I sat up and faced Sarge. “Real funny, buddy. Real funny.  Hey, you know that itch that is bothering you so much? I hope it doesn’t drive you crazy now.” I said as I walked back to my desk. The fear had been replaced by humiliation, anger and embarrassment. This was no Special Agent or Alien. This was a Beagle dog. That is all. A dog that could talk.

“Boss, you should have seen your face, really. Come on. It was classic. Priceless.” He was acting as if he is really enjoying this and getting somewhat carried away with himself.

For me, the joke got old real quick. The prolonged laughter was going to force me to put Sarge out into the garage and place and add on an internet action board in search for a new owner. I was truly upset by the embarrassment, at the continuous snickering and the terrifying joke. The funny stuff was gone.

Sarge spoke up, “Hold it. I really need this itch scratched. Seriously, I won’t do that any more. I Promise” apologizing for his indiscretion and seeing that I was upset.

“Nope. Sorry, Sarge. I am not in the scratching business.” I was gonna let him suffer for what he had done.

“Come on, Boss. I won’t do nothing like that ever again. Please?” he sounded like one of my kids wanting a chocolate bar at the grocery store.

“Look, so you can talk. I am impressed. But you say it is normal. So, I suppose that I should not really be that impressed. A talking dog is totally abnormal, you mutt. You pull a stunt like that again, Sarge, and you will be sleeping on cold concrete in out in the garage. I hope you understand that.” Then I went over closer and asked, “Where’s the itch?”

“Right down the middle of my back…” he tilted his head… I start scratching and he starts to moan. “Ah, Boss, you done hit the spot…now, a little to the right….over, over, now down.” His back leg was starting to scratch uncontrollably. A look of total satisfaction came over his face.  He lays his head down and looks at me. “You really ain’t never talked to a dog before? Now that’s a new one on me.” He was thinking how odd this had to be.

“Sarge, dogs don’t talk. Matter of fact, you are the first dog to ever talk to me using human words…the first I ever heard of anyway. For me, this is a historical landmark event. I mean, I have never heard anybody ever say they had a talking dog, and I have been a lot of places and have met a variety of a people from all over the world.” I was quick to point these things out.

“Yeah, Momma told me to be careful who I talked to. She said the ‘two leggers’ think they are the only ones who can verbally communicate. I guess I see what she was saying. Mamma was smart about stuff like that.” Sarge was sounding thoughtful.

“Verbally communicate? Now, where would you learn these kinds of words? I mean, you have a good vocabulary and seem to be able to enunciate properly any word that you use.” I was amazed at his ability to form sentences and use big words and to carry on an intelligent conversation. Maybe I should call Jane Goodall, the famous anthropologist who was convinced she could teach monkeys to talk. I know this would be of great interest to her.

“I don’t know. Just picked up on what folks been saying, I guess. Where did all your words come from? I mean, you talk pretty good yourself!” He was quick to come back.

“I’m human, Sarge. While you may not know it, we are the most superior breed. We talk all the time.” I was not about to argue with a dog and was feeling quite out of place even speaking with Sarge at all. I was still seething and trying to calm down.

“What am I? Grilled cheese? I’m a Beagle and we talk all the time as well.” His comeback was concise and quick. I noted that he did not like for me to insinuate that humans were the superior breed. “Oh, and by the way. I caught that ‘mutt’ remark earlier. Getting kind of personal, aren’t we?” I had used the term ‘mutt’ loosely. I was upset earlier when Sarge had ‘booraahed’ me. Apparently, the term ‘mutt’ was something you did not use when referring to Beagles. It was an extremely derogatory term, and particularly offensive when referring to Sarge.

“I find that hard to believe. All you Beagles talk, like me, my wife and the kids. You are talking right now and you talked this way with your family?” I actually felt a bit silly asking such a question.

“Naw, we usually speak in Chinese just to confuse folks. Course we talk! How else am I gonna tell mamma I’m hungry. I’d write her a note, but I ain’t got no thumbs…so I can’t hold a pencil. Plus, I ain’t got that spelling part down at all, neither. Who am I kidding? We can talk, but none of us can read” Sarge was defending himself quite well.

“Yeah, guess I see your point. If you would like to continue with your smart-alecky remarks, the garage is all yours.” I could not argue with this dog. “I still can’t get hold of the fact that I’m actually sitting on the coffee table in my living room having a discussion with an injured dog…I know, I know, not just a dog but a Beagle…superior breeding noted.”

I excused myself by telling Sarge that I had to get back to work. I tooke a seat at my desk and notice that I had been sweating…a lot. During the past two hours, my world as I had known it previously, had changed. How would I tell my wife about this? Who in the world was going to believe me? Also, who was I fooling? I wasn’t about to get any work done for the rest of the day… I wiped my face and brushed back my thinning hair while staring nervously at Sarge…I couldn’t leave him alone. I was stuck.

 

Chapter 4

Getting over the Romance

It took quite some time for me to grow comfortable speaking to a dog. I felt like a stooge in a comedy show.  For example, when I was a kid, my parents took my siblings and I to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a vacation. One of the nights we were there, we were invited to attend a ventriloquist show. Walking in, I see this fellow sitting up front with a doll of some sort sitting on his lap. This doll could talk and was carrying on about something.

It was actually quite amusing watching this little fellow talk as if he was one of us. He discussed a lot of things that caused the audience to respond with unabated laughter, I was having a great time and was totally amused until, at one point during the show, the dummy talked to me.

For his first stooge, he addressed me personally. He asked me a question, which I do not recall. I answered slowly which led to another question. We then continued for a moment in a short conversation. I was amazed. I knew this was not real, but while he was talking to me, I was transfixed. I felt ridiculous, but I was conversing with a dummy.  Finally, the fellow with the hand behind the puppet, asked me how it felt to be talking to a dummy. Embarrassed, I had no idea what to say. Everybody laughed and the show went on.

That is how I was feeling right now…talking to a dog. But nobody was laughing. There was no hand behind the dog. This was for real.

Eventually, as we grew accustomed to our new found ability to converse, we were able to discuss a vast number of things, the first thing being what happened to get Sarge shot. It turns out he had his heart set on a lady friend he met down off Dark Holler Road named Frida. Dark Holler Road is located a surprisingly long way from the house and how he met her is something only he can describe. It involves intuition and his nose.

He ran into her three weeks prior to the shooting incident. It was a chance meeting, he said, and after spending the day with her, he was sure that this was the love of his life. It was his ‘first love’ and had all the melodrama that accompanies this experience. If I heard her described once, I know I heard her described fifty times. She was possessed of a sublime eloquence. Her hair rolled down from her neck like a smooth tranquil river. Her eyes were as brown as polished river stones one would gather from the riverside. Her paws were as gentle as a mother’s caressing embrace. These were his words, not mine… she was a portrait of perfection.

According to Sarge, every dog in the area was after Frida, but, alas, in the end, she set her angelic affections on him alone. He had fallen hopelessly and helplessly in love with her. She had quickly become an all-consuming obsession. To be frank, I was tired of hearing about her. Sarge informed me that she already had two litters of pups in years past. The fathers, in both cases had run off and abandoned the poor girl, for reasons unknown, according to Frida. Yeah, how shocking…

With what all he told me about Frida, I was not impressed in the least. It bothered me to no end that Sarge was drawn to such an animal. From the information provided, she seemed to be nothing more than a street hound that wandered from place to place, scrounging for food and shelter. A flea infested, filthy drop-off dog, abandoned on the streets of Morehead. Still, I had to endure Sarge’s embellished descriptions daily. With each telling, her beauty was more enhanced. She was what dreams were made of and the inspiration behind a thousand songs. There was no end to this mush…Sarge was hopelessly and ignorantly love.

Outside of this, it was encouraging to see that Sarge was healing up on schedule. Still, with the stitches in place, Sarge was required to keep this halo collar round his neck. He really looked silly, but the kids pampered him like he was a wounded prince and Sarge played the part well enough to win a Oscar. The healing process took time, a lot of time. With the long days and total lack of activity, even with all the attention he was receiving, Sarge was getting bored. While he could talk the paint off the wall, he could not read and actually detested television. While laying round seems to be a major part of every dog’s job description, there are times when he simply needs to get out and run.

All this Frida talk was causing him to become agitated. It was not doing him any good at all, but I could not get him to change the subject. He was pacing around the house, bumping into chairs and slapping tables with this halo. His frustrations were building and I could hear him muttering things when this would happen. Cabin fever was setting in.

Finally, he comes up to me as I am at my desk and asks to be allowed to get outside. “Come on, Boss. Get this thing off my neck. Let me out. I gotta stretch my legs and get a breath of some fresh air.” he says in a straight forward manner. I could see the frustration and under- stood being cooped up was driving him up the wall, but I had my orders.

“Nope. Doc says no.” I say shaking my head. I was gonna hold this position until the doctor said I could let him out and not a moment sooner.

“Look at me, Boss. I am putting on weight and getting lazy. All I do is eat and lay around. I gotta get out. I gotta run.” You can tell by the sound of his voice that he is frustrated.

“Nope.” I held my position.

Sarge sat down over by the living room window and looks at me. He then cocks his head back and begins to howl like a wolf pup howling at the moon. I suppose it was the dog version of “Nobody Knows Da Trouble I Seen”.  He would howl for a while and then stare at me as if this was going to force my hand.  Nothing was happening. He’d howl some more, and he was actually getting a kind of Blues rhythm going in his various renditions, allowing his head to hang low and roll from left to right. Memphis Slim and Jimmy Woody, the famous Memphis Blues singers, would have be proud.

He thought his ability to make such a noise would move me into action. He didn’t realize it, but his howling was actually entertaining me. One thing about Sarge was becoming crystal clear – the dog could act out a part. He was sensitive and emotional and very, very dramatic.  Watching his lips form a round circle and his head go back as he let out a guttural howl was very amusing. He was brushing his ears back and letting go of some primordial sounds, hound dog sounds, sounds of the ancestors. All this with the awful lampshade thing snapped round his neck. It was not moving me to let him out as much as it was moving me to laugh, which he did not appreciate much at all.

This “I got da, Blues” session continued for thirty minutes until he finally realized he was not getting the attention he desired. Instead, he was receiving ample applause for his acting skills from me while gaining nothing more than a sore throat and raspy voice for all of his effort. He took a few turns in a circle, scratched his blanket as he tried to fluff his pallet until finally, in anger, he laid down. In a few seconds, he was out like a light. I mean dead asleep. While he was sleeping, he started whispering like he was talking to someone. I leaned in so as to hear what he was saying…

“Oh, Frida, you look so good today! You get your hair done?” Then he would whimper and his back leg would kick a bit.  “What have you been rolling darling? It sure stinks good!” More whimpering.

Sarge was whispering sweet nothings into his girlfriend’s ears. This was what caused all the trouble in the first place. He had been wandering off early in the evening. then would be gone all night. He would come dragging in during the wee hours of the morning. He was convinced that he was in love and there was no telling him otherwise. This Frida was the dog for him. I understand now what is George Bernard Shaw meant when he said ‘Ah, the pity youth is wasted on the young’.

I really wanted to help Sarge, but first things first. His wounds had to heal, and then his flaming emotions had to flame out as well.  Strong amorous emotions die hard with humans as we all know. It is not any different when you think of Sarge. He would mope around all day, staring at the door. Sarge would turn around to try to look me in the eye as he whimpered out his disgust, but when he would look at me with that halo, I had to smile. It was like looking at a clown trying to be mad. This only served to irritate an already irate dog.

“Ain’t nothing funny going on here, Boss. I don’t know why you are smiling.’” Sarge would bark out as he was heading to his pallet.  Actually, watching him stomp off was always quite amusing. He always managed to get his halo caught on a chair or something.  He would lay down and get comfortable, ready for a nap and his head would be standing up while his body would be lying down. He would grit his teeth while rolling his eyes. I would have to go another room to avoid bursting into laughter.

Eventually, time allowed  his wound to heal and we were instructed to remove the halo. When it came off, Sarge shouted, “Praise be! Praise be!” He still moved slowly and was tender, but the halo was gone. “How do I look? Boss, tell me. How do I look?” he asked.

“Like a half shaven dog getting over a gunshot wound.” I informed him in a deadpan manner.

“Best looking dog in these parts!” he murmured as he raised his head, stuck out his shaved chest and struck a pose. He had lost quite a bit of weight during his convalescence. The lack of exercise left him looking a bit frail, but this would be remedied as he was able to get outside more. Running and exercise would do Sarge a great deal of good. Exercise always builds an appetite while eating tends to put the pounds on. A couple a weeks of this would bring Sarge back to his old self.

 

Chapter 5

Farewell, my Beloved

 

Once the kids got home, Sarge came running in without the halo. Immediately, they tried to play with him out in the back yard but found that it was a bit too premature. Sarge was not ready for that much activity, so we decided the best thing would be to take him down to the city park on a leash. Allowing him to walk around the asphalt path a few times every day would build his stamina and strength. Eventually, he would return to his normal self. So, heading to Wal Mart once more for dog supplies, we searched until a leash was found that we thought would be long enough to allow Sarge room to move about while being strong enough to restrain him if the need arose. Back home, the leash was hooked onto the new collar we bought. Lindsay held one end of it as she headed out the back door in order to let him grow accustomed to the new equipment. He would stretch it as tight as it would go, look back at Lindsay as if checking to see if she was still there.

Somehow he felt that he was leading Lindsay around rather than being led around. This attitude was part of the “Special Breed” attitude that comes built in the Beagle mentality.

“Okay, Sarge. You got me. I don’t think I am going anywhere.” Lindsay would say. Some things you just let slide.

As they walked, he would constantly check to make sure Lindsay had not let go of the leash. He told me later that it lets him know that she is still there. It was as if he was pulling her around the back yard, you know, getting her some exercise. This was his way of thinking.

After a few days of leash training in the back yard, it was time for Sarge and I to head out to the park. For the first time in well over a month, Sarge tries to hop into cab of the truck. I held the door and bent down to give Sarge a lift but was corrected quickly.

“I believe I can make it.” He was looking at me as if I need to stand down.

“Well, hop in then. We need to get going” I said, backing up so he could have enough room to jump into the truck. He put his front paws unto the floorboard so he could push with his back legs. This used to be a piece of cake for the spry little puppy. That was before his accident. He was not physically fit enough to make the jump. After two or three tries, he turns to me…

“Okay, you gonna just stand there? Give me a hand here.” He said with a hint of frustration in his voice. I lifted him onto the front seat. He immediately made his way to the passenger window and took a seat.

“Sarge, you still have a ways to go to finish your healing process. You were torn up, buddy. It takes time to get better.  You strengthen those muscles you haven’t used in well over a month, be patient, use this walking to really exercise and you will find yourself back in shape in no time.” I was trying to encourage the dog, but there was something brewing in his thinking. He wasn’t talking. He didn’t seem upset either, but for a brief second, I sensed something was going on.

We drove down to the city park, found a parking spot hopped out of the truck ready to establish our new daily walking routine. Not wanting Sarge to overextend on the first day, I was actually strolling at a leisurely pace; of course I was allowing Sarge to lead the way. We get half way around the track and Sarge is animated. Sniffing and running here and there.

Suddenly, Sarge stops dead in his tracks. Now, remember, his hair had been shaved. He was bare chested. Although it was growing out, it still had a long way to go. It looked terrible. He was not an attractive looking canine specimen. Folks were asking me if he was getting better. One lady at the park thought he had been battling cancer and was on the mend. He looked gaunt and tired. With his shaved chest included, he gave every appearance of being truly sick.

He starts patting his feet and whimpers a bit and then strikes a pose that he had seen in a book. He stood as if he was modeling for “Canine Quarterly” magazine. With his head lowered, his back straight with his tail extended, Sarge was trying his best to look as good as he could. The only thing missing was raising his front leg while pointing… not ready for that one yet. All this occurred because Frida, the love of his life was coming down the walkway straight towards us, unrestrained, no leash, no owner.

Trying to hold his pose was difficult for Sarge. His excitement was causing his tail to wag uncontrollably and this was knocking him off balance. He was glancing back towards me, then at Frida. It was a moment that he was not prepared for but so glad to encounter. I actually had no idea why he was acting this way until Frida was directly in front of us. Then I understood his excitement.

When I first saw Frida, I thought, “Love is indeed blind!” Fat, dirty, mangy, ugly, unattractive, nasty these are some of the adjectives that ran through my mind upon one glance at this poor dog. Sarge had gone on continuously about her long flowing hair. She had long hair, alright, but it was filled with filth and stick-tights while being matted in clumps on her back. She had one silver eye coupled with one brown eye, a fact Sarge failed to mention. The brown eye was lazy and wandered to the right. She stunk so bad flies would not go near her. The most appalling attribute was that she could not keep her tongue in her mouth. It was not as if she was panting; no, the tongue just hung out of her mouth to the left side. She looked like a deranged mongrel that had been extremely unkempt. She was a drop dog, abandoned for some time now. I whispered, “Good grief, Sarge. You gotta be kidding me. Is this Frida?”

Sarge glanced back, giving me a killer look. “She’s a looker, ain’t she!” His tail continued to wag as his excitement built.

Frida gets closer. Sarge gets ready…

She walks right up to Sarge, not hesitating one step and not slowing down in the least. Sarge stands up on his hind legs as if he is ready to hug his dreamboat, but something odd happens. She keeps on walking. She walks right on past as if she did not recognize Sarge at all. She doesn’t even acknowledge his presence. Actually, she had some kind of glassy-eyed gaze in her eyes. Her tongue continued flopping around like she was dying of thirst. She had to be half crazed for food.  She was off, lost in another world.

At Frida’s arrival, the mothers that were in the park started grabbing their kids while the park personnel jumped into action and mounted their little carts. Wasting no time, they began their pursuit of Frida once they spotted her. One of the park fellows had a large burlap bag that was bigger than most I had seen.  The other man in the cart had a long extending pole with a rope on one end that looked like a collar. On the other end, the rope came out. Once they placed this collar over the dog’s neck, they would pull it tight and capture the dog. Then, carefully, they would place the dog in the big burlap bag. It was an operation they had performed from time to time. Stray dogs were common.

Once they got close enough to Frida, she was totally unaware of their presence. They reached out with the extension stick and easily fit the collar around her neck. When they tightened it, she fought for all she was worth to get free, jumping and pulling, swinging back and forth and trying to back up. Folks stopped to watch. It was a spectacle that you don’t get to see that often. The park fellows had enough training to make this look like an easy task. They allowed Frida to jump around for a few minutes until she finally tired out. Once she had expended all her energy, they gently nudged her into the burlap bag, then gently and patiently placed the bag on back of the little golf cart looking vehicle they were driving.  One of the men produced a radio, turned it on and called in a report.

“We got’er Boss! Three weeks, but we finally got’er. Over” They ‘high fived’ each other.

“Good work men. Any problems? Over.” the radio squawked back.

“No problems here. We’re bringing her in now. Over.” With that said, they headed back to the Park Shelter Base Center of Operations place.  You would have thought they had captured an FBI most wanted fugitive. They came by driving kind of slow so I flagged them down.

“Saw you catch that dog. Good work. What’s going on? Has she been causing a lot of problems?” I asked the driver. Sarge looked at me in disbelief. How could Frida cause anyone any kind of problems? If he had some gloves right then, he probably would have slapped me and challenged me to a dual for the honor of the lovely lady. Now I have a little offended Napoleon on my hands. He had to refrain from saying anything because we were in a public area.

“Oh, this one has been spotted all over town. Even got as far as Dark Holler. Got all the dogs in an uproar, dumping trash cans over, digging in gardens, chasing cows and chickens. Folks all around town were getting very upset.” The man was talking as if he had saved the town from disaster. About a month ago, one fellow said he shot her. Said he was sure of it. He said he heard her holler and everything. I don’t know, but guess he missed. Here she is.”

“Who does she belong to? Where’s the owner?” I asked. When I said this, Sarge looked at me with a strange questioning look in his face, but he didn’t say a word.

“Nobody claims her. As ugly as she is with her being so filthy, she is probably a ‘drop’ dog.” A stray” the park man told me. Sarge was ready to jump when he heard her being described as ugly and filthy, but he was not strong enough just yet.

“What is going to happen with her now?” I questioned, just wanting to know, failing to take into account that Sarge was listening to every single word.

“Oh, Pound’ll come get her from us in a few minutes. She will be staying there for a few days. After that…you know…” He had no need to explain. I nodded, glad that he did not continue. Sarge had no idea what the Pound was all about.

“Well, it seems that you guys did a good job and handled things fast and professionally. Good job, guys.” I nodded as the men prepared to drive off in their little cart. You could hear Frida panting heavily inside the bag. He nodded as if to say, “All in a day’s work, sir. Just doing my job.” With that, Frida was gone. The smell, however, was still lingering.

Sarge and I continued our walk but our pace slowed dramatically. Sarge was deeply upset. His heart was troubled. His mind was racing. He was deeply, deeply hurt. One thing about Beagles I have learned is that they do not have a great ability to hide their emotions. If they are happy, boy, are they happy and if they are sad, man, are they sad. Sarge was depressed. He was hurting real bad. He was suffering from a broken heart. His first one.

“Boss, can we go on home? I really ain’t in the mood to be walking. Something’s hurting inside me. Do you mind?” he asked. His entire demeanor had dropped. He was totally bummed out. His life was a wreck. Darkness was settling in all around him.

Knowing that he was bummed out, I agreed to leave so we went headed back to the truck. He was so down in the mouth, I had to literally pick him up to place him in the truck. I drove slow as we headed down the road. Sarge looked over to me while we rolled along. He had a tear running down his nose. Poor guy was taking this really hard.

“She didn’t even know who I was, Boss! She didn’t stop, didn’t say ‘hi’ or nothing. I got nothing. Not even a smile.” he whispered.

I had no idea what to say. To be quite honest, I didn’t really know what to say to a broken hearted dog. I just listened. Neither of my two sons had gone through this yet. I was at a loss.

`“I laid my life on the line for her…took a face full of Pepper spray for her… then took a bullet for her, Boss. You know, the only reason I got shot was because this feller come out his home hollering at her. He had some sort of stick in his arm. He kicked her real hard so that she yelped and started running. I had no clue what was going on so I was right there, running at her side when this feller starts doing something with that stick. It starts making noise and spitting fire. Next thing I know, I am flying across the yard in pain that is unbelievable. I ain’t never had pain like that before in my life.  Frida did not even slow down. She kept running. She did not stop, even for a second. Come to think about it, I don’t think she even turned around to see if I was alright or not. I told her I would catch up. She was gone. I took off into the woods and made my way home. That was the last time I saw her, Boss. I loved her. I thought she loved me. I really thought she loved me, Boss” His voice was breaking.

`“Sarge, were you down at “Wild” Bill Edward’s place when you got shot. Did “Wild” Bill shoot you?” I wanted to settle this in my mind once and for all. If “Wild” Bill did this, something would have to be done. We cannot have this kind of activity in our neighborhood.

`“No, Boss. We were up on Dark Holler Road. “Wild” Bill is the fellow that filled my face with Pepper Spray. He is one mean guy. I wish you would put a whoopin’ on him.  Frida and I were getting some food from his yard when he jumps out the door acting like he has some food. I go up sniffing and thinking, “Hey, free meal…good deal.” Next thing I know, he is laughing and squirting this can of stuff in my face. It made my eyes feel like they were on fire.” Sarge said. Frida and I took off running and that is when we decided to look for food on the other side of town.

That cleared that issue up in my mind. “Wild” Bill did not pull the trigger.  I did not want to have anything to do with “Wild” Bill to be honest. He was just too wild of a Bill for me.

“So, you took the bullet so she wouldn’t get shot?” I was amazed. Sarge was painting the picture of what had happened to get him shot.

“What’s a bullet?” Sarge sniffed.

“It’s what that stick was throwing at y’all. That stick is called a rifle. It shoots bullets. Men use rifles to kill bears, deer and dogs that keep getting into the trash. Were you dumping that man’s trash cans over?” I asked.

“You mean those big shiny things by the house?“ he asked, totally ignorant as to what he was doing or what kind of trouble he was causing.

“Sarge, those things are called trash cans. You dump those over, you get people mad. Trash gets all over the yard making a big mess.” I explained, not believing that he had no idea of what he was doing.

“Why, yeah. We had to!” Sarge said as if I should know this.

“You had to? Why did you have to dump over the man’s trash cans?” I asked, patting my hand on the steering wheel.

“Dog’s have got to eat, too, you know. We were looking for something to eat when, after having spent half the night looking for food, Frida told me she knew where we could find something. Walking for nearly two hours, we got up to this house. She wastes no time pulling this man’s cans over. All kind of stuff fell out. Lots of food…some pretty good eating, if you want to know the truth. But, Boss, that is all there was to it…we were just looking for something to eat.” He shook his head as he was recalling that night. “Dogs gotta eat too…”

“Wait. So you went with Frida to eat out of this fellows trash can? How many times had you done this?” It was all making sense to me now. I never would have thought my dog would be out dumping trash cans. Love makes dogs do stupid things…I thought.

“Yeah. We did that a few times during the course of a week or so. Then suddenly, out pops this feller with the stick…rifle…whatever…and starts hollering. It was crazy.” Sarge was actually standing in the seat as he was giving his account of events.

“Sarge. You are lucky to be alive, you know that. You guys were was messing in this man’s trash cans, turning them over time and time again. Y’all messed up his yard several times. He gets mad. I would get mad if you had done this to me.” I was being very stern with Sarge. I thought you were the ‘intelligent breed?” I threw in.

“Yeah, but would you start shooting a rifle stick at us!” Sarge asked.

“Would I shoot a dog that did this to my trash? I reckon I would if I caught them doing it repeatedly. I would make sure I had my rifle handy. The thing was that you did this several times. The man was ready for you…that’s why he had his rifle close by. Sarge, it is obvious that God was very kind to you. Also, it is obvious that the man was an extremely poor shot.” I was animated. Sarge could see I was a bit upset but for the life of him, he could not understand why.

“So, you’re saying you would shoot a dog simply for eating out of those silver things?” Sarge was shocked. This just could not register in his Beagle brain. “A dog has got to eat” he said. This was all he could thing of.

“Yep, Sarge, I probably would.” I looked over at Sarge. My dog was staring at me in disbelief. He was getting to the age that things had to start changing. He had to start growing up. There had to be an understanding of things like rules and boundaries. Sure, puppies are playful but even puppies grow into dogs They also grow in wisdom. When you’re a puppy, you do puppy things, but when you are a dog, you gotta put away the puppy things and become a dog. Sarge was wanting to act like a dog but refused to leave his puppy days behind him. It was hurting him in a big way. It got him shot.

“Ah, Frida! Poor Frida.” Sarge started blubbering. “What is going to happen to her, Boss? He sniffed.

“Sarge?” I said, tryin to get his attention.

“Boss?” he said.

“That dog stunk! – like a trash can…” I added.

“Yeah, She did stink pretty good, didn’t she?” he sniffed…not missin’ a beat.

“No, that is not great. You get to stinking like that and we will scrub you clean. Anyway, it’s all over now, ain’t it?” I told him, more than asked him.

“It hurts, Boss. It really hurts.” His eyes were closed as painful, heartbroken tears poured down his cheeks. I reached over and rubbed his head. He laid down on the truck seat, the saddest I had ever seen him.

“I suppose it is. It’s over…” he whispered as we drove up the hill to the house. “Farewell, Freda, my beloved…farewell…”

Sheesh…I tell you what…Beagles can really get melodramatic.

 

Chapter 6

Mr. Big’un Comes to Town

With the melodramatic romance with Freda over, Sarge struggled as he continued to mend from his wounds as well as a broken heart. Time has a way of working in both areas and Sarge was most definitely on the mend. He was walking with ease and could even run around a bit, but he still would get tired very easily. When he became tired, he generally would find his place in the garage and lie down for a while. If I was in there (and I generally was), he was try to chat it up a bit. He really did not understand sports, but would constantly ask questions about football and baseball and basketball as if he were really interested.  He could never keep the sports separated, though, and this made our discussions enjoyable.

“Hey Boss.” He would yawn as he laid there watching me.

“Hey, Sarge. You tired?” I would respond.

“Worn out. I feel weak as a kitten sometimes.” He would respond.

“A kitten? Really?” I would ask.

“You know what I mean.” He would laugh.

“Yeah, I do.” I would give a laugh as well.

“How ‘bout them Colts. Heard they won by two bases and that quarterback threw for a three point basket late in the game.” He was trying to start a conversation.

“That’s incredible. No kidding?” I acted surprised.

“Yeah, heard it on the radio. The crowd went wild.” He was speaking like it was known fact.

Sarge suddenly raised his nose high into the air and stood up. With his nose raised up high into the air, Sarge was sniffing in such a way that generally indicated something new had showed up. He, in his strange way, had caught wind of it. I knew that if this was the case, he was about to go out on an inspection tour.

He stood perfectly still so he could get a noseful. Sarge was a real scent hound and loved to show off his ability to sniff things out.

“Got some new folks coming in, Boss.  Wait…wait…{sniff, sniff } they gotta dog as well.  A Beagle  pup.” he said as if he was absolutely sure of it.

This would mean that the vacant home down the street…that three bedroom brick home, had been sold. It surprised me mainly because on the south side of this home was located the home of “Wild” Bill Edwards. As I mentioned earlier, he was a locally noted “redneck” and general trouble maker, not for just our neighborhood, but for our side of town. He came from poor hill family down in Floyd County. When I say poor, I mean poor.  His Paw and two brothers had been in jail now for nearly eight years and still had a long stretch to go. ”Wild” Bill had been in and out of jail for years. He was raised in a dirt floor cabin way back un in a hollow along with his three brothers and four sisters. They had no electricity until he was around fifteen years old and never had a new pair of shoes until he got a job in the coal mines. How do I know these things. “Wild” Bill told me in later years. He really, really had a hard time growing up.

Presently, it was my understanding that he was out, but I never saw his car in the drive. In the years that he had lived there, I had never met the man. His reputation, however, was notorious and known by many.

Word was that he had a live-in girlfriend. It really did not matter what the rest of the world thought about that lifestyle, our neighborhood did not think to highly of it. I know that he drank quite a bit or he loved collecting empty beer cans,  one of the two. I have seen large black garbage bags of beer cans around his front door, in the back of his truck and filling his garbage can. His yard was never clean and only got mowed when the county forced him.

Word had it that you did not want to get on his bad side. The sheriff told me that Bill could be rough when he needed to be and meaner than that when things called for it. The sheriff, who was a personal friend of mine, told me that it did not appear that Wild Bill was afraid of anybody and would fight a bear with nothing but a pocket knife. These were not endearing qualities the neighbors cherished and qualities anybody looking for a new home place would try to avoid. Yet, here we had a new neighbor moving in.

The fact that “Will” Bill lived here and never took care of his yard was the major reason this brick home had not sold up until now. Whoever had purchased to home had to take these things into consideration as they were considering submitting a contract. I am sure that these things would have given any buyer ample room to negotiate a substantially lower purchase price. ‘So, it finally sold?’ I thought.

Well, Sarge had his senses activated and knew that his nose never lied, so he bounded down the hill, heading out of sight with his white tipped tail wagging and his super sensitive  Beagle nose close to the ground. Beagles are born to hunt, you see. It’s just built in them. Special breeding, so I have been told over and over. If you want to know the entire truth, Sarge’s nose constantly gets him into all kinds of things.

So, we had a new couple moving in, which I hoped would be a welcomed addition to the neighborhood. Sarge came bouncing back into the garage thirty minutes after his departure. He had a complete breakdown on all the news and he talked faster than a teletype machine could type.

“Wow, Boss. The new guy down there is huge, like a gorilla with no hair. I bet he is bigger than anybody I have ever seen. He is a big, big man. “Wild” Bill will never be a problem with this guy.” Sarge’s eyes were opened wide. His voice was high and he was breathing heavy.

“Oh, yeah?” I was instantly drawn by his unusual description. A hairless gorilla would actually be something worth seeing. Somebody that would intimidate “Wild” Bill would be interesting to meet as well. I wanted to meet such a man.

“Oh, yeah…a big, big, guy.” He shook his head. “He has a little bitty lady with him. She has got to be his wife. Calls her ‘Tiny’ and I think he got that one right. She is a tiny little thing. Looks like a kid.  They been busy putting stuff inside the house. You know, boxes and bags and things like that.  It’s a big truck full of stuff. They got a nice gun rack, too. A comfortable looking leather couch and recliner, big bed kind of like yours and lots of books about fighting.

“No kidding? Fighting…I thought you couldn’t read? How would you know the books are about fighting?” I had to ask.

“Come on, Boss. Quit busting my chops. There were lots of pictures.” He rolled his eyes. “He dropped a box and they spilled out. I ran over like I was going to sniff them so I was able to get a good look. Oh, and guess what?” Sarge leaned in, acting as if he had a secret. He spoke almost in a whisper.  “They have a beautiful dog, too!” he smiled as he bobbed his head up and down, tail wagging and that dumb Beagle grin of his. “Yep,yep…and she is a real looker, too.”

“Yeah, you told me already. A Beagle. Superior breeding.” I had a smirk on my face trying to discourage any misplaced thinking.

“Yeah. A Beagle. Just a pup, but a Beagle.” his grin would not go away. Sarge actually looked as if he was giving a full-tooth smile. He apparently missed my smirk altogether. He never paid attention to me when he was excited.

“Really? A pup you say.” I was concerned.

“Yes sir. Her name is Betty. She is as gentle a pup as you could imagine. She actually reminded me of my sister.  Gentle, beautiful calico spotting. Deep brown eyes and nice head shape. A true Beagle. Even smelled nice.” his eyes were twinkling. He seemed delighted to tell me all about her. His lesson with Frida, while relatively fresh, had not registered at all with Sarge. I thought about getting the halo back out and telling him the doctor called.

Sarge had ideas floating around in that thick head of his which were not good. I could see it plain as day. I would have to meet the new couple right away and try to get a handle on things before they got out of hand. Sarge and his desire for romance can get carried away. Young dogs seem to have this attitude. Each dog is convinced that they have a certain charm that no other dog possesses. Their particular gift of charm will win all female hearts. Well, this may not apply to  all dogs, but Sarge’s confidence was quite strong in this area, without a doubt. He had and over-inflated ego. Have I mentioned that he was somewhat emotional as well?

Realizing I had free time, I grabbed a clean shirt and told Momma that I was headed down the hill to play the part of the welcoming committee. I grabbed my ball cap, a six pack of cokes and took off.

Sure enough, there was a big cube truck backed into the drive and they were unloading boxes and furniture. It was obvious that they were nearing the end of the load and I had made it just in time. Running tirelessly around the yard was a little Beagle pup that looked to be about three to four months old and yes, she was an attractive Beagle. Sarge was right this time.

“Hey, folks. Guess y’all are moving in?” I offered as an introduction. I had to break the ice somehow, but why did I have to be so stupid? Reckon they thought it was a lucky guess that made me think they were moving in? “You picked a good neighborhood. It’s quiet and settled. Y’all are going to like it here.” That should cover up any of the stupidity I just demonstrated.

Well, the cube truck begins to rock up and down a bit and I heard heavy footsteps heading towards the door at the rear of the vehicle. Suddenly, this huge fellow poked his head out then drops onto the driveway. I noted again that Sarge had made a good and accurate assessment. Big was actually an understatement. This fellow appeared to be etched out of stone, a Greek God. Tall as a tree and wide as a barn door. He looked like what most men my age tell their kids they looked like when they were younger. His hand reached out to grab mine and literally swallowed it up.  I swallowed hard.

“Name’s Liam, Liam Caudill. Folks back home call me Big’un.” “Back home, they must have called them as they saw them. He was a ‘Big’un’, of that there was no doubt.” I thought as he stood there, towering over me. He had a winsome smile and was sweating from the work load. He waved into the house for his helper to come on out. “This is my wife, Tiny. We call her Tiny because, well, as you can see, she’s kind of small…” She come walking out of the house, smiling with a hand of greeting already extended.  “Hi. So good to meet you. I’m Tiny.” she was smiling. I wasn’t sure if she was telling me how small she was or introducing herself. She was a shy under five feet tall. What a contrast.

Sarge was right again, she was a tiny, little bitty thing.  Big’un laughed and said, “Yeah, she is a tiny little thing, ain’t she?” Now it was Big’un’s turn to feel a bit awkward. (Stating the obvious in question form kind of leaves everybody wondering about your level of intelligence. It’s kind of like saying, “Gee whiz…ice sure is cold, isn’t it?”)

I shook hands with Tiny and looked around not really knowing what to say when the little Beagle pup come running up, tail wagging and nose sniffing at my shoes. She was a looker and I knew Sarge was making plans for this little gem. “Oh, you got yourself a Beagle?” I acted surprised. “What’s her name?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Betty. My brother gave her to us yesterday as were packing up the truck. Guess she is one of us now.” Big’un grunted. Tiny giggled as she knelt down rubbed Betty on her back. “She rode in the front seat with us all the way over. Great dog.” She said smiling.

“You from around here?” Big’un asked.

“Yeah, live right up the hill there.” I said, pointing and looking over my shoulder. “Been living here for nearly fifteen years. Y’all need some help?” I weakly offered, hoping they would say no.

Big’un grunted out a laugh and said I had arrived just in time. Tiny giggled as Big’un reached up and pulled the door the truck closed door then peeled off his massive gloves. They had just finished unloading. He was about to pull the truck out of the front yard and into the driveway.

“Let me get this truck situated then we can sit down for a second. Go on in and take a look around. I’ll be right there.” He nodded.

I held up my six-pack of soda, “I brought something to drink. Thought you might be a bit thirsty. They are cold.”

“Much appreciated.” Big’un said and with that, he jumped into the cab of the truck. Pulling into the street, he backed it up into the driveway.

“Well, come on in here.” Tiny opened the door, waving me in. “Let me show you around the house. You ever been in here?”  In fifteen years, I had never been in the house before, but that was not too unusal.

“No, never have, Tiny.” I followed her lead and we took a quick tour of the place. Sarge was tagging along with Betty at his side.  We immediately started the normal trading of information. Momma is going to love this lady. They are both clean and neat and love to talk. Big’un joined us and I noticed that he was having to bend down to avoid hitting his head on the tops of the doors.

Big’un, it turned out, was a line supervisor with Waco/Gardin, a local automotive parts manufacturer and Tiny was a registered nurse. They were coming over to Morehead from Roanoke, Virginia. It was a big promotion for Big’un and a welcome change for Tiny. They had no children and were in their late twenties. Both had graduated college and had been working for a few years in their present jobs. Tiny managed to secure a job over at St. Joseph hospital and was to begin work the following Monday. Big’un was to report to work the following morning for orientation. Both were fairly excited. It was a new start and fresh start.

As a sideline, Big’un participated in regional Mixed Martial Arts tournaments.  I guessed Tina had to learn her nursing skills to help keep Big’un patched up. However, if you asked me, there was no evidence that Big’un had ever seen the bad side of any fight.

He told a few stories about several of his fights but, instead of laughing, he just kind of grunted and grinned. This seemed to be a signal for Tina to giggle. After a few of these grunt and giggle things, I knew it was my cue to laugh. I tried to keep the rhythm moving…he grunts, she giggles, I laugh and add, ‘good story’. After half an hour or so, the conversation was beginning to slow down some and it was time to head up the hill, but before I left, I had to find out what I could about the dog, ah, I mean, the Beagle. I felt that I would be hearing quite a bit about her in the days to come if Sarge’s excitement was any indicator.

We get round to discussing Betty. Now Sarge, whenever he begins to listen to something that is being said in a serious manner, takes on the persona (so to speak) of a Bassett Hound. He felt this made him look sincere. So, when talk about Betty began, he lowered his head, let his eyes look tired and laid his ears down. He even had a way of making his knees bow out. He actually looked like he was suffering a sickness, but he thought it was his ‘wisdom’ look.

He had taken his place right by my side. Betty was watching him closely while he was acting as if he was a wise and mature, father-figure type dog, one Betty could trust. Oh, he was hoping to impress this sweet little Miss Betty, of that there was no doubt.

“So, you just got the dog? You will truly love owning a Beagle. They are a breed apart.” I said. Sarge nodded his approval of my assessment. If Sage had been smoking a pipe, I am sure he would have pulled it out and said, ‘Here, here. Indeed, my good man.’ I was somehow pleased that he accepted what I had to say.

“Yeah, tell you what. That dog of yours sure seems to be a good one as well. Have you had him long?” Tiny asked as she was admiring Sarge. Betty was watching Sarge with a look of awe and admiration. Sarge was well aware of Betty’s attention being cast his way and played it cool. He never stepped out of the ‘Bassett Hound’ character. He was, after all, the complete package. I almost rolled my eyes. “I am going to have to get that halo back out” I thought.

“Oh, he has been around for a little over a year now. Got him over in Stanton, Kentucky. Sometimes, it seems to be a lot longer, but time passes and you kind of forget, you know. He has been more than a friend to me, though. Great family dog. Kind of like a confidant, you might say.”  I responded as I rubbed his ears. Sarge was loving this.

Sarge cleared his throat and looked at me as if to say, “Good show, old man. Good show.”. Actually, I was trying to see if Big’un had been initiated in to the “Secret Beagle Society” as of yet.

Big’un took time to explain how he always wanted a Beagle but, living in an apartment, he did not have the room plus the lease prohibited pets. It was not the best setting for any kind of pet, other then maybe a fish or a bird, maybe.

“When we were leaving, my brother came to help us load the truck. He brought Betty along with him and Tiny and I thought nothing about it. He had owned her for about three weeks and kept her in his back yard. He had a fence and a dog house that were there when he bought the house, so he was set and the dog was comfortable. He even asked me to give her a name, so I called her Betty. I was thinking of the Flintstones…you know, Fred and Wilma? Every time I’d go over there, I spend time playing with Betty. She was special to me.” Big’un explained. Sarge was stumped when he mentioned that his brother ‘owned’ Betty. What does he mean by that?  This just did not set right with him.

‘When it was time to move, John; excuse me, that’s my brother; told me that he had been holding onto her for us and gave me her papers, handed me her leash and threw in the dog house as well. He said, “Big’un, you take good care of her.” I mean…how cool is that?  We wasted no time as we put her in the truck. Getting to bring her with us has been a special blessing. One of life’s small joys, you might say. I got me a dog, and a Beagle dog, at that.” He grunted, Tiny giggled…I laughed. Sarge looked at me as if to say, “A dog? What’s with all the grunts and giggles?”

It was clear that it was way to early in their relationship for Betty to have revealed the  “Beagle Secret”.  I was wondering how he would react when that day arrived.

“Oh, listen Big’un, they are special dogs, always full of surprises and very emotional; real sensitive animals. You love them and treat them right, and you will have a lifelong friend.” I scratched  Sarge’s ear and felt him pull back to turn and look at me once more.  “Sensitive? Emotional?” his eyes were asking me.

“Listen, I wanted to come meet you guys and let you know that if you ever need anything at all, just head up the hill. If I can help, I’ll be more than happy to do so. Tiny, thanks so much the house tour. I am sure that you two are going to love it here.” I stood to leave. We all shook hands then Sarge and I headed up the hill while Big’un and Tiny returned to the business of  unpacking.

“Ain’t you the cute one! Laying it on real thick, weren’t you?” Sarge huffed once we were out the door and half way up the hill.  “So, I am emotional and real sensitive. Cute…real cute.” He was a bit miffed at me, thinking I was mocking him. “What is all this business about “owning” a dog?” Sarge was seriously questioning me.

“Look, I was tryin’ to build points for you with Betty. (I lied.) Girls love the sensitive guys. (I lied, again.) I mean it. Your ‘sensitive, wise dog’ look was very impressive, I might add. With that ‘Basset Hound’ look, I thought you were selling Buster Brown shoes there for a minute.” I pointed out. “Were you trying to look like the English Professor at Morehead State professor or what?”

“For your information, I was trying to look interested and caring. You think I over played it? I guess I never thought about being sensitive and emotional as good things. Girls really like that?” Sarge responded with thoughtful consideration in his voice. “Sensitivity coupled with emotions. Hummm…” he was thinking. The “Bassett Hound” wisdom look was gone. It was as if he were writing another note in his imaginary black book. I actually had no idea what dogs thought about sensitivity.

It was clear, though, that Sarge was definitely in a courting frame of mind. Then again, it seems like Sarge lived in a constant courting frame of mind. I should have named him, ‘Dog Juan de Marcos’.  With Frida gone and his heart still feeling a small distant ache, he felt he had all this love to give and Betty seemed to be the most logical and practical candidate. She was young and impressionable; teachable.

When we arrived at the house, Sarge burst into the kitchen to the kids delight and I followed after having hung up my ball cap and taken off my shoes. Momma had dinner ready and said she could not find the six pack of cold drinks she was going to use for dinner. I told her I took them to the new neighbors as a house warming gift. She smiled and asked if they were nice people. As I was answering, we all sat at the table for dinner. I told them all about Big’un and his size, Tiny and her nursing and Betty. Though Sarge was not saying a word, it was obvious that he was forming his own ideas and devising his approach. He believe that it was then that he determined he was going to win over Betty’s affections and he knew just how to do it.

 

Chapter 7

B-B-Q with Betty

A week passed and Big’un came knocking with an invitation to a backyard cookout. They had managed to get their house organized and wanted to meet the wife. We set a time and planned out a meal. Momma would bring the dessert and Tiny would provide a potato salad. Big’un and I would bring the steaks and burgers. I was actually wanting to try out that large gas grille parked on his deck and see how it performed.

Saturday came around and we were all found relaxing on the large deck in Tiny and Big’un’s back yard. The kids had other things they wanted to do, so they dispersed early Saturday morning, heading in various directions. This left Momma and I alone as we walked down the hill. Having any time alone with Momma was rare. Especially with five kids in the house. Today was going to be one of those special days.

After setting things up, we were all sitting around watching the grille and talking about all sorts of things. We were all grunting, giggling and laughing and finding the time was actually quite enjoyable. Betty, I noticed had put on bout ten pounds. She was struggling as she tried to keep up with Sarge, but being so fat, she simply could not keep up at all. All she could do was waddle, whimper and sit around. Poor thing.

“What’ve y’all been feeding that dog?” I laughed. “She has gotten huge during the past week.” My first thought was worm infestation, but that was quickly erased a few minutes later. Big’un grunted, Tiny giggled, and I in turn, laughed. Momma hadn’t caught on to the grunt, giggle, laugh thing yet, so she just sat there, holding a glass of tea and listening.

“She’s just a growing pup, I reckon. She’ll eat anything you put in front of her and wants more. I’m giving her a bowl of food in the morning, Tiny brings her a bone or something from the store. I don’t know, She’s just growing? I don’t know.” Big’un stated proudly. I nodded and we moved on.

Momma and Tiny talked about church, school and where the best stores were while Big’un explained the finer details of Mixed Martial Arts fighting. Sarge and Betty were laying down in the shade. Big’un, it seems, was really into the mixed martial arts and had participated in several matches over in Virginia. He still trained and was planning on getting involved in Morehead with a local gym. While I enjoyed watching the fights, I was nowhere near being interested in having one of those fighters pound on me. Big’un prodded me several times trying to get me to join in the practices.

“I’ll get you in shape quicker than anything else and you’ll learn some new things.”  Big’un insisted.

I begged off. Sure, I could surely afford to lose a few pounds, but I was too old for anything like that. I barely made it down the hill and was seriously considering calling my son to bring his car to get me back up the hill.  Still, Big’un intrigued me to no end. He laughed at my excuses but understood. Inside the ring really was no place for an old man. I still had some living I wanted to do, but not in a body cast or under an oxygen tent. Big’un grunted and I laughed. For some reason, Tiny giggled.

Big’un, wanting to add seasoning to the burgers, excused himself while he went in to the house to find the Creole sauce for the meat we were cooking. In his absence, Sarge ran up, jumped in my lap and began to talk quickly in a whisper, “Look at her, Boss. Ain’t she something!” he was grinning from ear to ear. “She is special, that is for sure. A Beagle after my own heart.” he was so far gone already. Have I mentioned that Beagles are sensitive and extremely emotional?

“She sure has gotten fat! Good grief, Sarge, what’s up with that? Last Saturday, she was pudgy, but that was puppy padding. This week, she’s just plain fat.” I said as I made a fat sign with my hands and puffed my cheeks out.

“Oh, I really ain’t surprised, Boss. I have been giving her my food at night. She loves Kibble n’Bits, you know, and will eat everything I bring her.” Sarge informed me.

“What do you mean?” I was needing more information. This ‘sharing of the food’ was news to me.

“Well, I just bring my bowl of Kibble down here and let her eat to her hearts content. She generally cleans it up. That dog can really put it away…I bet she is eating a couple of pounds of Kibble every day. She really, really loves the stuff. Then, I bring the bowl back home. I am winning her heart and affections by way of her taste buds. She loves me, Boss.” Sarge was certain of what he was saying. Convinced that he was winning her complete devotion.

“Sarge…you cannot do that. Too much food can make her sick! She’s just a pup. They are not supposed to eat so much. They only need about one cup of food per day. You have been giving her about ten cups a day. Good grief, Sarge. How long you been doing this?” I was being careful to keep things to a whisper as I was talking. No telling when Big’un would walk out. Momma and Tiny were not paying attention, but if I got too loud, they would wonder who I was talking to.

“About a week or so, Boss. You think it will mess her up? She looks just fine to me.” he asked with a puzzled look on his face.

“Look at her, Sarge. Her belly is dragging the ground now! She is liable to explode any minute. I thought you were smarter than this, Sarge. You ain’t winning her heart as much as you are winning her stomach. She may love the food more than you, you know. You ever think of that?” I was really upset. Sarge was over stepping his boundaries and taking liberties to do things that he had no business doing. Sarge looked at me funny…the first time I have seen that look.

Just when I said this, Big’un hollered…”Nooo….Betty…oh no, get outside… go,go…oh, no!” It was too late. Betty exploded. Sarge’s culinary gifts proved to be too much for poor Betty. It was a mess. Big’un was mad but Tiny got busy real quick and cleaned it all up. Betty comes out looking bewildered but tremendously relieved. She looked back at the door, sat down in a sideways puppy sit and waited. Sarge was a bit puzzled.

Tiny was a very friendly and personable lady, professional through and through. She came out with a smile as if nothing was wrong, followed by Big’un, who was red faced and a bit embarrassed.  He stared at Betty hard, but with a concerned look, he bent over and lifted her up while asking what the problem was. Betty stared at him and suddenly, her tail went to wagging. Sarge and I both sighed a breath of relief.

“Bett…what’s wrong pup?” Big’un spoke gently with a voice of concern. He looked into her eyes. Betty gazed into Big’un’s eyes and they seemed to meet for the first time. I saw a light go on in Betty’s eyes. It was a heart light, one that said, ‘Hey, it’s gonna be alright’. Betty whimpered a bit and then laid her head down on Big’un’s shoulder and for a brief moment, they bonded. From that moment, I knew that Betty was at home. Things were soon to change for Big’un. I hope he was prepared.

As the evening wore on, I kept an ear tuned to Big’un, tryin to see if the “Beagle Secret” had been disclosed as of yet. Nothing. We discussed football, the NFL and of course, the horrible way the Colts had treated our national hero, Mr. Manning. We had both become instant Bronco fans and were very hopeful of the upcoming season.

As the sun sank into the hills, our evening together was ending. Big’un and I shook hands while the women hugged. Betty and Sarge ran one last time around the back yard. I noticed that Betty seemed to have literally lost a few pounds and I fully understood why. Big’un didn’t know anything about the extra food and I wasn’t about to tell him. Sarge was oblivious to having done anything wrong. But, then again, Sarge never did anything wrong.

 

Chapter 8

Big’un and the Beagle Secret

 

Later that week, as I was getting in from work, Big’un came knocking on my door once more. It was an excited knock this time, though… the kind that rattled the hinges and shook the walls. I carefully eased the door open and there stood Big’un in a nervous sweat.  I can assure you that the sight of a six foot eight mountain of muscle standing at your door in a nervous sweat is very, very intimidating!

“Hey, Boss. You gotta minute? I really need to talk with you about my dog.” he pled as he shuffled his keys in his pocket.

“Sure. Come on in.” I said as I backed out of his way. For Big’un, I had all day. I was at his mercy. “Have a seat and tell me what’s on your mind.” I invited him to talk but felt as if I already knew what was troubling him. He sits down on the couch and really does not know how to start the conversation.

“What’s got you troubled, Big’un?” I asked. He was noticeably out of sorts.

“You’ll think I’m crazy, but the reason I need to talk to you is that you have a Beagle and have had him for a while. I don’t know anybody in town and needed to speak to somebody who could help me understand some things about my dog.” he said as he leaned back on the couch. He folded his hands behind his head and looked at the ceiling. “I’m going tell you something, and keeping in mind with this kind of dog, maybe you can help.” he said.

Naturally, as one would expect, Sarge has to wonder right into the middle of all this. He comes trotting in looking at Big’un, still amazed at the size of this man. He jumps on the couch and sits there, trying to take on a look that said, “Please, continue, don’t mind me.”  a.k.a. The Bassett Hound look…

Big’un gets real quiet and stares at Sarge like he was a big-lipped frog asking him for a kiss. He leans forward with his elbows on his knees. He wipes his hand over his face and pushes his hair back. You could see this monster of a man was agitated by something major.

“Can you get that dog outta here for just a minute? I don’t mean to be rude, but that is why I am here. I need to speak with you about Betty. ” he says, almost in a whisper, as he is pointing at Sarge while staring at me.

I look over at Sarge and he rolls his eyes, tucks his ears back and jumps down off the couch. He struts back towards the garage hardly pleased with this unpleasant turn of events. But I know Sarge…he won’t quite make it to the garage….he ain’t about to miss out on this. He perches himself right by the kitchen door and keeps an ear sticking out. An ear that is easily seen, I might add. Big’un leans back again, trying to relax. This is taking a great effort on his part. “Listen…what I’m going tell you cannot leave this room. You promise me that?” Big’un is serious.

“You got, it Big’un. I assure you that whatever you say is safe with me. ” I tell him. I ain’t bout to break this promise.

He voice starts breaking and he is shaking his head in disbelief. “I, ah…my dog…ah…” he cannot get it out.

“My dog talks in plain English to me. Complete sentences.” I finished the sentence for him. I sat there looking at him. I knew this was coming when I saw the way he treated Betty on Saturday. Beagles will only speak to folks they feel they can trust. Otherwise, there would be no “Beagle Secret Society” to speak of and dog talking would be a common thing.

“What? How would you know that?” Big’un is looking at me. “Is this all some big joke? You and Tiny trying to play a joke on me?” The big guy is not looking too happy at the moment. This makes me a bit uncomfortable.

“Well, that’s what you wanted to tell me, right?” I was shrugging my shoulders and holding my hands palms up, hoping not to get thrown in the floor and stomped on.

“Yeah. Yeah, it is. You hit it right on the head. Betty, she…she talked to me, alright. She asked me how I was doing at work and if I slept good last night. How was dinner and if I need anything from her. She even asked if she could come up here and play with Sarge.” His voice is winded as if he is making some sort of dark secret confession.

I heard Sarge in the kitchen say in a hushed tone, “YES, you the dog….”.  I could envisage him pumping his paw and prancing around. He was winning Betty’s affections.

Big’un continued, “Man, she talks like an intelligent kid. I am not playing with you and I am NOT crazy. Tell me the truth, are you and Tiny playing a game here?”

I wanted to smile because I knew exactly what Big’un was going through but I dared not do that, mainly because I knew what he could easily do to my body. I shook my head emphatically. “No, no, no. Not at all, Big’un.  What you are discovering is that you’re now a new member of the ‘Beagle Secret Society’.” I told him emphatically.

“What are you talking about?” he cried.

“You met Sarge? Sarge and I have had many conversations about Betty. He really has taken a liking to her, you know. Matter of fact, he told me about y’all giving him a big bone Monday night, which I assumed to be true.” Big’un nodded in agreement and shock. “Well, Sarge shared that bone with Betty and it really impressed her a lot.”

“Sarge says to tell you thanks, by the way.” I talked plainly but directly, looking straight at Big’un as I nodded my head, assuring him that I was telling the truth. I went into the kitchen to grab us each a cold drink.

On my return, Big’un had a look of total astonishment on his face. He was at a loss for words. Perhaps he was thinking that I was crazy. He had a small incredulous smile on his face as if he was waiting for Tiny to burst in with a camera. I don’t think he was actually believing me. He took the cold drink and held it tight.

“So, you are telling me that Sarge talks to you. Like me and you are talking right now?” he says, trying to reason things out.

“Yeah.  Quite often, too. I am not crazy, Big’un and I know that you are not either. You can relax.” I added. “Matter of fact, I reacted the same way you are now the first time Sarge said something to me. Except, I didn’t have anybody to talk to. I had to adjust and learn to accept it. For days and days, I thought I was going stone crazy.

Tell you what… hold on, you got a minute? I believe I have someone who can better explain things. You got a minute?” I had an idea. If it paid off, we would all leave here happy. If not, bad things could happen.

“Sure, sure. I am all ears.” Big’un sighed, took a big swallow of his cold drink and then shook his head up and down, still a bit exasperated and most definitely in a state of real confusion.

I called for Sarge and he appeared as if outta nowhere. The kitchen was not that far so his sudden appearance was a bit startling to Big’un. Sarge had heard everything that had been said and was sporting his ‘wisdom’ face. He jumped up on the couch right beside Big’un and adjusted himself for a moment. He had to find his full blown ‘Bassett Hound’ persona…or should I say, dogsona. Remember, it was the wise and caring attitude accompanied with furrowed eyebrows and legs bent in at the knees. Finally, when in character, he slowly placed his paw on Big’un’s arm. Then, he gradually, he raised his gaze so that he was looking directly into Big’un’s eyes, hoping to instill trust.

Big’un looked down at Sarge. They sat there for a moment staring at one another. I tell you it was so electrifyingly tense in that room for a few seconds. If Sarge said, “BooAHHHH” like he did with me, we were all going to die. My heart was about to jump out of my shirt.

“My dear, dear friend…Big’un.” Sarge spoke abruptly and succinctly in a very clear voice. His voice had a very soothing and calming tone and seemed to be bit deeper than I was normally accustomed to hearing. When he spoke, Big’un jumped from the couch and spilled out into the floor. After quickly regaining his feet, he dusted himself off and glared at Sarge. “Ohhhh myyyy, oh my, oh my…” was all he could say. He was bending at the waist and then standing erect…like doing sit-ups while walking.

“Big’un?” Sarge called for Big’un’s attention with a quick, sharp voice. ”Look, have a seat. Sit down…right here” he was patting the couch. “We need to talk.” Dumbfounded, Big’un sat down with a look of total fascination and disbelief at what he was experiencing. For the next three quarters of an hour, Big’un was educated and slowly brought to understand the secrets that Beagle dogs guard so closely. He was being inducted into the “Beagle Secret Society” in full measure. He was learning that Beagles can talk freely and have an amazing ability to express

themselves. In Sarge’s case, they talk and talk and talk.  Slowly, Big’un’s blood pressure eased back down to normal and he was breathing easily. He calmed down and was accepting what was being said.

Now, I will say this for Sarge. He has a calming ability in his conversation. Big’un was listening and even asked a few questions. He was accepting what Sarge had to say and occasionally looked back at me during the conversation. He couldn’t really deny what was being said with Sarge sitting there, talking to him. I eased out and brought him another cold drink from the kitchen and a few paper towels so he could wipe the sweat from his face.

Once Sarge had explained the fundamentals, we just sat there for a few minutes, letting the information sink in. Then I spoke up and added, “Look, Big’un. Neither one of us really understands this Beagle stuff too much.  You kind of just get used to it. Beagles can talk. After a while, you simply accept the facts as they are. They talk to folks they can trust and this seems to be primarily, for some reason, men folk only. Ladies don’t seem t’get it at all. Beagles bond tremendously with women, but never seem to reveal their talkative side to them. So ladies talking to Beagles is a rare thing to see. I, personally, have never seen that happen and I have been looking to see if it does for over a year now.” I assured Big’un that I was on his side. His breathing was regulated and he seemed to have gathered himself fairly well.

He eased back once more on the couch, his legs stretching out across the room. He cupped his head with both hands and looked over to me, shaking his head. “Wow. I was not expecting anything like this. My, oh my, oh my.” He rubbed his eyes. A moment  later, he stood up with an extended hand. “So, I ain’t losing my mind.” He seemed more than relieved. “Thanks, Boss. You been a big help. Sarge, you are greatly appreciated. But now, listen. This stays between the three of us, right?” he was looking at me with a serious look.

“Agreed. Who would I tell? My wife doesn’t even know about this, as far as I know.” I laughed.

Sarge added…”Who would believe me?” and grunted, trying to sound like Big’un.  We all had a laugh at that and eased towards the door. Big’un turned and said, “Thanks again. Really.” and headed home. What a huge guy this Big’un was. He had to bend his head down to get through my doorway. On his way down the hill he whistled for Betty. She came dancing up the hill to meet him. He said something to her and she seemed to respond. He shook his head in amazement. The last thing I heard was Big’un saying, “My oh my”…as together, they entered the house…

Sarge breathed a sigh of relief, taking advantage of the use of the sofa. “Boy, just his size is intimidating, ain’t it, Boss?”

“Oh, he is an exceptionally big guy, Sarge, can’t deny that. I was worried for a minute. You did a good job, though.” I said to encourage him as I reached over and scratched his ears. He smiled and laid his head down. “You really got that “Bassett Hound” thing down to an art.” I laughed. Sarge just smiled and wagged his tail.

“Now, get off the sofa before Momma slaps a knot on your head.”

We both headed back to the garage…

 

Chapter 9

Poof, I am gone

As Summer eased out the back door, Fall stepped in the front and brought an entire tableau of breathtakingly beautiful colors. The mountains were blanketed with some of the most spectacular colors we had seen in years. Gold, reds and rich burgundies coated the leaves while cool breezes blew across the porch. These things served to pull many of us out of our houses during the evenings and you could find most of our neighborhood folks out on our porches just looking in amazement at all this beauty. “Great medicine for the soul”, said the preacher this past Sunday. Indeed it is.

The end of October was approaching and it always meant getting things ready for the neighborhood Fall Festival.  We would all pitch in and have a block picnic with some folks bringing food, other folks setting up tables and others providing drinks. Seems that everybody in the hills has an ability to play some sort of instrument,  so there was always lots of mountain music playing into the wee hours of the morning. Me, I can’t play my radio without help, much less a guitar. So, I had been the coordinator of this event for the last four years. With October closing in fast, I had plenty of things to tend to. Getting everybody involved was part of my job. Everybody seemed willing with the exception of one fellow. You got it…it was “Wild” Bill Edwards.

Sarge did not like this man at all. His attitude arrived after he was caught rummaging in his trash. “Wild” Bill had caught him in the act and rather than shooting him, he was gracious and kind and unloaded a bottle of pepper spray into Sarge’s sensitive nose and eyes. Yelping  and crying all the way home, Sarge spent the better part of a day sneezing and pawing at his eyes that watered incessantly and whining from the pain.

When Sarge told me what happened, I went down to apologize for my dog getting into his trash, but “Wild” Bill was not home. I reminded Sarge that he was lucky that no rifles were fired, but with his nose burning as it was, he did not listen. He was mad. He was just trying to get something to eat. Nobody has to be that mean.

Other than this one fellow, the folks in the neighborhood were all a pleasure to be around and we all have a great time every year at our little neighborhood festival. I would fall into bed after the day came to a close, smelling like hamburgers and fries and completely worn out but totally satisfied. The kids were worn out as well and the wife would be helping all the other ladies clean dishes and straightening things up. We were excited for Big’un and Tiny coming for the first time. It would be a great way to introduce them to the neighbors.

So, I had to start getting everybody lined up. Who was gonna cook and who was gonna bring this and that. This involved several phone calls and letters had to be sent out. Then follow up had to be done. We only had  three weeks to get everything done. It may sound like plenty of time, but believe me, there is never enough time to organize these things…so we had to make haste.

I went down to The Gentle Shepherd Print Shop to get the invitations laid out. My daughter-in-law was the graphic artist there and she always helped me on this. I got all the names and we got everything printed up ready to be mailed out. Monday morning, I took the letters to the post office and got them all sent..

One evening while I was sitting on the porch sipping coffee, the phone rings. Momma hollers, “Paw, you gotta call…”. I head into the kitchen and grab the phone, totally unprepared for what was coming.

“Hello?” I answered, not expecting anyone in particular to be calling.

“You gonna be home for a while, mister?” asked a rusty gravelly voice on the other end.

“Who wants to know?” I responded. I was a bit surprised. This did not sound pleasant at all.

“My name is Bill Edwards. I live down the street here. I wanna come talk about the message you done left on my phone. I don’t know who you think you are, mister, but ain’t nobody got no right to speak to me like that.  I’ll be up to your place in about five minutes.  Don’t you go running off now, you hear?” The phone slammed down.  He hung up before I could say a word.

Now, I did not call “Wild” Bill on the phone and certainly did not leave him a message or anything of the sort. Here he would soon to be coming up to see me. I did not get the slightest impression that he was bringing tidings of comfort and joy. I had no idea what was going on but I knew trouble was soon to be knocking at my front door.  I recognized the paw prints of the guilty party…all over the phone.

Sarge is right by my side so I told him what was going on. He stood up and his ears leaned back in anger. He did not like “Wild” Bill at all.

“You can take him, Boss. He ain’t that big of a fellow. ” Sarge spits out.

“What  are you talking about,  Sarge? I am not about to get into a fight with any of my neighbors and I sure do not want to mess with “Wild” Bill Edwards. Sarge, he is big trouble. He said I left a message on his phone. He is mistaken and hopefully, we’ll get it all cleared up when he gets here.” I was a more than nervous. Actually, I was afraid and thought about calling Big’un for backup protection. “Wild” Bill would not know what to say if Big’un opened the door when he knocked. “Nah…” I said, shaking my head.  “That would not clean the mess up” I said to myself. I wanted to find out what was going on. I was scared.

“Boss, you can whop that man. Don’t be afraid of him. Stand up to him.” Sarge was pushing this thing a bit too hard. Something was up…

“Sarge,  what have you done, buddy? Did you call and leave him a message?” I was suspicious but had to ask myself how Sarge could have left a message on his phone. Can he use a telephone now?

Sarge’s head bent down and he refused to look at me. That reaction confirmed my suspicions. Oh, great, Sarge has over stepped his limits again, only this time it appears that he was gonna get me in a real mess. “Where’s Momma and the kids? I asked. I sure don’t want any of them involved in this.”.

“They went to Wal-Mart. Should be back in an hour of so.” Sarge said.

“Sarge, when we get this taken care of, if I am still alive, you and me need to have a long talk, understand? For a dog, Sarge, for a dog you are really overstepping your limits. You are a dog, Sarge, not a human being. You do not have equal say with what goes on around here. You belong to me and whatever you do reflects heavily on me.” I was mad, scared an letting off steam. “I don’t think you realize these things, Sarge.” Sarge was hurt and my words were like a whip. I was speaking out of anger, afraid that I was about to get into an altercation right on my front porch because my dog is out doing things he had no right to do.

My remarks came fast and furious. It was a culmination of several things over the past few months. Frida, Betty, and now this. “Come on, Sarge. Grow up, dog. You just have to grow up.” I said it. The words were hard, perhaps too hard. I stopped and was about to apologize when the doorbell rang.  I had to cool down before I could answer it. It rang again and was followed by a knock. Sarge stormed out in a way I had never seen him act before. He was hurt and I knew it.

I had no time to address Sarge’s reaction to my outburst. It hit him hard.

For the past year he had heard several things that stirred him up and upset him. Things he did not understand, such as humans owning dogs. He was no slave and that is what ownership implied. He was more than just a dog. Why, he was a Beagle…special breeding. He was not common. He was not overly sensitive and emotional. The “Bassett Hound” remark made him feel degraded. A Bassett Hound, why they are nothing more than a bunch of Beagle wannabes. He even recalled my saying that he was a mutt. How insulting, utterly demeaning and just a real low blow. It was all just too much. Now, this. Have a serious talk? I am not human…how can I have a serious talk then? Remember, I am just a dog. I have to go grow up.” Sarge was truly upset. Boss was going to do nothing about “Wild” Bill, so that entire set up was a waste of time…

Sarge was fuming mad. “Enough…I have had enough.” Sarge muttered. He had made his mind up. For over a year he had wrestled with these questions and had no answers. ‘Aren’t I more than just a ‘dog’? Does the fact that I am a Beagle, a special breed, mean something? Don’t I deserve more consideration?” He was talking himself into a truly angry disposition. Now, he had had it with feeling constantly condemned, corrected and belittled. “Me…” Sarge thought. “I am gone! It’s time to go…” Sarge had arrived at a definite decision. All of this was discontent was totally unknown to me. Sarge had determined to leave. He was gone. With a resolution made, he was determined to leave. However, before this took place, he wanted to see how the “Wild Bill” situation unfolded.

While Sarge was paced the kitchen, I simply had no time to deal with unfolding two dramas at once. I was having to brace myself for whatever “Wild” Bill was going to do. Slowly, I opened the door and found this man staring straight into my eyes. A cold chill crawled slowly down my spine. I got goose bumps.

“You must be Bill Edwards. Would you care to come in?” I said, hoping my show of kindness would calm the fellow down some. He stepped into my house and Sarge was standing right beside me. The hair on Sarge’s neck was standing tall. Who knows, if a fight does develop, Sarge may be a help. “Can I get you something to drink, Bill? A cold drink?” I offered.

Billy agreed to a cold drink.  I pointed him to the sofa in the living room. He went in and took a seat while I got him a cold drink from the kitchen. Sarge kept vigil from the entrance to the living room,  leaving some running room, I suppose. He wasn’t about to get pepper sprayed again. Bill showed no signs of recognizing Sarge at all, but he did seem to be anxious.

On my return, I sat on the edge of my recliner and let things settle for a minute. He sounded upset on the phone, so much so that I thought I was in for a fight.  I never would have expected what happened next.

“Wild” Bill sat in front of me with his knee bouncing up and down nervously, dressed in dirty blue jeans and a faded blue Kentucky t-shirt. He was holding a greasy baseball cap in his right hand. His hair was unkempt and he had a three day beard, some sort of scar over one eye and a thick neck. His arms were covered with tattoos of various colors. He was a wiry sort of fellow that looked like he had lived a rough and tumble life. He was not the type of fellow I would pick out and say, “Hey, you want a piece of me?” for fear that he might just come and get some of me. I sat there not knowing what was coming next.

He cleared his throat and began speaking with a palpable tension in his voice. “Mister, I was upset on the phone. That voice message on my phone hurt me a lot and to be honest, I was gonna come here and whop you a good one. But, walking up the hill, I realized I cannot act out like that no more. My fighting days is over.” His head was hanging low and he was not looking me in the eyes. He actually looked ashamed.

“Oh?” I acted surprised, as if I was missing out on getting whooped. Somehow I manage to say some stupid things at just the right moments. “Well, Bill, I think there was a misunderstanding anyway. I never made a phone call to your house. Don’t even know your number. I don’t know how anything like that could have happened and I do want to apologize for anything that may have been out of line.”

“Well, hearing you talk, I can tell that your voice ain’t the voice I heard on my phone, that’s for sure. Still though, it was your number that showed up when I checked to see who called. That number come from this house.” Bill pointed these things out and I knew then that Sarge somehow had managed this one. He sins – I pay.

“But listen, Mr., it don’t really matter” he was waving his hand in front of him. “I can’t live and act like I been living and acting all my life.  I been in trouble since I was ten years old. Fighting and drinking and things. Ever since I was a kid. My Paw sits in Little Sandy Correctional Facility today along with my two brothers. They always been in trouble as long as I can remember. So was I.  I ain’t gonna be like them no more. That way if living is over for me.

You see, a few months back I married my girlfriend, Lucille, and she is a good woman. I love her. She ain’t never been in jail, goes to church and is studying to be a nurse. She’s top shelf, in my book. I still don’t see what she sees in me. Anyway, I knew that I was gonna have to change if I was going to keep her, so I decide to go to church with her. Guess I thought that would impress her or something.

After a week or two of that, I thought it was all a waste of time. Shoot,  I seen folks in that church that done bought me drinks down at The Hide Away Bar over in Bath County, folks that been in bar fights and stuff. Only reason they ain’t been in jail is because they just ain’t been caught. Ha! They look down on me? I thought it was a big joke and a real waste of my time. Bunch of hypocrites. I was never gonna change if I had to be like one of these guys.

But after hearing what the preacher had to say, I thought different. I knew right then what I had to do. He said Jesus Christ loved me and died for my sins. If I was willing to let go of my sinful way of living and turn to Jesus Christ for help, He’d change my life. I ain’t never heard nothing like that in my life, Mr..  I went and talked with that preacher for over an hour after church was over and decided then to give my heart to Jesus.  Mister, I asked Him to help me to be the man that I’m supposed to be. I done so many bad things, Mr.  I been such a bad man Mister,  I was afraid that I weren’t gonna’ be able to change. Here God was offering me a new start. I couldn’t turn it down.

To make it short, Mister, I’m a changed man.  I come here and want say that I apologize for being the way I was with you on the phone.” He looked down at the floor and squeezed his hat. This was something very hard for Bill to discuss. He was making a confession that few men would be willing to make. He was speaking from his heart…and it was a humbled heart.

I raised my hands and shook my head as if to say everything is okay.

“ Listen to me now.” Bill continued, ‘I’m sorry and really want to ask you to forgive me. Can you do that?”

This all caught me off guard. The drama I was expecting was a bit more animated and action packed than what I was experiencing. I was captivated by the man’s story and his obvious humility. He was a broken man…I wanted to hear more. He was for real and I was convinced that he meant every word of what he was saying. He had tears in his eyes. His hat was wadded up in his hand and he was asking me to forgive him, hoping for all he was worth that I would.

As I thought about things, it was not long before I had tears misting up in my eyes. Not wanting to appear weak, not around “Wild” Bill anyway, I suddenly began to sneeze. I asked to be excused for a second and ran and got me a paper towel, wiped my eyes real quick and acted like I was blowing my nose.

“Bill, your story is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Sure, I forgive you. This being the first time I ever laid eyes on you, I don’t believe I have ever held anything personal against you.  Also, I want to assure you that the phone call had to be a mean and thoughtless joke. Probably some misguided kid over stepping their boundaries a bit..” I looked down at Sarge.

“Well, Mister, listen, if y’all don’t want me to come to the Festival, I understand, but I’d sure like to come. Been here in this neighborhood for nearly four years and don’t know nobody. I would like to do what I can to help.” Bill said, more asking then anything.

“Bill, if you are not there, I am coming to find you, buddy. You know how to grill hamburgers?” I asked.

“Why, I believe I do…” he laughed. He actually had a good smile.

“Good, your skills are needed and I look forward to seeing you there!” I laughed as well.

Sarge was steamed…he really disliked Wild Bill and could not forget the day he was given a face full of pepper spray. When he heard me give a green light to “Wild” Bill to attend the Festival, he rolled his eyes, threw his head back and headed towards the garage. I heard him mumbling as he walked out, “I’m about fed up with all this looking down on me. I ain’t never stepped over any boundaries. You could have whopped him, Boss. Never mind me but I am more than just a dog and I am not owned by anybody. I’m outta here. Poof, I am gone. See you later.”

Bill and I shook hands and I assured him that I’d help him in any way I could in his effort to change his ways. He thanked me and headed back down the hill. I shook my head in amazement. ‘God can change the spots on a leopard,’ I thought. I sat there for a moment and thanked the Lord for two things…he saved me from a whooping and he saved “Wild” Bill for eternity.

I jumped up in a hurry when I thought about Sarge. I went out to the garage, looking for him but not able to find him anywhere. Finally, the Postman arrives. The mailman honked and rolled his window down to put my mail in the box. I had walked out to meet her. He saw me and waved.

“Hey, saw Sarge down at Hill and Dale. Guess he’s got another girl friend, you reckon?” she was smiling. I shrugged my shoulders and raised my hands.

“Who knows? Dogs do what dogs do, I reckon. He will come back when he gets hungry, I’m sure of that.” I said smiling as I took my mail. “You got any more songs?” We both had a laugh and I headed back to the house. I was trying to mask my irritation with Sarge. He was acting like an arrogant, spoiled kid, thinking that he knew more than he actually did. I had met some twenty year old kids like this in my line of work. Cocky and smart but knowing little about respect and how life really worked. Sarge was unwilling to listen and learn and was showing that he was grossly immature. It was time for Sarge to grow up.

I knew I had to have a talk with Sarge…but actually, thanks to him, I got me a new friend and neighbor. Still, I couldn’t let him wonder so far from home, so I got in my truck and headed down to Hill and Dale Road to find him.  After an hour of looking, I could not find him anywhere. I knew he would be back…and then we would have to have a real serious talk.

Afternoon arrived and the sun began easing down behind the hills. No sign of Sarge. Something was up. I could feel it. With the full moon in the sky,   I waited up in the garage, tinkering with things here and there, but mainly was waiting for Sarge to show up. Momma popped her head out the door and asked if something was bothering me. I assured her that I had a lot of things on my mind with the Festival and work. She had no idea about “Wild” Bills visit earlier. She gave me a hug and went in to finish dinner.

Later, while we were all around the dinner table, the kids were pointing out that Sarge was nowhere to be found. Lindsay said she called and called for Sarge but he never came. She had grown real attached to that dog and was troubled by his absence after dark. I assured her that he would be back and told her not to worry. She went out to the garage and poured him his nightly bowl of Kibble n’Bits and got ready for bed. Before turning in for the night, she came up and asked if she needed to be praying a special prayer for Sarge. I encouraged her to do just that. She closed her door and I went out the front porch and sat in my wooden rocker with a cup of coffee.

Naturally, my mind was drifting back to that mornings conversation with Sarge. I had been a bit harsh on the fellow and I was concerned that that he had left in such a way. I missed him. He and I normally would sit on the porch together in the evenings. Still, we had to get some things worked out. Eventually, fatigue caught up with me and the rhythm of the rocking chair was causing me to nod off. It was time for bed and still no Sarge.  He never missed both lunch and dinner…or our nightly times on the porch. “Lord,’ I prayed, ‘keep my buddy safe” and I called it a night.

 

 

 

 

 

Part Two

The “Trek”

 

 

Chapter 10

Gotta’ Be Me

Sarge, in the heat of the moment, determined to set out on his own. His mind was replaying everything over and over like an old scratched record. “Who does she belong to?” ain’t that what Boss asked that guy in the park? “Who does she belong to?”  I don’t belong to anybody…I am my own dog. You don’t own dogs like you own a play toy. I am no slave. I am ‘emotional and sensitive’. Boss…he really knows how to push the right buttons, doesn’t he” he said to himself as he walked along. ‘Gonna have a serious talk’ that’s what he thinks. He should have whopped  ‘Wild’ Bill and spanked him real good. That fellow about blinded me. What he did to me was uncalled for. Boss think’s I’m a dog…treats me like a dog or a misguided kid…well, this is one time he can really say, “Dog gone” and it will have some meaning. I’m gonna bless him with my absence.

These were Sarge’s thoughts as he patted his way down U.S.Highway 60 and turned right on 519 towards West Liberty. He really had no idea where he was heading, he was just going far, far away.  “I gotta be me, not some pet dog trapped in a garage by somebody who thinks they own me.” Sarge was letting his thoughts get the best of him. He was extremely frustrated.

As he walked along Highway 519, big trucks and cars passed by without taking much notice of a thirty five pound Beagle. Several times, Sarge was almost clipped by a truck making a turn or a car trying to pass a slower car. Some rednecks even threw empty bottles at him and thought it was funny. He had not been gone twenty four hours and was learning mighty quick to keep down off the road and walk either in the ditch or in the tall grass along side the road. This made traveling somewhat slower and a great deal more difficult, but who was in a hurry?

His thoughts tended to get a bit softer as sun began to go down. He started feeling some hunger pangs and thought about Lindsay combing his hair and pouring him a bowl of Kibble n’ Bits. He wondered what the kids were doing. “Shoot, I could be sitting on the porch with Boss right now.” He hesitated for a moment and thought about turning around and heading back home. “Nope, I have gone too far now to turn back.” The night air was getting cold and he had no idea as to where he was going to sleep. So, he kept on walking. As night fell, he found it was a lonely and scary road he was traveling.

Darkness fell hard and quick. He had nowhere to sleep. He found a grove of trees off the road a ways and curled up in the soft moss at the foot of this big Elm tree, hoping for safety as he tried to catch some sleep. It turned out that sleeping was not going to happen. The quieter things became, the noisier they became. The crickets must have turned on their microphones and cranked up the volume. Frogs croaked and dogs barked. Lizards,cats and all sorts of animals started roaming around once things got settled and the darkness fell. “Good grief, when did these things sleep?” Sarge thought.

While he was curled up with his nose tucked into his stomach, he heard something break a twig right beside him.

“Dadgumit” he heard someone say in a whisper.

Sarge jumped with a yelp and growl. “Wwwwho are you!” he whispered. He could not see that well, but by the silhouette he could see it was something like a strange looking cat. His nose could not discern exactly what it was. Whatever it was ran quickly into the underbrush. Sarge was nervous. His tail was extended and the hair on his back was standing tall.

‘Who are you?” a trembling voice whispered.

“My name is Sarge.” He stammered, scarred to death.

“You promise no fighting?” the voice said.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Sarge was scared and shaking. He had no idea what he was confronted with, or who this could be.

“Names Riley. Riley Raccoon, Sarge. Good to meet you.” his head poked out of the pike of brush.

Sarge stood transfixed. He had never seen a raccoon before and to him. this critter looked more like a cat than anything else.

“What brings a dog like you to a place like this?” Riley asked while looking around, checking for friends that might be with Sarge.

“I was trying to get some sleep. Been walking all day. My paws were kind of hurting and I was just wanting to rest.” He really did not know what to think of Mr. Riley Raccoon.  This had the raccoon puzzled.

“Where you coming from, Sarge? Never seen you round here and I know these parts real good.” Riley was being very careful as well. He knew right away that Sarge was a Beagle and that Beagles were bred to hunt small animals, like rabbits, cats and Riley Raccoons.  So, he is asking lots of questions trying to determine if he should run or not.

“You know where Morehead is?”  he kind of laughed with a real innocent look and stared at Riley.

“Never heard of the place.” Riley saw that Sarge was not out to do any harm but he never took his eyes off of him. His instinct told him to stay away from dog…all dogs.  However, he could see that Sarge was not out to cause any trouble. He kept the conversation going, trying to figure out what he needed to do. Riley had a family to consider and is the wife found out he had been having friendly discussions with a dog, things would not go good at home. “Sarge, meet the

“Well, you kind of scared me too, Riley. I have never seen the likes of you before. What kind of dog or cat are you? I’m Beagle.” Sarge was glad to talk with somebody that was friendly.

“Well, first, I ain’t no dog, dude. I am what is called a Raccoon. Got family all over these parts, and by the way, you a long way from Morehead. Dude, how long you been walking?” Riley asked.

“Left this morning, about thirty minutes before the mail run. Don’t know how long that makes it.” Sarge was trying recollect. “I just know that my paws ache pretty bad and I am hungry and tired.” Sarge was a green horn, in Riley’s estimation. An innocent homebody. He was  new to the area, just leaving the house. No experience and as innocent as he could be. A good dog, actually.

“Well, dude, look, we gotta head to the house, okay? You welcome to come and find you a place in the barn. Sure beats sleeping out in the cold plus it is a whole lot quieter and it’ll keep you outta the night air. You can probably even find you some hay that’ll help keep you warm.” Riley was a nice guy.

Bandy was looking at Riley as if he had lost his Rocky Raccoon mind. She whispered, “Riley, this is a dog…a Beagle dog. Have you done lost all sense and reason? Inviting him to the barn? Honey, we got a kit to look out for. You done lost your mind?” She was incensed. Riley looked at her and the look seemed to settle the issue at once. Bandy said, “Okay, I trust you, Riley. Kids, you all stay close to me tonight. You hear me? She sternly addressed the kids. “Yes, Momma.” They both said in unison.  Sarge liked the idea of sleeping in the barn and they all headed off down the hardly visible path.

Once at the barn, Bandy and the kittens slid up under a little loose board while Riley showed Sarge the opening in the wall that would let him get inside the barn. They said their good nights and parted ways. You could hear Bandy fussing with Riley as they walked away.

Sarge entered the barn with his eyes wide open. Never had he even seen a barn, much less been in one. He was in a new world where everything was new. This place was cavernous and dark. With fear being his motivation, he would take a step then stop. His ears were full mount and pulled back. His eyes searched the darkness.  One step, then another step.  Eventually, he found a small open space and curled up for the night. Things got quiet and he dozed off…just for a moment. Something creaked and one eye opened. He raised his head and looked around. He thought, “I…just can’t be sure…so, I will keep my eyes…opened…for a while. He eased his head back down and before long he was out.  A good rest goes a long, long way. Sarge slept for hours.

He was scared awake when the barn doors at the other end slammed open and several two-leggers were walking round, talking and laughing. Sunlight was spilling in from between the wall boards. Dust was in the air making it all look kind of hazy. Sarge caught a strong sniff of coffee and was instantly reminded of Boss on the porch. However, there was no time to daydream. It was time to go.

Sarge carefully stood up and stretched his legs. He had a good sleep and was feeling rested. Hearing these two-leggers reminded him to be real still and quiet. The noise was at the other end of the building, but seemed to be slowly heading his way. He stuck his nose through the opening he entered and popped outside as fast as he could. He took cover in the high grass of the field behind the barn. He watched for any movement and kept his nose high to catch and new odors. Some Kibble N’ Bits would be nice about now.

He heard some snickering and looked around. He spotted Riley watching him and the raccoon seemed to be rather amused.

“Why are you laughing?” Sarge was asking.

“Dude, you ain’t never been outta the house, have you?” Riley stated with a laugh.

“Not really. I mean, not living outside like you guys do. Guess it really shows, doesn’t it?” Sarge was a bit embarrassed.

“Well, you get used to this, cause, if you gonna keep looking for who knows what, this is gonna be the normal way of life.” Riley was giving some pointers and Sarge was taking notes. ”This kind of living ain’t easy, dude. It can really get rough sometimes. Big thing is finding food to eat and water to drink. Lots of animals are all looking for the same things, food and water. Most of them ain’t very friendly, either. You ready for that?” Riley was giving some good pointers, mentioning things Sarge had never considered.

“I don’t know. I never thought about all of that stuff, Riley.” Sarge responded.

“Until you find your place, it’s gonna be like this every night and every day, dude. You gonna have to toughen up. You understand me, dude?” Riley nodded.  Bandy called and Riley said, “Hey, got to go. You be careful, dude. Come back by if you get a chance. I am here every night. Hey, I like you, too. I think it would be good to see you again, maybe someday soon. What do you think? Anyway, I gotta’ get.” With this, Riley stood up on his back feet and made a fist sign and waved it towards Sarge. “Be good, dude.” Riley scooted away and was out of sight in just a few seconds, blending into the grass and undergrowth.

Sarge got to thinking if he had made the right decision to leave. There was a moment of doubt but then he turned to find the road once more. With an ache in his heart, even though he was missing Boss and the kids in a real way, he felt he had to keep moving along. Morning was here and he had a long way to go. Well, he actually had no idea how long the way was, he just knew he had to go.

Feeling a bit lonely, he started out for the day.

 

Chapter 11

Old Joe and the Preacher

 

Sarge manages to avoid traffic and trots along until he comes to a small little community called ‘Zag’. The place was isolated and rural and had little to no traffic. Ponds were plentiful and the place was quiet and tranquil. Sarge found a pleasant pasture and scooted under the fence looking to rest his weary bones. He encountered a small run-off pond that was brimming with cool water and drank until he thought his stomach about to burst. He then eased over to a leafy maple tree that was right beside the watering hole, curled up and fell into a deep sleep.

“You gonna sleep forever, boy?” a rusty old voice startled Sarge causing him to jump immediately to his feet.

“No sir. I am ready….” he said quickly but was surprised when he saw the face of an old, worn out beagle staring directly at him.

“Ready…ready fer what?” the old one asked.

Sarge hesitated. He had no idea as to what he was supposed to say.

“You on your trek…ain’t you, pup?” the gruff old dog laughed as he knowingly shook his head.

“My trek?” Sarge answered back. He had no idea about what the he was being asked.

“He,he,he. You out looking fer yourself, ain’t you. Trying to find out who you are. You took off saying, “I gotta be who I am.”  This is your trek, dog. Your journey to discovery.” The old dog gave a deep belly laugh. He seemed to be admiring the youth and spirit he saw in Sarge.

“How did you know all that?” Sarge was fully aware that this old feller had nailed him… read him like a book.

“Son, I am a Beagle. Been one now for jest over sixteen years. I reckon I got a little s’perience. I ‘magine I done met more dogs in search of themselves then you can imagine. They all hungry and tired. Leave home without no food and without no idea as to where they wanting to go. Just frustrated and swearing that they gonna ‘find’ themselves.” Look at me. I am a Beagle. We the same breed, pup. Seems to me that w beagles all go through this same thing at one time or another. Shoot…I reckon, every dog goes through this at some point.”

“Really?” Sarge was listening. This fellow had his full attention.

“Why, sure enough, boy. I done it myself ‘bout fifteen years back. Stayed gone nearly three months. But I was determined to find out what I was looking for before I come back.

“Did you ever find it?” Sarge asked like a kid waiting to hear the end of the story.

“What?” the old dog asked.

“What you were looking for?” Sarge came back with excitement. He was intently listening and was feeling as if this dog had something to tell him.

“Well, yes, I did. I went through some s’periences and had to learn a few things that were hard for me to accept. Once I understood things, I knew had found what I was looking for.  I knew it.” The old canine looked tired but peaceful. He just sat there for a moment, reminiscing.

“Well?” Sarge wanted to know the results.

“Well, what?” the old feller said.

“What did you do then? I mean, once you found what you were looking for?” Sarge was sitting down now, ready for whatever this aged dog had to say.

“I come home.” He finally said.

Sarge just shut his mouth and sat there.

“Changed my life completely. Made all the difference in the world. Say, my name is Old Joe, by the way. You look hungry. Come on.” Old Joe started off heading out of the pasture. Sarge followed like an obedient pup. Food always sounded good to him.

 

Chapter 12

Meeting Preacher

 

For some unknown reason, Sarge felt like he was following the wisest dog he had ever met. There was an instant connection and warmth of friendship that seemed to attract him to this old worn-out hound named Old Joe. He walked by his side, listening to every word and hoping that he could hear more of his stories. Also, he was thankful that he was able to get his belly filled and was not about to leave until this was done.

To his ear, this Beagle sounded like an old fashion Appalachian mountain preacher, standing under the brush arbor, letting the word spread to all who could hear. This Beagle was the wisest Beagle he had ever met. He knew exactly what was going on in his heart, not just his life. How did he know this? Because he had been there. He had the eyes that showed years of s’perience (speer-ee-unce) and those eyes were kind and welcoming.

“Mr. Joe, you mind if I ask you something?” Sarge was inquiring.

“Naw, go on ahead. Ask away.” Old Joe responded as they moved along.

“If I was to stay here for a while, could you teach me about the things we been talking about?” Sarge was very serious and Old Joe could see that he was.

“Nope. Won’t even consider it. I kin give you some advice, but the rest is something only s’perience can give you. Nothin’ll teach you better than that. S’perience.” Old Joe was fast in his response and he was dispensing some true fatherly advice. He, too, noticed affection for this little fellow was strangely present.

Sarge was surprised at Old Joe’s answer and had a lot of questions to ask. He knew little about experience and did not understand how that would be of any help. This showed that he was still very young and his emotions pushed him along. The reason he could not understand was the very reason he needed to learn his lessons through “s’perience”. They continued walking and finally came to a dusty, quiet road that they had to cross. On the other side stood a small white frame house that had a large bard standing behind it and open fields on both sides. This was Old Joe’s home.

“Come on, pup. Say…I ain’t got your name yet. What does your owner call you?” Old Joe casually asked.

“Sarge” was all he said in response. The fact that Old Joe referred to him as being “owned” deeply troubled him. This was something he was trying to break out of. He was not “owned”. The thought came and went and was not something that he was going to discuss at that time.

“Well Sarge. This is where I live. Preacher, my owner, been here for nearly forty eight years. I been here for fifteen. Great man. You gonna love him. Let’s get up there.” He said with his eye on the barn. From where he was, he could see Preacher standing outside the barn. He took off in a trot and Sarge kept pace with him.

“Old Joe! How you doing this morning?” Preacher smiled as he reached down to scratch Old Joe’s ears. Joe leaned in on his leg and moaned with the scratching. It felt so good…

“Who you got with you, buddy? Preacher asked.

“This is Sarge. He’s on his ‘trek’.” Old Joe said as he introduced Sarge.

“Oh, on his ‘trek’. Well, he had got to be hungry then. You hungry, Sarge?” Preacher looked at Sarge and acted as if he needed a response.

Sarge looked at Old Joe and was given a favorable nod. “I am as hungry  as I have ever been.” Sarge said as he started dancing as dog’s tend to do when food is discussed.

“Well, come on here. Let me get you something you may like. How about some Kibbles and Bits?” Preacher offered.

“Yessir. Best food a dog can eat!” Sarge was ready.

They stepped into the barn and Preacher poured a generous amount of kibble into a large bowl and set it aside for Sarge. Then, taking another bowl, prepared the same for Old Joe. There was also a huge tub of water sitting under the water spigot breaming with cool, clean water. A meal for royalty, Sarge thought. He

began to eat with abandon, paying no attention to anything other than the food in his bowl. Old Joe looked at Preacher and said, “He ain’t never been outta the house, Preacher. First time gone and he seems to wanna learn. I know this for sure…somebody gotta teach’im table manners, too” Preacher and Old Joe had a good laugh. Sarge just smiled and kept eating.

After having devoured his food, Sarge and Old Joe walked over the shade of a large willow tree. As they walked, Old Joe surprised Sarge by asking how he got shot. Sarge was amazed that he knew about that.

“How did you know about that?” Sarge had to ask.

“Well, I reckon I kin see a scar and know that it ain’t just a scratch, boy. It’s kind’a hard to hide.” Old Joe said.

“Oh, yeah. I guess you are right.” Sarge understood then. He began to explain.

“I got shot trying to protect my girlfriend. Nearly died.” Sarge said quickly. Old Joe looked and shook his head.

“Bet she kept running, didn’t she. You was left lying there shot and she was gone.” Sarge was astonished that Old Joe would know such things

“I hope you learned your lesson, pup. Now, that gives you ‘s’perience’ and should have taught you something.

“Yeah? Old Joe, I cannot for the life of me think of what I did wrong.” Sarge said honestly.

“Well, then you can’t see the lesson you should’a learned, can you?” Old Joe said plainly. “I tell you what. Young pup’s are hard to teach…but once they learn something, they really learn it.” Old Joe stopped and scratched his ear. Sitting down, he looked at Sarge and began.

“Let’s look at what happened for a second. What were you doing when you got shot?” Old Joe asked and waited for a response.

“Well, me and Frida; that was my girlfriend, were dumping over his trash cans looking for food.” Sarge said without hesitation. “We were just trying to find something to eat.”

“How do you think that two-legger felt bout that?” Old Joe asked.

“I don’t know. I guess I wasn’t thinking about that. We were just looking for something to eat.” Sarge said in defense of what he was saying.

“Bet you did it more than once, too.” Old Joe said, more than asked.

“Well, yeah. It was good place for food.” Sarge said.

“So, you turned over this two-leggers trash cans and scattered stuff all over his yard. Made a mess. Got your food and then took off, leaving the mess.” Old Joe was painting a perfect picture of what happened. It was like he was there when it happened.

“Yeah. I suppose so.” Sarge agreed.

“So, when you two was done, this fellow gets to go out and clean up this mess you two made.” Old Joe was leading Sarge along so that he would understand what he was about to say.

“I reckon.” Sarge quickly agreed.

“So, he gets fed up with two dogs making a huge mess in his yard and he was gonna put a stop to it. Nobody else was gonna stop it for him. So, he pulls out that fire stick and unloads. He was protecting his property, doing what was right. That was justice. You was getting what you deserved.” Old Joe stated as plainly as he could.

This left Sarge stunned. He never thought about getting that two-legger mad and causing him trouble. He thought he was just looking for food. This is what Boss was talking about. This is what he meant.

“You lucky to be alive, Sarge.” Old Joe was serious.

“So that is justice? Getting what you deserve?” Sarge asked.

“Sure is. Mercy’s better, though.” Old Joe added.

“Mercy?” Sarge had never heard this kind of talk before. Justice and mercy and getting what you deserve…he never even considered these things.

“Yeah, mercy. Imagine that this fellow saw what y’all was doing and instead of using that fire stick, he caught the two of you and gave the two of you a big bowl of Kibble n’ Bits?”

“We would have been surprised, that’s for sure.” Sarge was following along and learning.

“That would have been mercy, pup. Mercy. He would have showed you mercy instead of justice. When mercy is shown, it changes the wrong doer a whole lot. Touches his heart.  Mercy changes you, you see. If he would have fed you two, y’all might have become good friends and been friends for a long time. You see what I am saying, Sarge?” Old Joe was trying his best to explain things as simply as possible. He waited for a response.

“You know, I think I do, Old Joe. Me and Frida got this two-legger all upset by messing up his yard. He was just protecting his yard and I got shot. If he fed us instead of shooting at us, we could have been friends. I see that. But wasn’t he wrong for shooting us?” Sarge asked, starting to understand.

“Naw. He had a choice. Either one was right, but he chose justice.” Old Joe said. “Mercy ain’t always easy to find. You learn that boy. You get a chance to show mercy, you do it if you can. It is the better way.” Old Joe said, knowing that Sarge was understanding.

Sarge shook his head in agreement.

“Well, you think on these things, pup.” Old Joe was finishing up and was tired after a long day.

Preacher came out with a cup of coffee in his hand, sat down in his favorite rocking chair and began rocking. Old Joe looked up and Sarge knew right away that Preacher meant everything to Old Joe. Every evening they enjoyed watching the sunset over the back hills. It was their time together. Sarge eased off the porch and headed over to the barn. He got himself a long drink of water and laid down.

“You stay away from them kind of dogs. You stay close to your owner. He’ll look out for you if he really cares and from the looks of you, I get the impression that your people care for you a great deal.” Old Joe said as he wondered up.

“Listen, I got a place for you here in the barn. May get cool this evening and you’ll be warm in here.” Joe was leading, Sarge was following.

In the barn there was a small basket type bed filled with old horse blankets. Sarge crawled in and did a few circles and laid down. It was soft and warm and he was content.

“You good?” Old Joe asked like a father would ask a son.

“Real good.” Sarge said.

“I’ll see you in the morning then.” With that, Old Joe headed to the house and Sarge fell into a deep and restful sleep. For a brief moment, his heart ached to see Lindsay and Boss and the family. He replayed all the lessons learned from the day and fatigue finally caused his eyes to close shut.

He jumped quickly and high into the air when the rooster crowed. With a racing heart, he ran out the door to hear both Old Joe and Preacher laughing in the porch. They got up at the break of dawn and had been doing so for years. Sarge, they knew, was accustomed to laying around and moving at his leisure. So, they were waiting for Sarge’s reaction to the rooster and when they saw him running, laughter erupted quickly.

Sarge slowed to a walk and jumped on the porch.

“You knew that was going to happen, didn’t you?” Sarge asked sheepishly.

“Yep, guess we did. You o.k.?” Old Joe said.

“I feel better than ever. Guess I will be heading out today. You guys have been more than helpful.” Sarge said and got quiet.

“Sarge, who is your owner over in Morehead?” Preacher asked.

“Mr.Roland Hughes. I call him ‘Boss”. Sarge said.

“Roland Hughes in Morehead. Nope, don’t reckon I ever met the man.” Preacher said as he thought about it.

“He is a find man, Mr. Preacher. To be honest, I miss him. But I got things I have to do before I go back home. You know what I mean?” Sarge said.

“I do” said Old Joe. Preacher nodded in agreement.

You just remember our discussion. Son, we ain’t about to forget you. Where you headin’ to?” Old Joe inquired.

“No idea. Guess I’ll know when I get there.” Sarge said.

Old Joe asked him if he could have a second before he took off. Sarge was more than happy to give him all the time he needed. They went out by the barn and Sarge took a seat. Old Joe thought for a second and looked at Sarge, hoping that what he was about to say would be remembered.

“Sarge, I want you to know this. I am Preacher’s dog. I know that I am a Beagle. When it all is said and done, I am a dog, just like the hundreds of others that live in these hills. Now, knowing that there are other dogs round here, I know that I am Preacher’s dog. These was the big things I had to learn. I ain’t nothin’ more and I sure ain’t nothin’ less, but I am Preacher’s dog. He owns me. I ain’t a slave to him, neither. It’s all part of bein’ a dog, you see. But you know somethin’? I am proud of who I am. I am thankful for what I am. I hope this never changes and if it’s up to me, it never will. I love the two-legger and I know he loves me. You think bout that, y’hear?”

You’ll find the truth if you search for it with all your heart. When you do find it, you will know it. You hear me?”

Sarge nodded. “Yes sir, Old Joe. I hear you and I appreciate everything.”

It was time to go. It had been perhaps the single most important time in Sarge’s life. Lessons taught from s’perience. Invaluable.  Mercy instead of justice. With a final nod, Sarge swallowed hard and took off up the hill. Preacher waved and Old Joe barked.

“If and when I am back this way, I’ll stop to see you both.” he smiled as he headed up the tall green hill at the back of Preacher’s little farm house. Before long, he crossed over the barbed wire fence that marked the edge of Preacher’s farm. He was heading in the direction of Dehart, a small little town situated on Route 772. He had no idea where he was going and he was in no hurry.

“Preacher and Old Joe, lifelong friends.” he thought.

 

 Chapter 12

Caught in the Hills

His mind was swimming with all the thoughts and lessons he had learned. One and one half days of intense learning filled his head to overflowing. His paws were well rested and his belly packed full. As he was thinking about this, he slowed to almost a stop. He really had no distance to go. If he wanted to stop here, he could. This was not a contest to see how far he could get in a day.

He was setting out to find out the truth about who he was and what he was, so distance had nothing to do with it.  After meeting Old Joe and hearing what he had to say, he felt a real need to “s’perience” life. With this in mind, he gained a bit more spring in his step and was ready to go. He set out looking for ‘s’perience’ and was excited about what might happen.

Outside of a small town called Dehart, he found an old dirt road that had that soft dust making up the road bed. It was cool and soft on his paws and this made it more comfortable to walk. He enjoyed the way he was leaving paw prints as he walked along and was having a bit of fun as he walked.  With little to no traffic on the road, he waltzed right down the middle of the road, kicking up dust and chasing leaves as they would get blown by the breeze.

He walked for a few miles and never encountered the first car or truck. Coming to an intersection, he decided to turn right. He stepped onto Yocum Road which led right through a small little town called Yocum, thus the name, “Yocum Road”.  There was nothing there but a small little general store of sorts that included two old style gas pumps that had been shut down for years and a few old houses in need of paint. Two old men were settled into a couple of worn out rocking chairs, clothed in their faded and frayed overalls with dirty grey t-shirts. They were acting as sentinels, watching over the old wooden front porch. One of them spotted Sarge and threw half a baloney sandwich out for him to finish off. Sarge ran over and sniffed and had it swallowed in a flash. “Tasty,” he thought and nodded as if to say, ‘Thanks’.

Sarge ended up on McClanahan Hill Road and was heading south. Traffic was picking up as he neared the town of West Liberty.  In order to avoid the threat of traffic, he crossed over 519 and caught Hot Mix Road. He was starting to feel a bit fatigued and thought it be good to find a spot to rest his paws for a while.

Just as he was climbing up out of the roadside ditch, he heard the squeal of tires as a truck came to a quick stop. He turned and before he could see what was happening, he was grabbed by somebody he had never seen before. He managed to belch out a scared bark and escape momentarily, but this man kept on up the hill, determined to catch him. With a dirty t-shirt, greasy hands and torn dungarees, this fellow bore no resemblance to Preacher or Boss. His hair was shaved and it had been about three days since the last razor touched his face. No telling when he last bathed or brushed what seemed to be the lone tooth he had in his head. Was this “Wild” Bill seeking his revenge?

“Come on, dog. Come here. Come on now.” His voice was a high shrill kind a voice and the man was sweating quite a bit. Nope, it sure wasn’t “Wild” Bill. Sarge hesitated for just a second, trying to think and in that instant, the man managed to get a good hold of him. Sarge was caught and being held firm.

This fellow let out a shout of victory and danced all the way back to his worn out Chevy truck. “Whoowee, you a good looking feller, ain’t yah? My young’uns gonna love you. Done got me a dog!” He threw his new dog in amongst the front seat trash and shifted the rattle trap of a truck into gear. Sarge was in shock. He had no idea what he should do and no way of escape. He had never considered a two-legger catching him and practically taking him prisoner.  He tried to stay seated but the contortions of the truck made that a difficult thing to do. He flopped into the floorboard and jumped immediately back onto the seat. He was hanging on for dear life.

Turning off Hot Mix Road, they speed down a muddy, rut filled mountain path called “Mordica Branch Road”. The holler runs for about two miles and the hills rise high on each side of the washed out path the county calls a public road. Reaching the end of the holler, the truck skids to a halt and  this feller jumped out of the truck hollering and whooping and dancing while he called all of his young’uns to come out and see the ‘soo-prize’!.

“Alder, Sawyer, Kenli Isabella…y’all gets out here. Got somethin’ special jest for y’all. Come on now, get out here” Sarge is still in the truck and this wild eyed man is slapping the hood to make noise. Suddenly you could hear what sounded like a herd of cattle stomping through the house. The door, which was barely hanging on rusted hinges, slams back against the wall and three of the dirtiest kids you had ever laid eyes on came bursting out, running up to the truck.

Half dressed, with filthy pants being held up with a rope for a belt, Alder, aged ten years, was the oldest. His hair was either blond or brown; it was so dirty you couldn’t tell. Sawyer who was right behind him, held only eight years. He had on a torn t-shirt which was filthy and his pants were no better than Alder’s. Neither of the boys had shoes on their calloused bare feet. Kenli Isabella had a tattered dress on that was torn and frayed around the edges. It too, was filthy. She had on some worn flip-flops. When the three of them were grouped together the area became filled with a stench that kept the flies away. The smell was horrible.

They arrived at the truck, pushing and jumping and screaming at one another like a small uncontrolled mob. Paw has to raise his voice above the den of noise and get them quiet. Once settled down, he begins to strut around the truck like a peacock in all his glory. As he was moving over to the passenger door, he was telling them about his wonderful surprise.

“What I got here is somethin’ mighty, might special, y’all. Alder, you done told me just last week that you wished you had you one. Sawyer, you said if I got y’all one that you would take care of it real good. Kenli Isabella, you said you would love it in a special way.” Paw is strutting around with a wide grin. The kids were still and there was a long silent pause.

“You did it, Paw. You done got us a pet baboon, like that one on T.V.?” Alder cried out. Sawyer and Kenli Isabella were dancing around with joy. They were singing, “Done got us a pet baboon, we done got us a pet baboon.”

“A what? A baboon? What in the world is a baboon? Naw, what I got here is a lot better than a baboon, kids. Let me show you…” Paw slowly opens the truck door. Sarge is sitting there staring at the kids. The kids just looked and then stared back at Paw.

Being taken back by their slow response, the man looked past the door and grabbed Sarge up in his arms.  They all looked with amazement at this beautiful animal. No, it wasn’t a baboon. It was a dog! It was their very own dog. Together, the urchins bum-rushed the truck and managed to grab Sarge and haul him to the back of the house. Sarge was terrified. Paw is so tickled he just laughed and danced. Scratching his head, he asked himself what a baboon was. Catching Sarge was like winning the lottery, what would he or his kids need with a baboon?

“We gotta dog. Kenli Isabella, Paw done got us a real live dog!” Alder screamed. Each one of the kids were pulling and tugging some parts of Sarge’s body. His ear, his tail, a leg, his nose. He was all being pulled in three different directions. Sarge thought this was the end.

“Hold on, Hold on, y’all. You all gonna have time in a minute. First, we gotta tie the little feller up so he don’t run off like the last three we done had. Abel, run and get me a run of rope. Kenli Isabella, see what we got in the house to feed him.  Sawyer, get some hay or something for him to sleep on. We gotta take care of him all nice and proper like.” Paw was giving directions. The kid’s took off in different directions.

Alder came running with a small round of rope that was about eight feet long. Kenli Isabella came out of the house with some cold corn bread she pulled out of the garbage. Sawyer brought over a tiny handful of straw from the barn and threw it down in the mud by the porch. One everything was done, Paw got to work tying the rope to the porch post and then slid one end around Sarge’s neck. The rope ended up being bout four feet long once it was around the post and around Sarge’s neck. Other than a long, nylon leash and a leather collar, nothing had ever been around Sarge’s neck. Never had he been treated in such a way. He was mortified.

“ Oh, boy, here’s a ‘s’perience’” he thought. He was tied up and unable to move about. He had four two-leggers watching over him at almost all times. Three of them were literal terrorist. Paw just stood back and admired his new dog.

“Kenli Isabella, run in and get a pan of water. He’s looking kind of thirsty. Hurry up now.” Kenli Isabella ran into the house and was unable to find a clean pan. Instead, she finds an old paint bucket and fills it with some water from the hose pipe. She carefully totes it back to Paw and sets the bucket down and stands there. She notices that Sarge has not eaten any of the stale corn bread. It had bugs in it and had turned green. Sarge takes a look at the water bucket and notices that the water was covered with foam of some sort. He refused to drink any of this. Things did not look good at that moment.

The kids, though, were having a blast. They pulled and pushed, pinched and poked and aggravated Sarge practically all the during the daylight hours. Paw was so proud of his find. Sarge was terrified.

Finally, the kids got tired of playing with the new dog and wondered back in the house.

“He don’t do nothing, Paw. He don’t bark or play or nothing.” Sawyer whined. “He just sits there with his tongue hanging out like a dumb old dog. He ain’t no fun at all.”

“He ain’t eating nothing neither. He ain’t touched his water or that corn bread I give him.”Kenli Isabella chimed in,

“Y’all ain’t got a grateful bone in your bodies. I go out and get y’all a pretty dog and you try to kill it with paint water and stale bread. Looks like I will have to get down to the store this weekend if the check comes in and buy some Old Yeller dog food.” Paw was not one who allowed kids to complain.

Alder, you go, right now, and find that there dog a clean pan of water. He gotta have something to drink tonight. Now, get and stop the whining.” Paw is staring down the kids and they are cowering back and getting quiet. Alder turned and was muttering, “A baboon would have been funner than this silly old dog.”

When the water was finally provided, Sarge lapped it up very quickly. He actually wanted more but Paw hollered at the kids and told them to go on and get to bed. They had school tomorrow. No baths were given or even considered. No dinner was served because there was none to serve. They grabbed whatever they could find in the kitchen to eat and climbed the stairs up to their rooms. Paw slept down stairs. Sarge was left to sleep on or under the porch. He was a dog. He didn’t need a bed. Lights went out around ten o’clock.

Sarge could not quite reach under the porch due to the rope being so short and staying on the porch was not possible for the same reason. He was forced to sleep curled up near the porch post. He was nervous and was panting hard. With no water and nothing to eat, tonight was not going to be a good night. It was going to be a long one.

Paw could not get over having made such a catch. He watched Sarge from his bedroom window while the kids were upstairs. He was trying to think of a name for his new dog. The noise from upstairs grew louder and louder until finally, Paw had enough of it.

“ Alder, Kenli, Sawyer… Y’all get quite right now. Get to sleep, you hear me?” The house suddenly became deathly quiet.

Sarge, for some reason, knew that he was not destined to stay here long. First chance he got, he was running as fast and as far as he could from this place. Finding that chance was going to be a difficult thing to do. The reason being that he was tied, with a short rope, to a solid porch post. He leaned against the post and felt a twinge of desperation. What was he supposed to do.

As the darkness wore on, the moon rose high into the sky, giving an strange light to the holler. Shadows stretched out long and thin. The good thing about night time is that you can grow accustomed to it and eventually learn to get around in it. You could see objects and move around. Coming from inside the house where all the light was would be like stepping into total blackness. As Sarge thought about these things, he began to develop a plan of escape.

The yard was a mess. Black heavy duty trash bags were stacked up against the back door in various stages of decay. Some were busted and running over, others had no bottoms and some newer ones appeared to have arrived in the last week or so. There was a trash barrel over near the woods where they burned the trash, but they must have run out of matches. Busted bicycles and big wheels were plentiful. Stacks of rotting wood, an old rusted carcass of a car was off to the side. With the porch missin’ several boards, you had to know your way around pretty good or you could easily have a serious fall. Sarge took all this in and got to thinking.

Eventually, he got an idea. Having not revealed his ability to talk to anybody in this wild bunch, he knew that he could easily use this to his advantage. In order for the plan to succeed, he needed to be able to get right under Paw’s bedroom window. Problem was that the rope that held him was about three feet too short. So he worked that night at stretching his rope out. He would pull and pull and then rest a minute. Off and on he did this most of the night. He probably gained about ten inches. It was going to take some time, perhaps a couple of days.

His plan had to be executed very carefully if it was going to work. He took his time and knew that he would have to endure for a few more days if he was going to be sure that he could make sure everything would work.

Sarge does not lack intelligence. Beagles are truly one of the smartest dogs around. He wasn’t some tick infested hound dog that roamed the hills. He was a Beagle, remember…a special breed. He could read people and he knew how to work with them. Paw was about as bright as a burned out light bulb. He had to be superstitious and emotional. Advantage Sarge. Paw did not know Sarge could talk. Advantage Sarge. He had a shotgun he used for hunting. Sarge knew this because there were numerous shell casings around the porch. He probably did his best hunting while sitting in the plastic chair found on the back porch. Advantage Paw. Big advantage, Paw.

After getting his plans laid out, Sarge slept with one eye open. Two days passed and finally, after a full day of getting his ears pulled and tugged on by little girl and having his tail yanked on until it grew by three inches, he knew it was time to execute his plan. “Tonight – Phase One.” He thought. “If all goes well, tomorrow night, I will be free to move on.”

Waiting until late into the night, long after the family had gone to sleep, he walked off his steps to the window. He was actually excited because the kids had loosened the rope up during the day. Actually they untied him so he could be led around the yard. He ended up be drug around the yard. This left him muddy and sore. None-the-less, when they tried to tie him back up, he gained about two feet in length. With a tad bit more stretching and pulling that he had contributed, he managed to gain enough to do what he needed to get done. He was able to get up under Paw’s window and rising up on his hind legs; he would be right under the window. Perfect. This was the essential part of the plan and the most critical part as well. He practiced this many, many times and now, this evening, he was now putting it into action.

 

Chapter 13

The Get Away

When the moon was down low, there was no light being cast on the back side of the house. It was dark, really dark. But Sarge could still adjust his vision enough to make things out. I guess he would say it was the Beagle dog thing, I don’t know on this one.  Plus, he had practiced walking through this thing so many times that he could do what he was planning on doing with his eyes blindfolded. No human would be able to get around without the aid of a light of some sort. Well, Sarge was betting that this tribe of hillbillies didn’t have a flashlight and if they did, the kids would have had it broken by now, or the batteries were run down.

When the moment was right, Sarge eased right up under Paw’s bedroom window and jumped up so his mouth would be close to the seal.

“Mister , you get out of that bed right now, get outside and untie that dog.” He said in a husky voice. “He is not your dog and you know this. If you do not do this, you gonna find yourself to be in big trouble. Terrible trouble. I know you hear me!”

Sarge then runs back to the porch post, curls up like in his sleeping position and waits. Nothing. Not a sound. Not a movement.  At least nothing he could see. Inside the house, Paw was terrified. He was too scared to move. He had pulled the cover right up to his chin. He was very, very superstitious and this voice was a terrible omen. Sarge did not know that Paw was scared, so, he did it again.

“Mister, you get out of that bed right now, get outside and untie that dog. He is not your dog and you know this. If you do not do this, You gonna find yourself to be in big trouble. Terrible trouble.” This time he’s talking a bit louder. He also adds, “You got five minutes. After that, I am coming for you.”

He hears the bed squeaking loudly and feet hitting the floor. He runs over to the porch and curls up, acting as if he is sound asleep. He sees the curtains ease open just a bit and Paw’s eyes are peeking through.  Remember now that Sarge is able to see in the darkened areas because his eyes are adjusted to the night. Paw could not see a thing. Straining to see, this man is looking around and peering into the darkness. He is trying to see something…anything. The curtains were shaking incredibly as Paw had his hand holding them back. Dread had filled his thoughts. What had he done. This dog done brought evil to the holler. He sat on the bed sweating profusely. He was gasping for air and wanting to cry. He was in a panic and did not know what to do. He lay back down, knowing that his time was ticking down. Soon, his five minutes would be up. What would happen then?

Sarge knew he had the man on the line now. He had to push one more time if he was going to gain his freedom. He quietly crawled to the window…hopping up, he was careful to not be discovered.

“Two minutes left and your time is up. You are refusing to obey. Loosen the dog now or your end will be terrible.”

He ran back to the porch post and just managed to curl up before Paw had his shotgun hanging out the window. He is rattled, Sarge can see this very clearly. His hands are shaking uncontrollably and his face is drenched in sweat. The man shot wildly into the woods, aiming at nothing and aiming at everything. He began to holler,

“I ain’t ‘fraid a you! I ain’t a scared neither. Come on and get me you Boogey man, you. AHHHH!” and he fires off two more rounds. He cannot see a thing. He had no idea what he is shooting at, but he unloaded anyway.

He kept his head hanging out the window, looking both ways and now, he was whimpering like a wounded deer. The kids were wide awake and scared to death. They had run downstairs to Paw’s room and were piled in the corner near the bed. They were crying and petrified.

“Paw, Paw. What’s going on? Paw, why you so scared?” Alder is asking. A few seconds later, Paw closes the curtains and Sarge heard him flop back down on the bed and holler for the kids to get quiet. “Y’all get real quiet. Shhhh!” he holds his hand up. His ear is leaning towards the window. “Alder,” he whispers, “go on upstairs and get me that flashlight I bought last year. I really need it right now. Go on.” Alder does not move. “Son, do what I said, now get, boy” Paw said. “Go on.” Alder starts crying and still refuses to move. “Boy, what is wrong with you. You deaf?” Paw asks, his patience had run out.

“Paw, Sawyer done broke the flashlight a long time ago. He throwed it at me and it hit the wall, member? It ain’t worked since then.” Alder is waiting for a whopping. Paw looks at Sawyer. Instantly Sawyer starts to crying, “Paw, I didn’t mean to. Alder shouldn’t a moved. If he didn’t move it would’a hit him and not the wall. He broke it, Paw.” Sarge is laughing. His plan is moving along far better than anticipated.

“You have thirty seconds. This is your last chance. No more warnings.” Again, Sarge is curled up before any movement is made.

With time having run out, Paw was hollering, “Whoooweee! Son whar is my boots? You ain’t broke them have you? Hurry, boy. Get’em over here.” He runs to the back door and out on to the porch. He unties Sarge as sweat pours down his back. Sarge stands innocently as if he has been rudely awakened. He even manages a look of confusion but the smile he just could not hide.

Paw reached down and in a fit of action, unties Sarge and throws the rope against the house. “Thar you go. The dog is untied! You hear me? I done it in time, too. Now leave me alone. Go on, get outta here.” Paw is standing up on the porch looking all around, trying to make out any movement. He gets real quiet. Sarge thought he could hear the man’s heart beating. Without any warning, Paw falls into one of the holes where the wood was missing on the porch. His gun goes off and blows a hole in the roof over the porch. The man hollers with fear. His leg is caught and he cannot get loose. And what with the Boogie man out here, Paw was in a pickle!

“Kids, get out here. Get out here now.” He screams. They won’t come for fear of the Boogie Man. Alder hollers, “Paw, that Boogie Man gonna get us, too!” and he continues crying. Paw cannot see and is jerking his leg for all he is worth. Finally, his foot slips out of his boot and he runs into the house, slams the door. He stood there looking out the window when suddenly, the door falls right off the rusted hinges and bangs unto the porch. Paw bends down and leans the door over the opening and runs back to his bedroom. He sits down with his head in his hands. His kids are sitting beside him. The house is still dark. All you could hear in that Holler that night was crying. “Y’all kids get up here.” Paw said pointing to the bed.

The kids all bobbed their heads in agreement. Quietly, they climbed into the bed and Paw eased his remaining boot off, letting it drop to the floor with a thud. They all stopped breathing on account of that loud noise. Had Paw just recalled the Boogey man?

Sarge, during this lull, had walked away into the underbrush and managed to hide himself quite well. He heard the thud of the boot. Initially, the noise startled him. He stood perfectly still with his right paw raised. He was ready. Now was the time to tie up all the details.

“Mister, you just made the time. But there is more. You listening to me? Get up to the window and face the darkness. Now.” The sinister voice called Paw out.

The kids were crying, “The Boogie man is back. Don’t do it Paw. Please, don’t do it.” They were afraid their paw was going to disappear.

“What if I don’t do it, y’all? Get quiet and let me handle this.” With that he leaps to the window and pokes his head out. He tearfully cries out, “What do you want with me? I done what you said. I untied the dog. What do you want now?”

Sarge is almost laughing out loud, but after three days of torment, being kidnapped and starved, he is not about to let up. He says, “You get your kids lined up first thing in the morning and they all get a bath. From now on, every day, first thing in the morning, they all get a bath. You hear me?” Sarge commands.

“I hear you. I hear you. But I ain’t got no soap.” Paw’s voice was in a shrill. He thought he was a dead man. His hands were waving back and forth.

“Best get some. Wait, there is more.” Sarge continued. His voice was echoing through the holler and coming across very strong and clear.

“More?” Paw was trembling.

“Get them kids some new clothes and some new shoes. I will be back tomorrow night. If all is done as I say, I will leave you alone. You fail in completing these things it will mean trouble. Do you hear me?” Sarge is watching and sees Paw nodding in agreement.

“I hear…I hear you. Is at all?” Paw wants to close the window more than anything else right now.

“Close the window, go to bed.” Sarge instructs. The window slammed and the bed springs wiggled. Five minutes later, no sound was made.

Sarge is smiling and wishing that Old Joe could have been with him for this one. He would have loved it. He then curled up in the underbrush and had a good night’s sleep.

The next morning, Sarge is awakened by the sounds of kids crying and trying their best to get out of taking a bath. Paw put this big galvanized tub out on the back porch and one by one, the kids had to head out and get a scrubbing of a life time.  First, their clothes were piled up by the burn can then they marched back to the tub where Paw nearly scrubbed the hide off thelr bones. Not having any soap, he used what was left of the powdered detergent. It was strong enough and seemed to work just fine.

Turns out that Alder’s hair was blond and Kenli Isabellae was not as tanned as Sarge originally thought. Sawyer cleaned up real nice and they all looked like different children. Once all the cleaning was done on the kids, the kids started after Paw.

“Your turn, Paw.” They laughed. Paw smiled and seemed to enjoying the time. He sat in the tub and started to scrub up. He cleaned up into a right handsome fellow, if you were interested in knowing. After a shave and a teeth brushing, the family looked totally different. Their clothes were all ragged but that was soon remedied with a trip to the General Store in West Liberty. They all got new pants, shirts and shoes. Kenli Isabellae got a darling new dress. Nobody in town recognized this group of kids and many thought they were just moving into town. Made Paw feel like a new man, actually. He had a sensation he hadn’t had in a long time when looking at his young’uns…a feeling of pride. He got an idea that morning that went beyond what the voice had commanded and he turned his shopping buggy into the Household Cleaning Supplies section of the store.

Paw needed more bath soap and a whole lot of cleaning supplies for the house. Once back home, he and the kids cleaned up the yard, cut the grass, burned trash, scrubbed up inside and then tried on Paw he actually felt good. His faced broke out into a broad smile when he saw the kids looking so clean. He even shaved…his face…not his head and threw away his frayed UK ball cap. “Gonna grow my hair back out, y’all” is all he said. “Maybe that wasn’t the Boogey man who come by.” Paw thought to himself as he filled out an application for work at the lumber yard. “Somethin’ had to be done to get me movin’.”

Note: (Months later, Sarge hears that this family had started going to church at Bear Creek Baptist and the kids are back attending school on a regular basis. They have some catching up to do, but the teachers are very pleased with their progress. Paw has moved up to be a foreman at the lumber yard and is courtin’ the widow Wanda, a lady he met at church. Oh, and the kids are getting baths every morning as well as brushing what teeth they have left.)

 

Sarge knew better than to sit still. As soon as Paw was inside, he took off running. He got to the front of the house and stayed on Mordica Branch until it came to a paved road. Once there, he found some underbrush and crawled in for the remaining part of the night. The moon was finally visible and it cast a light on the trees and such. It was quiet and still. Sarge knew he had barely escaped what would have been a dreadful way of life. It took a few minutes, but eventually he fell asleep, but it was a fitful sleep. He had to get far away from this place.

 

Chapter 15

The Shiner’s Surprise

The sun was just begging its ascent when Sarge awoke and stretched his legs. He had no idea where to go or where he was going. He just knew it was time to go if he wanted to remain free. To wait and hang around would mean getting tied to the porch again. So, he took off walking.

His path led cross the hills as he was wondering what his next “s’perience” was going to be. He found great pleasure recalling Old Joe getting all serious when he said that particular word. His tail was feeling the tugs and pinches from the three kids and his ears hurt in ways new to him. He was glad to be on his way again. He smiled as he replayed the events of the previous night.

He headed on up steep hills and down steep hills, over rocks and logs and through piles of leaves and across acres of pasture land. He came across of a rafter of wild turkeys with Toms and Hens and polis all in a row. He chased several rabbits to their holds and even saw a fox. Birds of every kind were all over and flocked by the hundreds, cows and bulls, and horses and pigs and chickens. Aside from the odd variety of animals he was encountering, he was able to take in all the beautiful fall colors that were in play.

His body was sore from being yanked on for two solid days, and his ears were particularly painful. That an eight year old Sawyer boy thought they were removable. This was the only thing that trouble him during his day of walking. In spite of the pain, though,  he managed to move ahead.

He turned off road and headed into the thicker woodlands to find some drinking water and was a bit surprised to discover that none was found close by. He headed up to what seemed to be a worn path and eventually ended up way off in the outback portion of the woods. There he spotted a small creek and began to follow it.

‘Surely this will pool up down the path somewhere and I can get a good drink, soak my paws and take a nap.’ he thought. So, following the creek was not a waste of time in his mind. A good paw soaking is always worth an extra mile or two. The creek led way up into an isolated holler, far away from anything civilized. It was quiet, beautiful and above all, peaceful.

He was cresting a hill when he saw the purest pool of water he had yet to see. Heading down to get his fill, he thought he heard several voices. He froze in place and put his nose high up into the air and then low to the ground. Somehow the Beagle nose can catch the scent of something long before the eyes and ears could ever see it. Initially, he thought Paw and his filthy pack of kids were following him. The smell of filth and stench was that recognizable and fairly strong. But there was something a bit odd mixed in. He had never smelled this odor before. Something was burning. Hummm. The voices were staying central in their location, so the folks were not moving around. They were doing something, cooking or something of the like, way out here in the middle of nowhere. What in the world would they be doing? Sarge was intrigued.

He crept along slowly and managed to blend in quite well with the surroundings. One advantage of the Beagle was that his coloring allowed for him to blend in almost seamlessly with his surroundings. With the trees in full fall color, grey rocks and the greenery on the ground, it was easy for him to bury up under some leaves and quickly be hidden. Easing down the hill, he spotted a rusty black flatbed truck, three men and some kind of contraption he had never seen before.

There was a fire burning under this big tank and alongside the tank was a tall stack of chopped wood and three wooden barrels. This fire was heating water that was forced down into a small wooden barrel using a copper pipe. From there, another copper pipe was in place that ran to a large wooden barrel that was filled with cold water. This copper pipe was tied into a coil of copper and at the bottom of that water barrel was a spicket. The men would burn something in the big barrel and then wait for a while and open up what turned out to be a water spigot. Down at the bottom of the spigot were some jars that were being filled up little with a clear liquid.

The men were using a lot of corn and sugar and the three barrels contains what one of them called ‘mesh’. They worked non-stop for hours upon hours. They filled up a bunch of boxes with these jars once they were filled with the clear liquid. Sarge sat and watched for a reasonably long time but eventually became bored with what was going on. He decided to go soak in the pool of water he had found earlier.

Walking into the water was delightful. His paws seemed to instantly lose all their aches and pains. All the roughness of the day, walking through the woods and such, was easily forgotten. He bent his head down and drank as much water as he could hold. He stood there and allowed the muddy bottom to coat his paws.

After a while, he headed back to where he had been earlier. Crawling up under the pile of leaves, he got comfortable and warm and now, with incredibly relaxed paws, he fell into a deep sleep. The men kept working totally unaware of Sarge’s presence.

Two hours later, Sarge was awakened by sharp hunger pangs. He had not eaten a good meal now for three days and he was sorely in need of something to fill his belly. The men who had been working began to slow down and two of them had broken off from work and were sitting out beside the truck with a bag of some kind of food. The third was finishing up with what he was doing and headed over to join the other two. It was getting kind of dark as the sun was trying to hide behind some of the hills.

These men did not resemble anybody he had ever seen before. They had to be the ugliest fellows he had ever laid eyes on. They were all filthy and smelled like they looked. Bad. They all wore torn and dirty overhauls with grimy grey tee shirts underneath. Their heads were covered with worn out hats and their faces were covered with long, thick beards. They were not muscular like Big’un Caudill. Instead, two of them were kind of fat and one was as skinny as a rail. One fellow was smoking a pipe and the other kept spitting something black into the leaves. The third one just talked a lot. They all looked mean as snakes. The way they were talking and acting reminded him a lot of Paw back in the Mordica Branch Holler. He was gonna have to be real careful here.

It sure seemed strange for them to be so far out in the woods doing this kind of work though. It was way out of the way. Sarge had no idea where he was or how far the road was from this place, but regardless, here they were fairly close to be in the exact middle of nowhere – sittin’ round, eating sandwiches and working. ‘Birds would have to use a map to find this place’ he thought.

Sarge sat under a pile of leaves situated about thirty feet from their truck. He could see everything and if they looked his way, they eventually would be actually be Alder to see him fairly easily. Watching them eat those sandwiches made him start licking his lips. He was a hungry dog and needing to eat.

One of the fellers leaned back and put his arm behind his head to relax after eating. He looked up the hill at the trees and was counting leaves and just looking around in general when he spotted Sarge. He nudged his buddy, Jessie, and said, “Looky up over thar on the hill a ways, Jess. Tell me what you see.”

Jessie turned and focused his attention on the hill. He looked around for a minute or two and then noticed the pile of leaves move a bit. He fixed his eyes over there and could make out a figure. It was a dog.

“Why, it’s a dog, for sure. Wonder what he is a doing out here?” he said.

Earl was the name of the man with Jessie. They were both looking straight at Sarge as they talked. “I bet that dog is hungry, Jess. Throw him a ham sandwich and see what he does.”

“I’ll do just that.” So Jessie grunted as he reached into this big bag they got and unwraps a big ole ham sandwich. He throws is over in Sarge’s direction and they sit there watching.

Sarge is much obliged and runs and jumps on the sandwich and pulls it off to the pile of leaves. Earl and Jessie have a good laugh and keep watching.

It had to be one of the best sandwiches Sarge had eaten in a long time. Cheese and ham on white bread. Excellent. He gulped it down and may have even chewed a bite or two. With a hungry dog, its quantity over quality that matters. You get it into your mouth, swallow and then think about what you ate later on. As soon as he was finished, he turned to see what Earl and Jessie were up to now. To his surprise, they had another sandwich and tossed it his way. It was a half eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the day before. A bit stale and hard around the edges, it was delicious and met every requirement Sarge had established. It fit into his mouth and he could swallow it. It was food. That and it was edible. The peanut butter was something new, though. It was good, don’t misunderstand, but it made Sarge’s tongue stick to the top of his mouth. He started making a clicking sound as he ate. This amused Jessie and Earl a great deal. They laughed and laughed.

Sarge didn’t mind the laughter. The food was good and filling and stopped his hunger pangs. Now for a bit of water…he headed down to the creek, drank his fill of water and headed back up to where Earl and Jessie were found.

These men kept at their work until well after dark. Finally, Norbert, the third man in the group, told Earl to get a fire started for dinner and to make it a bit strong, so it would last through the night. Earl moves out back of the truck about fifty feet. He brings over several sticks of firewood and using some dried leaves for kindling, he has a fire going in no time. Once it is going good, Norbert, the third fellow, comes over with a portable grill and a bag of some kind of meat. He pulls this meat out and sets in over on the grill and the smell becomes intoxicating to Sarge. They were cooking steaks. The aroma was extraordinary and Norbert allows it to cook for a few minutes, then turns it over. The other men were pouring glasses of something to drink from one of those jars and Jessie tore open a bag of chips.  Earl had a big pan of baked beans and he set those on the fire right beside the sizzling stakes. Sarge’s mouth was watering. He was watching with begging eyes.

Jessie says, “Shoot, Norbert, we bout outta boxes! How long we been at it today?”

Norbert says, “Don’t know…bout fifteen hours, maybe. A good day, if all them boxes are full. Means that we are about done, don’t it. Shoot, four days in these woods is long enough?”

Earl chimes in, sounding like the business man of the group. “Norbert, we was aiming to get two hundred boxes of twenty four out. Winter is a coming and the holidays as well. We gonna need the money, you know.”

Norbert agrees and asks, “What we gonna do if we run outta boxes? It’s a long way jest to go fetch a few boxes, Earl. Jessie, you think we can stack and tape’em like we did last year?”

“I don’t see why not. Got plenty of duct tape and we can stack’em five high. It’ll be okay” Jessie assured Earl.

“How many jars we got left, Jessie?” Norbert is calculating.

“About sixty more. Four to a gallon, we got to put out around fifteen more gallons and we’ll be good to go. Should finish in the morning sometime. Sound about right?” Jessie had a deep, bass sounding voice and when he talked , he meant what he said.  The two others agreed that they would finish up sometime in the morning.

“Them steaks ready, Norbert? Earl is ready with the beans.” Jessie asks.

“Believe they are, Earl. Dead and red, just how you like it. Jessie, Earl, y’all come and get‘em. Got beans, meat and bread.” Norbert held up a huge slab of meat and laid it on Jessie’s plate. Earl dumped some beans and Jessie sat on a stump off to the side and began to tear into his dinner. Earl and Norbert followed suit and they left noting but some gristle. Sitting back, they drank deeply from their mason jars. Earl mentioned that they should feed the dog. Norbert asked what dog. He never saw Sarge that afternoon and was surprised to know that there was one nearby.

“Why, let’s cook him up one medium rare. What do you say, Earl?” Norbert was feeling very relaxed as his mason jar was half empty. He tossed a big, 16 oz. steak on the grill and it was ready in a few minutes. They tossed it over to Sarge and all laughed when Sarge grabbed it and ran off towards the creek.

“He must a thought you still looked hungry, Jessie. Did you get enough to eat?” Norbert chided.

“Funny, Norbert. Real funny. I am as stuffed as a tick. No more for me. I’m gonna get some shut-eye. Who’s gonna watch the fire?” Jessie looked at Earl.

“Okay, okay, I’ll set it up. No problem. Go on to sleep.” Earl really did not mind doing this, but he did it the last three nights as well. They like to pick on him because he was the youngest. He acted as their go-fer boy. Go fer this and go fer that.  He was just glad to be allowed to come along.

He walked up to the truck and pulled off a stack of concrete blocks. He set these in a circle around the fire and placed two rows of block down, one on top of the other. This would prevent to fire from advancing into the woods and leaves around them but it would allow the blocks to  heat up so they would stay warm during the night. Once this was done, he added more wood to the fire, causing it to grow taller and hotter.

Norbert and Jessie pulled their blankets out of the truck and lay down. Before long, they were snoring loud enough to scare off any predators that might come by. Earl stayed awake and played some songs on an old guitar that he brought along. Sarge made it back from the creek. His stomach looked swollen but he was totally satisfied, having eaten the best meal he had ever eaten in his life. Never had anybody given him a steak to eat. Never. It was fantastic.

He got up closer to Earl and listened to him play for a while. Earl continued drinking from that Mason jar and as he did, it seemed that his neck was becoming weaker and his eyes heavier. When he tried to sing, it was like his lips could barely move and his tongue was becoming very heavy and extremely thick. Sarge had no idea what was wrong. He thought that Mason jar had something to do with it. However, he was getting comfortable with Earl and Earl was treating him very kindly.

Finally, Sarge, without thinking, said, “Hey, Earl, I want to thank you for the food. It was tremendous.”

Earl jerks his head up in shock and looks bleary eyed at this dog. “Did you just say something to me? Did you just talk to me? Did you speak?”

Sarge didn’t know what to say. He had let the words go before he thought about what he was doing. Earl seemed like a good guy, though. So what harm could be done.

“Yeah. I just wanted to thank you guys for the food. It was really, really good. That ham this afternoon and the meat tonight. Excellent. Thanks a lot.” He was just showing gratitude.

Earl laughs and slaps his guitar. This causes Norbert to lift his head for a second. Seeing nothing, he drops back to sleep. Earl shakes his head and looks at the Mason jar. It is all but empty. “Oh, I get it now. Guess this is a one of the better batches. So, I might as well have a good time and just go with it.”

Sarge was not following the meaning of what Earl was saying. “What are you talking about, Earl? Listen, you really play the guitar well, too. Have you been playing for a while?”

Earl laughed and laughed and went right along in the conversation as if everything was perfectly normal. “I been playing for bout ten minutes, I guess. Why?

Sarge sees he has been misunderstood, so he restates his question with a clear meaning. “No, no, Earl. I mean you play well. You know how to play the guitar well. How many years have you been playing the guitar?”

Earl catches on and says, “Since I was ten. I am thirty-one now so that makes eleven years, right? No…no…that makes eleventeen years. Wow. Now, that is a long time for someone to play the guitar.”

Sarge is impressed and remarks, “I would not know, Earl. I cannot play mainly because I have no thumbs. I have paws.”

Earl hears this and laughs and laughs and lays back, setting his guitar off to the side. He pulls his blanket up and says, “You talk pretty good…I mean, for a dog. You do pretty good, you know.” He smiles and is drifting off into a ‘shiners drunken sleep. Before he is completely out, he asks, “Hey, what is your name, doggy. You gotta name?”

Sarge nods and says,“ Sarge is what folks call me.”

Earl is all but out but he manages to repeat the name…”Sarge. Your name is Sarge. Nice namm…” Earl is out for the night.

Sarge finds the right distance from the fire and curls up and thinks about his day. He got freed from his kidnappers early this morning. Had a good late lunch of ham and bread and now, he has eaten a tremendous meal and he was absolutely full. His paws are rested and perfectly relaxed and he had made some new friends. His s’perience is growing. It has been a very good day. He falls into a happy and welcomed sleep.

Early the next morning, long before sunrise, these men were up and at it again. Sarge was awakened by a conversation between Jessie and Norbert. He laid there listening.

“You ain’t gonna keep’em, Jessie?” Norbert asked. The question was loud enough to “Naw. Not a chance. My brother called me the other day and said he done found him a dog on the side of the road. The kids love him but he said this dog done brought some kind of evil with him. Jacob was kind a nervous. My brother don’t scare easy, you know. So, no, I ain’t bringing no strange dog home.” Jessie was plain spoken and serious. No drama, no real animation when he talked. He just said what he had to say and that was that.

Sarge is lying there blinking himself awake. He was alarmed to think that he could have been kidnapped yet again during the night and never even thought about it. He was relieved when he heard that Jessie had no desires of keeping him. For a minute there, he thought he needed to jump up and start running. As it was, he just laid there, unmoving, listening, as the conversation continued.

“What brother you talking bout, Jessie? Norbert was confused. Jessie had eight brothers and three sisters. They was scattered all over the county.

“Jacob. The one with them ratty looking kids. You remember Kenli Isabellae? That little girl that would sing when Earl played the guitar and Alder and Sawyer would dance?” Jessie was bringing back memories of the Blue Grass Jamboree down in Salyersville last year.

“Lives over in Mordica Holler Road, north a’here?” Norbert caught on to who he was talking about.

“Yeah. That Jacob.” Jessie scratched his beard. “Only Jacob I got in my family.”

“Yeah. At’s him. I ‘member him. Cute bunch of kids but wild as mountain goats, weren’t they? ” Norbert made a statement of fact to which both Earl and Jessie grunted in agreement.

“Yeah, they some wild ones, that is for sure. He done helped us a time or two, hasn’t he?” Earl asked as he was sitting up after a night  of hard sleep.

“Yep, done pretty good, too. Just gets spooked too easy. Member that time he thought the police was coming to get us and he run all the way home? He,he,he…turned out I sat on my cell phone and it dialed up Momma. There he goes running off into the woods and Momma is wanting him to stop and get some milk on the way home.” Jessie allows a smile to cross his otherwise serious face.

“Hah. Yep, I remember. What was with the dog that he thought was evil? Did he say?” Norbert was not prying for information, just talking.

“Naw. Never would say nothing. Just said he had him tied to the porch but some weird stuff was going on.”

“What kind of dog was it? You know?” Norbert questioned.

“Didn’t say. Kids loved it, though. He did tell me that much.” Jessie answered

Sarge was adle to hear the entire conversation about Jacob. “Small world,” he thought. He just lay there listening. Finally, the sun peaked down and touched Sarge on the nose. He was covered with dew and was kind of cold. The others had been up milling about for a while, working at the fire and that big ole barrel thing was constantly filling them jars. None of them really talked much. They had Earl go down to the creek to fetch a bucket of creek water. When he got back, they all took a morning break to have a cup of coffee and a bite to eat.

Jessie and Norbert splashed some cold water on their faces while Earl reached in the truck grabbed that big bag of food from last night. He comes around and hands out some boiled eggs and a cinnamon bun to each of the guys. Then he passes around a salt and pepper shaker. They salt their eggs and take a liberal dose of pepper and commence to eat.

“Hey, Jessie. Get Sarge an egg or two. He’s gotta be hungry too.” Earl said as Jessie had the bag in his hand.

“Get who an egg?” Jessie asked and looked at Earl

Earl pointed over to Sarge and said, “The dog, Jessie. Sarge is the dog’s name”

“Now, how would you know the dog’s name, Earl. He tell you?” Jessie laughs.

Earl stood there for a second and shook his head. He was thinking real hard. “How do I know his name? Shoot, seems like I heard it somewhere. I guess I just dreamed it!”

Norbert was scratching Sarge on the head and said, “I ain’t got no idea how you come up with that name, Earl, but it fits him, don’t it!” he rubbed Sarge’s ears and laughed.

Earl grunted and shrugged his shoulders. “You say so.” He was still trying to member how he come up with that name while watching Norbert nibbling on a boiled egg.

Jessie looks over to Earl and asks, “Who was you talking to last night? I was about to sleep and you started talking about playing the guitar for eleventeen years. I raised my head to see who you was taking to and nobody was there. I figgered you were talking in your sleep, so I rolled over. Man, you must have had a had a whopper of a dream.”

Earl slaps some more water on his face and stands there by the truck. He’s thinking and suddenly turns to Sarge and says,  “Hey, Sarge. Come on, boy.”

With little hesitation, Sarge jumped up and danced around Earl’s feet, thinking he’s about to get something to eat. Those cinnamon buns looked mighty interesting, you know. He thought he was going to get an egg or two, but guess the guys forgot. Earl jumps back about ten feet, hollering, “I was talking with this dog last night, Norbert. No wait, no, he was talking with me, I mean. We was talking about how good the food was and how he liked me playing the guitar. This dog talks out loud. I mean, he uses his mouth and them little thin lips of his. I mean, he talks, like me and you.”  Earl was standing back a bit with a look of fear on his face.

Norbert and Jessie were surprised to see Earl acting so strange. He generally is not afraid of anything so seeing him like this was truly surprising.  They both stood up looking at one another. Jessie starts laughing then Norbert joins in. Earl looks at both of them and kind of smiles. Soon, he is laughing with the others.

“Maybe we had too good a batch, you reckon?” Earl offers as an explanation.

“Yeah. You reckon?” Jessie adds. He is laughing as he continues his work. Norbert laughs as he keeps working. “A talking dog. That’s a new one.” Norbert smiles.

“Yeah, but I have no idea where I got that name from. I mean, he responds to it. That is weird, ain’t it?” Earl still has some worry in his voice.

They just kept working without saying much. Pushing towards two hundred cartons before lunch, they were trying not to let up. Finish this then they are done for the season. There is no time to slow up. Two hundred cartons at twenty four jars per carton at fifty five dollars a jar meant a lot of money. With the additional eight hundred jars they had made that summer, it would get each one of them through the winter. So, they kept pushing on.

“Earl, we gotta finish up here. When we done, we’ll discuss the dog some more. Right now, we have a lot of work to do. Keep the jars coming and that fire going. First batch will be ready here in about twenty minutes.” Norbert said. Earl nodded in agreement then went about his job.

They managed to get two hundred cartons done around eleven o’clock that morning but still have nearly half a barrel of water left and plenty of corn and sugar. They decide to use all this up, clean up then move out. Why be wasteful? First, though, they would stop for lunch, taking a much needed breather.

Earl gets the sandwiches out along with a big bag of potato chips. Jessie grabs the cooler off the back of the truck while they gather around for a quick lunch.

“You going to feed the dog, Earl? He is still sitting there. Guess he has taken a liking to you. I mean, seeing that you are the only one he’ll talk to.” Norbert and Jessie have a laugh. Earl gives a moan and takes a bite of his sandwich. They all continue eating while Sarge is sitting there, watching them and wondering why he is being ignored with regards to the food.

Now, it has been a while since Sarge had eaten. He didn’t get the eggs he thought he was going to get this morning and he really would appreciate a bite of something for lunch. So, he eases over the Earl, who, for some reason loves to lay down while he eats.  He gets up around his ear and whispers, “Hey, you forget about me?” he asks. “Could I get a sandwich or something?” he says as he looks to Earl.

Earl spit out his bite of sandwich and jumps up like he had a snake crawl in his pants leg. Looking down at Sarge, he is not laughing now. Earl is looking at them saying, “I told you guys. I guess you think I am still joking.” He is pointing a shaking finger at Sarge.

Norbert says, “Dog, did you just say something to Earl?”

“Yeah. Oh, and Earl is right. My name is Sarge. You know something? A dog has got to eat, too. I thought you could spare me a bite of something. Got anymore of those ham sandwiches left. They were really good.” Sarge responds.

A silence falls upon the three men as they sit motionless for a minute. A sudden fear envelops the entire area. Turns out, as serious as he was, Jessie is actually a great deal like his brother. He is eat up with superstition and tends to get spooked very easily. He stands up and starts crying silently. He squeezes his lips together and grabs his hands in front of his stomach. Tears start flowing but no noise. He has never been so afraid in all his days.

Norbert scatters around to the front of the truck. He calls Earl to come around there with him. “Earl, get around here. Come here. Earl, get over here now.”

Earl is scared but not terrified. After all, he and Sarge had a long talk last night. So, he feels as if things will eventually work out. Nobody got eaten in their sleep last night. “Earl, NOW” Earl runs to the front of the truck.

Norbert instructs Earl to begin getting all the equipment on the truck as fast as possible. “Put the ‘mash’ barrel on first, then the small barrels behind it. Strap’em in tight. Make sure all the boxes are strapped in tight and secure. You got that?” Earl moves into action immediately. “Don’t forget them blocks from around the fire either. Them things cost over a dollar each. Now, get.”

Sarge sees Earl moving quickly. Jessie is standing like a statue and Norbert must be working on something in front of the truck, cause he ain’t coming back around here. Earl is throwing stuff on the truck. Actually, Earl is the only one doing anything. The other two are completely immobilized with fear. Regardless, he is left standing there with nothing to eat. Somebody is not listening.

“Hey, hold on. Hold on. Stop.” He has raised his voice an octave to get their attention. “I am just wanting something to eat. You got any more of that ham that you had yesterday? Or that sticky brown stuff?” He looks at Earl and Jessie.

Jessie had not moved one step. When Sarge raised his voice, he fell to his backside and continued crying, but not making a noise. He believed in omens and boogey men and scary things like that, so he was frozen with fear. When Sarge asked this question, he adds trembling to his repertoire.  Earl was busy doing what he was told to do, but he noticed that Sarge done raised his voice. “Norbert? Norbert, you best listen to the dog. He’s a getting mad. Don’t get him mad, Norbert. Give that dog something to eat.”

Norbert crawls around on all fours to the door of the truck and jumps in. He crawls out, slamming the door and starts throwing food from out of the bag. Frustrated, he finally just dumps the entire bag out on the ground and shouts,  “Hurry up, Earl. You about done? Jessie, stop your whining and give Earl a hand. Let’s get moving. Sarge, I got you some food. It’s over here by the door. Come on, now. Come here.” Jessie refuses to move.

Once Norbert had dumped all the food out of the truck, he rushes back to front of the truck and crouches down as if to hide. Sarge decides to wait. He had heard that “Come on” line before and it ended up getting him tied to a porch post. Something just is not right about these guys, but Sarge, being limited on knowledge of these things , has no idea what it is.

Earl starts loading the firewood when Norbert tells him to leave it. “Other than that, you got everything?” Earl is looking around the camp to make sure there is nothing left.  “Earl, listen to me…is that everything?”

Earl is nervous like the others, but is functioning and managing to get things done. “Yes, Norbert, this is everything we brought.” He shouts. “I’ll leave the wood here, but everything else is on the truck, strapped down and taped. Now what? We are loaded and ready to go. Did you leave the dog some food?”

Norbert looks at the sandwiches sitting on the ground, and shakes his head, indicating that was done. “Yeah, he got plenty to eat. Get Jessie in the truck. Get him in the truck. Looks like Jessie needs a hand. Now, Earl, now. Get moving.” Norbert’s voice was breaking. He was about to cry.

Norbert, who thought that his life was literally on the line, jumped into the driver’s seat while Earl pushed Jessie, who was a stiff as a board, into the passenger door. He was still whining and his hands were locked together in front of him. Once he was in place, Earl jumped in beside him and Norbert turned the motor over and hit the gas. Within a just a few minutes, their entire four day operation had been broken down, placed on the truck, and they were gone. Leaves were floating down and dust was flying. The only things they left were a stack of wood, a smothering fire and several bags of assorted sandwiches, a bag of chips and three candy bars.

Sarge shook his head. “Now, that was something new.” He say down and began pawing at the sandwiches. He eats a couple of them and a candy bar, which he finds to be delightfully sweet. As he is relaxing and getting over lunch, he thinks, “Them two-leggers sure are sensitive and emotional. I bet Boss would change his mind about me if he could meet the folks I have met. Good grief.” He goes down the creek and gets a long drink and then takes a nap before heading out.

He walks for about thirty minutes, following the same path the truck used. He eventually comes out on Highway 1771 which leads directly into Salyersville. He starts down the road and sees his three friends from the night before, stopped on the side of the road in their flatbed truck. They had pulled off the road so they could put a tarp over the cargo in the back of the truck. If the state police see their set up it would cause their day to end in a really bad fashion, really, really bad.

They manage to get everything covered up and as they were getting into their truck, Earl sees Sarge coming out at the intersection. Norbert points him out. “Looky over there, boys. He is following us. We in a world of trouble. Let’s get.” The second he says this, Jessie starts crying again. Earl hollers, “Norbert, step on it. That dog is likely to get our license plate number. He does that we are going to be making license plates for a long time. Jessie, what is wrong with you, man? Quit crying on my shoulder. You getting my t-shirt all wet.” Norbert pushes the pedal to the floor and the huge eight cylinder engine kicks into gear. They scatter rocks and dirt and are off and running.

Just as they reached their top speed, a State Trooper flicks on his lights and turns his siren on. Norbert sees the Trooper in his side mirror and he is looking straight at him. They make eye contact and the Trooper is pointing to the side of the road, as if to say, “Pull it over, boys”.

Norbert says, “That dog done us in, boys. The omen’s for real.” He reaches over and slaps Earl on the head with his hat. “Dadgumit, Earl, why did you ever have to talk to that dog in the first place?”  Jessie’s face is all wadded up. He is squeezing his lips tight and his eyes are almost closed. He continues to cry. “Y’all, I don’t know how to make license plates.” He still had yet to unlock his hands.

The State Trooper, known as Trooper Johnny Botts, sat in his car talking on the radio. He is relaying the Moonshiner’s tag number and truck description. He then slowly got out and slowly walked up to the driver side window. Sarge had made it to the spot where they got pulled over and is walking right behind Trooper Botts. Noticing Sarge is tailing him, Trooper Botts bends down and says, “Ah, a Beagle. Special Breeding. Right?” and smiles. Sarge knows right away that he has a friend, one who has already been initiated into the “Secret Beagle Society”.

“You better believe it. Special breeding.” he responded. The Trooper smiled while he scratched Sarge’s ears. “My name is Johnny Botts, Trooper John is what folks around here call me. Come on, boy. Let’s see what we got here.”

The three men in the truck, Norbert, Earl and Jessie, are almost in hysterics. They see Sarge walking in stride with the State Trooper and know right then that Sarge is informing him of all the necessary details of their operation. Not only is he an omen…he is a dadgum snitchin’ omen. This would be enough for them to get thrown in the pokey for a long time. All was lost. They knew it. Trooper John arrives at Norbert’s window asking for his license, registration and proof of insurance. Norbert produces all three documents and sits there, waiting, fuming mad. Nobody is saying a word.

“Mind if I ask what you got in back here?” Trooper John asks Norbert. Norbert is mad at the dog, mad at Earl and sure had nothing to say to Trooper John. “Why don’t you ask the dadgum dog? He seems to know everything.”

Trooper John did not take kindly to Norbert’s disposition but, to really put a sock in Norbert’s mouth, he looked down at Sarge and asked, “Well, buddy, what do you know?” then he smiled at Norbert. Norbert started laughing and looked down at Sarge. “Yeah, Sarge, tell him what you know. Big mouth.”

Sarge wagged his tail and started talking. “I don’t really know a lot. They do make good sandwiches, last night they even cooked me a steak. I think they are cooks or something. They make some kind of sauce. It is clear and they keep it in what they call, “Mason Jars”. They made two hundred cartons of twenty four each, according to Earl; that’s the fellow by the other window. And you know something else? He plays the guitar pretty good.

Norbert is the one driving, Jessie is the one crying. That is about all I know. Does that sound about right, Norbert?” Sarge is looking up to Norbert for an answer. Trooper John is laughing. I mean, the guy has tears in his eyes, which is a rare sight to see.

Norbert drops his head onto the steering wheel and Earl has his hand over his eyes. Jessie was going to dehydrate if he kept on crying. Trooper John stopped laughing long enough to take a few notes but he could not stop smiling. Sarge looks up at Trooper John as he lowers his sunglasses and asked if that is all he knew about the situation. Sarge says, “That about does it. Earl knows more about the business stuff, though. If you need more information, he is the go-to guy. He’s the one that put the kitchen back in the truck for these guys.”  Earl hollers, “Thanks, Sarge. Thanks a lot” and hit the dash board.

“Well boys, why don’t you all get out and help get this tarp off. I need to take a look at the cooking equipment you boys have been using.” With this, he talks into his shoulder walky-talkie and calls for two more cars and a tow truck. The three men jump out and fold back the tarp. This was the last time they would ever see their equipment or their rusty old truck. Trooper John told Sarge that he had been a tremendous help and gave him a ham sandwich that he had in his lunch bag. “Guess I’ll eat out today. You have a good day, Sarge. Where you headed, buddy?” Tropper John asked.

“Don’t really know, sir.” Sarge said.

“Ah, you on your trek, aren’t you? How long you been gone?” he asked.

“About ten days, two weeks, I guess. You must have a Beagle at your house. He done his trek already?” Sarge asked.

“Sure did. I am glad too. He met an old dog called Old Joe that helped him a lot. You should go see him. He lives up in Zag. I’ll be glad to give you a ride.” Trooper John was being more than helpful. Plus, he knew about Old Joe.

“I just left Old Joe’s place. Great dog. He has a good two-legger in Preacher as well.” Sarge said.

“Listen, I know you have got to do what you have got to do. As Bingo says, ‘S’perience is what you need’ Be careful and be good, you hear?” Trooper John tipped his hat to Sarge and turned to take care of the business at hand.

The three stooges could not believe that the Trooper stood there having a conversation with a dog. As they were being placed in the police cars, Jessie still had not stopped crying.

Sarge started walking…and you know what? He never looked back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16

Mahbelle Lee-Mow-Zeen

 

The road traffic was a bit heavier as Sarge walked along Route 3334 heading south. He was moving in the direction of Salyersville, but unknown to him, he was looping around the back way and was presently heading south. He turned off 3334 onto Hud Adams Road and this turned into Will May Branch. Traffic was steady as this road moved into a main artery that led directly into Salyersville. There were houses on both sides of the road and traffic was thick and heavy here. This made Sarge pay careful attention to exactly where he was going.

Will May Branch ran directly into State Route 40 which again, was an extremely busy street for a small dog to be walking along. This was not what he wanted so he turned right, heading east and ended up in a little town called Stringtown. From there he walked into Falcon, which was much more to his liking. Small, with limited traffic, he was Alder to hop off the road and walk the hills with relative ease.

Hunger was reminding him that he needed something to eat and his paws were reminding him that he had about reached his daily limit on travel. He had eaten a good, solid breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches. Then, he ate another ham sandwich at 1774. It all held him well and he was satisfied, but now, as the sun was inching down, he started looking for a place to bed down for the night.  Also, he started sniffin’ round for some food as the need was creeping in…he had to get something to eat.

In Falcon, there are no restaurants of any sort, so Sarge had no luck in finding scraps in the dumpsters. He did, however, find a little picturesque solitude in a green rolling pasture that featured a pond surrounded by day lilies and a willow tree. The pasture was engulfed by a white three plank fence. It was a picturesque setting located on Left Fork of Fairchild Road. He eased down to the pond and soaked his paws for a good twenty minutes and then he drank as much water as he could hold. Afterward, he climbed up the hillside and tucked himself away behind the huge Willow tree. Under the Willow, he curled up and napped for what seemed like a few minutes. It was more like two hours. He was tired from the night before and his body took advantage of the down time.

He awakened to a nudge…a push, more or less. His eyes opened with a start when he looked up into the nose of a huge Limousine Cow. This caramel colored cow had her huge head right down in Sarge’s face and she was keeping her gaze steady.

Sarge jumped back growling and the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up. “Who and what are you?” Sarge barked.

“Attention, mon ami! Acoute moi, mon petit chien… {that is to say, Listen, my little doggy friend.}  Oh, (clearing of the throat) excuse moi. Yew have not the place to ask the questions. Comprends?” the cow said. “Me…I have zee question  to ask a you! Who air you und why air you heah on theese grass?”

Sarge was ready to run as fast as he could but was willing to answer an honest question. However, he was not sure if he understood the question. This cow was talking a funny talk that was for sure.

“Excuse me…you are not from around here, are you? You talk different from anybody I ever heard before.” Sarge’s head turned sideways a bit.

“Monsieur, je suis…ahem…excuse me…I am frem la grande nation of France, l’Ardeche region. I am a Limousine of the subspecies of Taurus. My name is Mahbelle. Pronounced Mah-bell. Can do you comprends cela? Or all of this?” Mahbelle spoke loud and clear and was trying to be a clear as possible.

“What does ‘come pron’ mean, Mahbelle?

“Comprends is to say ‘Do you understand’.” She explained as she batted her long eyelashes.

“Oh. Ah, then, no. I no com pron.”said Sarge.

“Monsieur?” she said with surprise in her voice.

“Mamme?” Sarge asks.

“Comprends?” Mahbelle asks one more time.

“I do not know for sure, lady…really. You are Mahbelle, a’Lee moo zeen from Tow-rees, and you want to know why I am here on theese grass. Well, my name is Sarge. I was dead tired and needed some sleep. This seemed like the safest place. I drank some water from the pond down there, and then I found this place, under this beautiful tree and stretched out for a nap. I have not been here more than ten minutes, I suppose. I will be leaving right now.”

The cow batted her eye lashes and licked her lips with the biggest tongue Sarge had ever seen come out of any animal’s mouth. With her head still low to the ground, she continued the conversation.

“Monsieur, non, non, non. Ce n’est pas vrais. Non, pas de touts. {That is to say, No, what you just said is not true, sir.} You been heah fo nearly two ow-ah’s. I huv been watchin’ yew wiff my eyes. I see when you drink the water from le pond. Your hoofs must be in pain as well. I watch as you care for them at le pond. Where is it that you are from? It is you who are from a place different.”

Sarge relaxed a bit and seemed to like Mahbelle, the Lee mow zeen. He knew out running her would not be an issue, so his fear subsided a bit. She was being extremely amicable and he enjoyed the conversation.

“I come from Morehead. I have been gone now for about two weeks, maybe more. Don’t know where I am going, but I am heading there. Mahbelle, why are you here? France is not even near Morehead? Plus, I don’t think I know what hoofs are?”

Oh, je n’sais pas. {Oh, I don’t know} Maybe I do a few things fo these peepole called Johnstons. They live heah on theese farm. I been heah now for eighteen yeeahs. Mais, I say for you, these are two-leggers that are good peepole. The Johnstons. I have nothing in me that would be desiring to hurt them at all, ever. Don’t want nothing bad for them. Comprends?” Mahbelle is trying to explain why she is here and for how long. “Oh, and hoofs is what you find at the end of your leg, non?”

Sarge caught on immediately. “Yes, mamme. I understand.”

“You appear to be on “the trek.” Out lookin for yousef. Could it be that I am right?” Mahbelle asks.

“Yeah. You nailed it. How would you know that?” Sarge is amazed that so many know about the Trek and he had never heard of it before now.

“Well, when I was just a young calf, this doog, looking like you, come here like you. He was hurt all over. He said he a fighting dog. Told me his stowry et I never forget. I was just a small calf and he spend two nights in the barn telling us all sorts of theengs. Said he was on a trek…to find hisseff. Je ne me souviennes pas son nom. She held her head back as if she was trying to remember. “Non, I am not to remember his name, but he was a tough one. Wanting to change real bad. He have a ear that was real bad.

“Was his name Old Joe?” Sarge throws this out. He thought it might be but when she mentioned the ear, he knew then it had to be him.

“Ah, incroyable! C’est lui. {That is unbelievable. That’s him!} This was his nom! He look a lot like you. Very handsome, you know.”

“I know Old Joe. Great dog. He is back home now. He has been back there for fifteen years. Lives over in Zag, not too far off from here.” Sarge was excited.

“Oú? Er, sorry…wheah?

“Zag. A small town north of here.” Sarge was actually pointing with his paw.

“C’est drole. This must be a place I never hear of. Funny name, non?”

“Yeah. I suppose” Sarge agrees.

“Mon chien, {dear dog} you have need of things now? You pass by here to stay for a long time?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Miss Mahbelle. Probably be heading on after I find something to eat.” Sarge says as he nods his head.

“Non?  You have need of food. This will be good for you. Attends ici un moment. Ah… wait here one moment, okay?” she lifted her head up and turned towards the lower pasture. There was group of down in the lower pasture. She trotted down to speak with them for a moment. Sarge waited and watched. In a few minutes, she trotted back up to the Willow tree and leaned down to speak to Sarge.

“Écouter moi. Listen at me. We have no food for the doogs, mais at the coal mine you will find a kitchen. There, you will find the food that you search. You arrivais theah at seeks o’clock when they feeds many men and you find all of food you want in the back cans.  Monsieur Old Joe told me all bout this place. Maybe for you this will be also as good? Eh?” Mahbelle was being very kind and helpful. She was trying and doing a good job.

“Miss Mahbelle, I sure am glad it was you that nudged me awake and not some mad farmer with a fire stick..er rifle. You have been mighty kind to me.” Sarge smiled and his tail was wagging.

“Mon ami, pas le problem. Pas de tout. Ma pleasure. {My friend, it was no problem at all. It was my pleasure} If you evah see Monsieur Old Joe once more, you say for me to him that Mahbelle sends salutations from me. Now, you need to bogue vite,  er, ah, move fast or you miss all the good food. You go now. Au revoir, mon ami.” (Good-bye, my friend} Mahbelle turned and headed down hill while Sarge turned and headed out to the road. Time was a wasting if there was some food awaiting…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 17

Coal mine Kitchen

Sarge wasted no time taking to the road. Down Rural Route 40 about three miles to the next left is what Mahbelle said. This road led up a holler that was covered with a heavy layer of thick dust. All the trees, bushes, grass and cars, were dusted with generous helping of grey dust.  The county didn’t pay much attention to this particular alley way…it was worn out and there were cars all over, parked here and there. This had to be the place.

There was a big, round top metal hut building off to the left and a large square building right at what appeared to be the center of the compound. Smoke was rising from a chimney and folks were coming and going from the back door at this place. This had to be the kitchen. He was wary about knocking over any cans. He had learned his lesson about doing that. So, he waited. He found him a spot over near a fence that ran along a well-running creek and laid down under the over-grown shrubbery that lined that area.

Eventually, the lights went out inside the kitchen. Once out, the men started heading out to their cars and trucks. It did not take long for the parking lot to clear out. All the vehicles were gone except one small white rusty S10 pickup truck off in the corner. Sarge held his position, waiting for this truck to leave as well. After nearly half an hour, two men walked out to the small truck. One appeared to be older and stood quite a bit taller than the other. The small fellow walked with a limp of sorts. A bit slow but carrying two big bags.  Throwing the bags in the back, they jumped in the truck and headed out of the parking lot. As the tail lights disappeared, he headed straight towards the kitchen.

He knew that this was the place he could find some good eating. Sniffing and scratching, he made his way round the building. Two times around and he found nothing, nothing at all.  He sat down and looked up at the door. Nope, nothing. Even the garbage cans had nothing to offer. This was surprising. Then he spotted an open window. Below it was a couple of silver cans. There was away inside.

Sarge jumped up on the cans on his first try. Standing up, he placed his paws on the window sill and with a springing little jump, he was inside the window. The only problem was that there was nothing below the window to catch him. He took a free fall and landed with a thud on the floor, knocking the wind right out of him.

He laid there trying to regain his breath, but also, he remained as still as he could so as to be undetected. Then, after a few minutes, he jumped up and began sniffing around at everything that could be sniffed. Hunger was driving him, so he was moving fast. He was limited to several silver tables, a bunch of mixing bowls, some pots and pans and a rack of flatware.  Five minutes of intense sniffing and it was apparent…there was nothing to eat. This made no sense. None at all. “This is a kitchen?” he thought.

He decided to follow his nose. Sniffing and concentrating, he went all around the kitchen and arrived at a tall black door. He scratched and pushed. It wobbled and wiggled but did not open. He put his nose down at the bottom of the door and inhaled deeply.  “Oh, my, oh my. Yep, this is the place”…he had to get in.

Scratching would probably work, but would take years. Also, it did nothing but hurt his paws. He had one longshot of an idea. If this didn’t work, he would have to go back outside. He jumped and tried to grab the door knob. Having no thumbs, this was not a real possibility, but hitting the door knob could, or may cause the door to open, who knows? He had to try everything before giving up.  On the third try, the door popped open. The striker plate was bent and the catch was barely holding the door closed. A little push in the right place was all that was needed.

Once inside, Sarge was astounded at the bounty he found. Cookies, cakes, sausage, bread, eggs, potatoes, cans of stuff, but cans meant little to Sarge. He had no way of knowing what was in them and even if he did, he was unable to open them. He looked up at the shelves of apples and oranges, chocolate. More than he could consume, that was for sure. Time was a wasting.

He started with the sausage. Oh, the spices and blended meats. This was gourmet eating.  Some cookies and a piece of cake. Some old biscuits covered with real butter, chunks of milk chocolate. Moderation was thrown away. Volume and speed equaled quality eating to any dog. This is the dog’s method of enjoying a meal. Tasting and being picky is for finicky little cats. The only two things that were going to stop Sarge at this point were fatigue and time. Maybe a third thing could be considered as well…that was being so full, he would not be able to eat another bite. It was hard for Sarge to imagine, but it felt like he was actually gaining weight on this “trek”.

While he was eating his fill, he sat down and leaned back against the tall black door that gave entrance into the storage room. By doing this, Sarge accidently caused the door to close rather abruptly. The door catch hung deeply in the striker plate this time and the locked clicked. The door was closed tightly and the knob was locked. Sarge was oblivious to his situation at that time as his mind and mouth were otherwise engaged. The door being locked held consequences he did not realize he would have to consider at that time.

After having eaten his fill, he suddenly realized that he was worn out from a long, long day. He looked around and it was dark. There were no windows in this pantry and the door was closed tight. Jumping at the door knob was out of the question as his stomach was more than full. He was thirsty and began to pant. He paced around the room for a while but finally accepted the inevitable. He was not getting out…no, not tonight. He lay down, stretching out on the cool vinyl floor. Slowly, he began to drift into sleep. “Thanks Mahbelle…” he said as he closed his eyes.

Suddenly, a flash of bright light filled the room as the door flew open. In walked a big, tall fellow looking for eggs. Stepping to the counter, the man could not help but see Sarge sitting there looking at him.  He was surrounded by empty packages of chocolate, biscuit bags and several sausage wrappers.  He knew immediately what had happened.

“BOSS!” he screamed with a voice of anger. “You need to see this.” Sarge practically jumped right out of his skin. He took off running towards the door when another big, burly fellow steps into the room. Sarge slams right into his legs. He bounced backwards and realized that he was going nowhere fast. “Not another porch!” he thought.

“Hold on, dog. What have you done here?” Mr. Rolin questioned without hollering. He looked round the room surveying all the wrappers scattered about on the floor. “How did you get in here? This door was shut. I know, because I shut it.” He asked as he was staring down at Sarge. Sarge’s ears are tucked back and his head is bowed down low. “Bennie Ray, get in here” he called.

Bennie Ray comes lumbering in, answering the call of his Boss. “Yes sir, Mr. Rowlin.” he says slowly, totally ignorant of all that was going on.

“Bennie Ray, looks like you got another one to care for. Look what he has done in here. He must be stuffed full of stolen food right now. Look at him.  He needs a bath, looks like he has lost all kinds of weight. He smells bad. You want to take him?” Mr. Rowlin asked.

“I don’t know, Mr. Rowlin. Let me look him over real good. Can I take him outside now?” he asked as he knelt down to rub Sarge’s back.

“Yeah, get him out of here. The sooner, the better. What a mess. Michael, get this place cleaned up but bring me them eggs first.  We gotta get breakfast done quick. Lost ten minutes already. Hurry it up!” Mr. Rowlin gave the orders, instructing the kitchen help in what needed to be done. Michael got moving while Bennie Ray escorted Sarge out of the kitchen.

Bennie Ray picked Sarge up and headed towards the steel door leading out back. Holding tight to Sarge, he marched straight out to the white pick-up truck that was in the corner last night. Once there, he sets Sarge in the bed of the truck. He stood there looking at Sarge as if he was trying to determine what he should do.

“Well, dog, I gotta make a decision bout you. You seem like a good dog and smart too. How did you get into the kitchen? How did you get into the storage room? However you did that took some thinking. Me and Mr. Rowlin closed up tight last night before we left. I wish you had a collar with tags or something. I can’t tell much about you without one.” He was talking kind of slow.

Bennie Ray was a bit slow. He had a lower I.Q. then his classmates in school and rode the short bus. Here at the coal mine he did his best and proved to be an excellent worker. He had found his place, and was completely satisfied. The men at the coal mine loved him and Mr. Rowlin had truly taken Bennie Ray under his wing. There was not a mean bone in his body.

His daddy had died several years back in a mining accident here at Clearview Coal Mine. Since then, he had been staying at his father’s old place. With his daddy being gone, Mr. Rowlin stepped in to watch over Bennie Ray like a surrogate father. While Bennie Ray proved to be real help around the kitchen, he proved to be a true friend and displayed a sterling character. Mr. Rowlin proved to be loyal and truthful and more like a dad than a Boss. His character was impeccable.

One other thing Bennie Ray did was take care of stray dogs. His place served as the Rescue Station in the area. Around his house, you could find twenty or more dogs on any given day. Big Boxers, Labrador Retrievers, Collies, Bird Dogs, Pomeranians, Shepherds, and Chihuahuas.  Mixed breeds of all kinds. He welcomed them from all over. Often, he took the Dog Pound over-flow. He loved dogs in a special way. Once at his place, the dogs came to love and respect him. He was known around Salyersville as the “Dog Whisperer” by the way he could handle any kind a dog in need. People would come in search of a good dog. They trusted Bennie Ray. His reputation was well known in the county.

He stood there looking down on Sarge, smiling while humming something. He was shifting his weight from foot to foot as he was watching this new fellow. Sarge instantly felt at ease. Finally, Bennie Ray said, “Hold on a second. Be right back.” He limped quickly into the kitchen and come back with a big square container of water and set it beside Sarge. Sarge dipped down and sniffed it while keeping an eye on Bennie Ray. Cool water after being locked in that room all night was a blessing. Sarge lapped the water down his parched throat for five minutes almost emptying the container. Bennie Ray just watched him go at it and smiled.

Reaching the bottom of the water pan, Sarge raised up, licked his lips and said, “Ohhhh, now that was good.” Suddenly, he looks up at Bennie Ray, thinking he had made a big mistake.  Bennie Ray says, “I was wondering if you knew the “Beagle Secret”. He leaned over and rubbed Sarge on his head and laughed.

“You understand that Beagles can talk?” Sarge questions.

“Oh, sure. Talked with lots of Beagles.” Bennie Ray laughed.

“No kidding? It doesn’t scare you?” Sarge was surprised.

“Not at all. My daddy had several Beagles before he died. We used to play chase and tag and hide and seek. Them Beagles was my best friends. We told each other secrets and jokes and stuff. Been talking to Beagles all my life. Nothing new to me.

“What about Mr. Rowlin and Michael and the others? Do they know the Beagle Secret?” Sarge asks.

“I don’t tell them anything about me or my dogs. Some of these men teased me about my dogs and their kids are real rude and call me names. You see, I am kind of slow. I cannot read and write very well. God made me like that, so I am okay with it. They seem to have a problem with it. But I can’t help that. I cannot tell them everything. If I try, they just gonna make more fun of things so I just leave’em alone.” Bennie Ray is talking plainly and not trying to mask anything.

“So, what decision do you have to make, Bennie Ray? Oh, my name is Sarge, by the way.” Sarge asks.

“Well, Sarge, I gotta decide if I am gonna take you home with me or not. If not, you have to be on your way right now. If you stay, well, I’ll get you out to the house and find you a place to stay. You’ll have a home for as long as you want to stay. I operate a Dog Rescue Center. That is what Mr. Rowlin calls it. I just like to take care of dogs who need help.” Bennie Ray lays out the details.

“Yeah?” Sarge is impressed.

“That is about the whole of it.” Bennie Ray is shaking his head.

“How long have you been doing this, Bennie Ray?” Sarge is filled with questions and really likes his new friend. His kindness is obviously real. He wants to help.

“Daddy started it before he died. About sixteen or seventeen years back. Some Beagle came by that was all torn up from a fight. His ear was hanging down and legs was all torn up. He came up to the coal mine and collapsed right on the door step in front of the kitchen. Daddy put him in the truck, brought him home. We worked all night. Thought we was gonna lose him, but we got him fixed him up. That old dog stayed with us for about three months. Him and Daddy talked about all sorts of things every night. Daddy was big on each dog experiencing things for themselves and finding out what the truth was on they own. This dog agreed with Daddy and loved him a lot. Finally, the old dog asked Daddy if  he could go back home. He was fine with that. Thought that was what was right and offered to drive him back home. I got to go with them. It was great.”

We drove about forty five minutes to a small little town called “Zag”. Whoever heard of such a place. “Zag!” The dog jumped outta the truck almost before we stopped. He ran up to the house, scratching on the door and howling. This tall fellow come walking out the door with a smile and a look of total surprise. The dog jumped up and down with delight. It was a homecoming like I had never seen before. Daddy said it was worth every minute.

The man that come out had tears filling his eyes. He grabbed the old dog and asked, “Where in the world did you find Old Joe?”

“Down near Salyersville. He’s a good dawg, Mister.  If you ever get tired of him, you call me. I’ll claim him any day!” my daddy told that man. From then on, daddy would take dogs in, clean them up then give them a home. They could stay forever or just a while. I am just following my daddy. I want to be like him. He was a good man, Sarge. Ha, one fellow said I was running a used dog store….like used cars…that was funny.”

Sarge was amazed. He had to ask the question…

“That dog…the beat up one…”

“Yeah. He was probably one of the best ones I have ever had at the house. Great, great dog.” Bennie Ray said without hesitation. He loved to say, ‘You gotta have s’perience’ when he talked to the other dogs. He had more stories about the hill dogs than you would believe. Plus, he understood life. He came to know his place and where he belonged. Sarge, listen, that was a dog’s dog.

“And his name was Old Joe?” Sarge inquired.

“Why, it sure was. Old Joe.  He came here a bit messed up at first. Angry and all. Old Joe learned a lot about being who God made him to be while he was here. He settled down in his mind and got his wounds all healed up. The biggest wound was his broken heart. Boy, that was big one. Once that was fixed, he was ready to go.” Bennie Ray was all smiles as he thought about Old Joe. It had been a long time since he mentioned his first visitor.

“His heart was broken? What do you mean? Never heard that one before.” Sarge said.

“Sarge, we got lots a time and I can tell you all about this at the house. I am gonna take you home with me, if you don’t mind. I got plenty of food and there is always plenty of company. The only thing is that there is no fighting allowed. You want go home with me?” Bennie Ray looked down at Sarge as he told him these things.

Sarge did not need much time to about this one. He smiled as he stuck his paw out like a dog shaking hands. Bennie Ray grabbed it and they shook in agreement. Sarge had found a temporary home.

“Oh, Bennie Ray?” Another thing…” Sarge had to ask.

“Yeah, Sarge.” Bennie stopped…

“You know a cow named Mahbelle?” Sarge just had to ask.

“Old Joe’s friend, Mahbelle? From a long time ago? She was just a calf, though. You know Mahbelle, too?” Bennie Ray was all smiles. “She just lives down the road here. This is too much.”

“She is the one that sent me here. You want to go by and say hello? “ Sarge suggested.

“Sure, why not? But not today. I got work to do. When we have more time, OKAY?” Bennie Ray was actually very excited about Sarge coming to stay. He reminded him so much of Old Joe is was surprising. He left Sarge in the bed of the truck and told him to stay there and not to wander around too much. Michael was not real excited about having to clean up the pantry and Mr. Rowlin wanted him off the property. At lunch, Mr. Rowling and Bennie Ray would come and take him down to the house.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 18

Three meals and a cot

 

Bennie Ray’s job at the kitchen obligated him to remain there until Mr. Rowlin was done with the cooking for the morning. His job consisted of cleaning up the area once the rush was over and all the work done for each meal, of which there were two each day, those being breakfast and lunch.   Being that it was early morning when storage room was open and the mess discovered, this meant that Sarge had a few hours to cool his heels. Bennie Ray said he could stay in the back of the truck but not to wander around. Bennie Ray had in mind to bring him something to eat here shortly.

“When you hear the horn go off, wait about thirty minutes, then get up here to the kitchen door and I will have you something to eat. okay Sarge?” Bennie Ray looked at Sarge. Sarge agreed.

Bennie Ray headed back to the kitchen while Sarge propped himself up on the walls of the truck bed. He took a quick survey of the coal mine yard and decided that he would take a long needed rest and wait for the horn. So, he did some dog stretches and sneezed a time or two. Finding two old blankets, he nudged them together to make a semi-comfortAlder sleeping area. Then, being the dog tied to habits, he turned around two times while scratching at the blankets, curled up into a ball and got ready for an extended nap. He wasted no time dropping into a deep asleep.

The horn was unmistakably loud. When it went off, Sarge jumped out of the bed of the truck and crawled over to the fence. “Good grief!” he whispered to himself. “That noise would wake the dead!” He watched as all the men, well, all that were hungry, headed into the kitchen. The kitchen was commercial in design. Huge bowls, refrigerators and stoves lined the walls. There was a long Hobart dishwasher in the back corner and several stainless steel working tAlders. Five men worked the kitchen with Mr. Rowlin being the ‘head chef’, Michael Bennett was the sous-chef and two helpers. Mr. Rowlin was actually the camp manager, meaning he was responsible for the management of the physical plant (i.e. The parking lot and surrounding areas, the kitchen and dining hall and all other buildings). The dining hall was a large area containing twenty four folding tAlders that were placed four across with an aisle between them. Fold up chairs were used and the walls were concrete block and painted an ugly green. The floors were vinyl tile. There were two windows on each side wall, an entrance door and a back door. It would hold around one hundred and twenty men. It served as a union meeting hall as well, as the Coal mine was a union operation.  There was an American flag in one corner and the State Flag of Kentucky in the other. A bulletin board was on the wall near the kitchen door and it was covered with various safety flyers and “For Sale” flyers with boats and trucks and motorcycle’s being offered. If you walked into this place for the first time, you would think you were in a meeting hall / lunch room at a local elementary school that was built back in the fifties or sixties. It was definitely dated, but served the purpose well. Thirty minutes after the horn had gone off, Sarge ran up to this building, took his place by the door as Bennie Ray told him, and waited.

Almost to the second and Bennie Ray bumps open the door with a huge black, heavy duty bag of garbage that was full and set it down. He reached back in and pulled out a huge white heavy duty bag and set it outside as well. He tosses the black bag into the silver can and whistled for Sarge, who was actually standing right behind him, wagging his white-tipped tale. Bennie Ray puts his finger to his lips so as to say, “No talking right now.”  He dishes out a generous helping of still warm eggs, several biscuits, gravy, pieces of thick ham and bacon. It is all placed in a large cake tin which he then takes and sits in front of Sarge.

“Now, listen, Sarge. When you are done eating , there is creek water over past that fence. It is cool and clean. You get over there and drink all you want, okay?” Sarge was so excited by seeing the food that he was raising his right leg up, putting it down, then his left leg up and putting it down, licking his lips and his ears were up.

With that, Bennie Ray turns and heads back into the kitchen to continue his work. Sarge enjoys a feast. He had never had pepper gravy before nor had he ever tasted bacon. Both of these covered his tongue with incredible flavor. It was spectacular. The scrambled eggs were delightful and the ham was exquisite. He savored every bite. He licked the cake tin until you would think the shine was going to come off. Once it was all gone, he waddled over to the fence line and followed it, searching for an opening.

Once he was at the creek, he drank in the cool water that rushed downstream. The tops of the trees were all grey, this coming for the coal mine dust, ever thing else was green and spotted with fall colors. It was as if he was living a dream. He has a place to stay, food that actually surpassed the tastes of Kibble n’Bits and plenty of new friends.

He thought about climbing back out of the creek and waddling back into the truck, but decided against it. He walked the creek line for a ways, looking for a place to take a mid-day nap. Along the way, he found a perfect spot. With trees surrounding him and a soft mossy undergrowth and the sun beaming down, he laid down for a quick nap.

Laying there asleep, he began to dream about home. It was a vivid dream, one that seemed so real, like he was there, living it. Boss, the kids…Lindsay calling…Momma…Big’un, Tiny and Betty…. They were all missing him in this dream. “Ah, there is Boss sitting on the porch, sipping his morning coffee all alone. He kept looking to his left, he kept looking for me…and I was missing. I need to get back home. I need to get back.” but something kept saying, “It is not time to return. Not yet, it is not time”.

He was awakened by a loud human whistle. For a moment he thought it was Lindsay calling him home. He jumped up and ran to the fence. It was Bennie Ray whistling for him. He barked and jumped until Bennie Ray saw him. He and Mr. Rowlin were walking towards the truck as Sarge ran up beside them. Bennie Ray leaned down and said,  “Hey, boy. Ready to see your new home? Hop in the back here. We gotta get going.” Sarge jumped in with no hesitation and stood with his legs on the bed walls. Bennie Ray and Mr. Rowlin got in, started the truck and off they went.

The drive from Clearpoint Coal mine to Bennie Ray’s house was just over two miles. He lived in a holler called Left Fork of Horsepen Road. Yeah, that was the real name, too. You turn left off of Route 40 onto Horsepen Branch and then go bout quarter a mile and turn left again. Follow this down past the big magnolia tree and you will drive straight into Bennie Ray’s driveway. Takes bout five minutes. Mr. Rowlin shakes hands with Bennie and asks if he needs anything. Bennie Ray assures him that everything is Okay.

“Alrighty, then. I guess tomorrow will be a new day. See you in the morning, Bennie Ray.” Mr. Rowlin pats Bennie Ray on the shoulder as Bennie Ray exits the truck. They wave and Mr. Rowlin takes off. This leaves Bennie Ray and Sarge standing in front of the house that Bennie Ray has always called home. For all of his twenty-six years, this has been the only home he had ever known. Seldom has he ever left the small town of Falcon during all that time. He did go into Lexington and various places with Mr. Rowlin for work related issues, simple and quick visits was all that was involved. Bennie Ray has been a homebody and content as he could be. He never had any call to leave and go traveling. This was home and he never really considered anything else. He was content.

“Sarge, what you see is what you get. I hope you like it. I sure do. It is my home, you know. I have lived here all of my life. I just painted the house last spring and had a new roof last fall. The heater and air conditioner both work very well. Paw built this place for me and him to live in a long time ago. It is a good place. I hope you like it a lot.”

Sarge stood by Bennie Ray looking at the house as he told him this story. It was not a big place at all. A small home with three bedrooms and a single bath, lapped siding and no garage. There was a nice barn that served as a garage as well as a shelter for his myriad of dogs.

Walking in the barn, it was easily seen that each dog had a particular place all fixed up like it was his or her own personal room. Each had a blanket, a pillow and a food bowl. Some had rubber toys and stuffed animals along with a variety of other smaller things that only dogs would find a use for. Each place had a personal touch applied to it and seemed to be a private space. By the looks of things, this privacy was respected, too.

Bennie Ray had hung pictures on the walls and installed single bulb lights down the center of the barn so the dogs would have some light during the night. It was clean and neat and had no real animal odors that you would expect in an outfit like this. All the dogs slept in here every night except for the Big Dog…or what the group called, the “Alpha Dawg”. The “Alpha Dog” was a prime position in this setting.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 19

‘Alpha Dog Politics’

 

You may want to throw your hands up at this point. Discovering that there is a hierarchy and a political structure among dogs may be something that causes your blood pressure to elevate. Nothing seems to get more bawdy and complicated then when politics are brought into the picture. Compromises, denials, philosophical clashes, creation of cliques and so on. How could this even begin to enter into the life and society of dogs? You generally think of politics and you think of shady deals being made and covert actions being taken. That is found in the world of two-leggers, not in the society of the Canine.

The Alpha Dog was not a political animal (no pun intended). He was not one who had his hat set for political gain. He was not a tougher dog that instilled fear and dread in his constituents. If this was the case, the dog world would be dominated by Rottweiler’s and Akitas and Pit Bulls. This was not the case here at Bennie Ray’s place for sure. None of the dogs were allowed to  engage in fighting, not even for fun. Any fighting, regardless of what kind or what reason, was grounds for instant removal. This rule had been tried and proven several times. No questions. So, toughness, though respected, was not what put one in the Alpha Dog position.

The Alpha Dog was the ‘favored dawg’. This “favored” status was something recognized and accepted by all the dogs in the compound. It was bestowed, in part, by Bennie Ray.  Once you were marked as the ‘favored dog’, meaning that Bennie Ray paid special attention to you in particular, you were held in high esteem by all the others. Certain priviledges came with the position as well. You stayed inside the house with Bennie Ray and you became the recognized arbiter of all disagreements and disputes among the other dogs in the compound.  Alpha Dog was the local Magistrate of sorts. Sarge was quickly educated in this by his fellow residents soon after his arrival.

Rarely did a dog come into this position from the outside. Generally accepted protocol has the Alpha Dog rising through the ranks. He was one of the group. It a grass roots operation, so to speak. He was one well versed in the needs and wants and was Alder to communicate these needs to Bennie Ray. Prior to their ascension  into the office of Alpha Dog, they were known as one who policed the area, making sure the compound stayed clean. They helped keep the dogs in line, keeping disputes down, holding the night barking down and making sure the compound was devoid of cats.

Cats were not allowed in this place. That was a fixed disposition and all dogs present were in full agreement. No cats. The ‘Alpha Dog’ saw to it that this rule was absolutely adhered to and followed to the letter. Nobody ever dreamed of simply assuming the position of ‘Alpha Dog’. It was by appointment. Bennie Ray was the appointer. He made the choice and once it was made, it was without question. Final. The ‘Alpha Dog’ remained in power until one of three things occurred.

First, he passed on to his final reward…or, in other words, he died.

This actually happened two times in the past. One old dog simply expired while in office. He was older, well respected and of sterling character, but he was just as old as dirt. His ticker gave out and he was laid to rest exactly one year to the day from the time he took the position.

The other was, in the course of duty, chasing a cat out of the compound and was struck by a car. He died a few days later in the Animal Hospital. His picture hangs in the barn with a bronze name plate plaque on the bottom of it. “Rambo” was a large chested Bull dog. Looked to be a military dog, very disciplined and very dedicated.  Big jowls, large chest, squared head. He served as “Alpha Dog’ for nearly two years. His death was sudden, shocking and obviously unexpected. Dogs around here whisper his name in reverence.

Second, he vacated his office by leaving the compound.

This is generally what would take place. A dog finds Bennie Ray’s place either by invitation or, wandering in he or she, for that matter, is allowed to stay after Bennie Ray’s inspection. Outside strays looked at Bennie Ray’s place as the “Club Med” of the dog world in that area. It may not be much like things in New York or Chicago, but in these mountains, it was the place to be. Surprisingly, many dogs are turned away by Bennie Ray. Insolence, rebellious thug dogs, deranged wild dogs and such. These were simply not allowed and many had been turned away over the years.

By invitation means that Bennie Ray actually invites you to come reside and find a home here. He is selective and this actually makes the place all the more desirAlder. It creates and environment that allows troubled dogs a place where they can settled down and think things through. Sometimes, it happens fast, sometimes it may take a while. All dogs, like people, are different. Usually, when the dog is rested and refreshed, he is then Alder to reason through issues and makes intelligent decisions. These decisions generally are made in favor of returning home. So, eventually, the Alpha Dog elects to return to his previous home. This decision made, within a few days, he is gone. This has happened only once during Bennie Ray’s time there.

Third, he is taken

Believe it or not, a large number of those who occupy the position of the “Alpha Dog’ are actually taken in by outside two-leggers and their familes. These folks come out to Bennie Ray’s looking for a family dog. Because of the obvious discipline and orderliness they see in the Alpha Dog,  they are selected by the folks looking for their own household pets. This is a coveted selection desired by most of the dogs there. They all want a personal place to call home. With two-leggers and their kids, a house and yard, the dog’s dreams are fulfilled. This  is a dream often talked about among the compound residents.

The amazing thing that Sarge discovered, after having been instructed in the way things worked in the compound, was that Bennie Ray had never heard of the ‘Alpha Dog’ position. He had no idea that the dogs had a pecking order established or a political structure in place. The dogs that came to stay with him in the house were simply the dogs he felt most comfortAlder to be around. Nothing more than that. He did not walk around, examining behavior and watching for the next leader. That was something the dogs established and developed on their own. Bennie Ray was oblivious to all of this. The dogs thought this was established by Bennie Ray. They had assumed for years that he was the one that set it all up. Bennie Ray laughed with amazement and when he discovered this. “Oh, Sarge. Never mind these things. Just let them be. If this is working for the dogs, great. Leave it alone.” In reality, it was established by and run by the dogs themselves. It was orderly, fair and great for maintaining civility amongst the twenty plus dogs.

Unknown to Sarge, his arrival came right between ‘Alpha Dog’ replacements. In line for the appointment was a handsome golden colored Labrador Retriever named Rogan.

Rogan was an excellent dog who had several admirers from around the county. Various two-legger families had come and were taken with the beautiful stature and character qualities Rogan possessed, but most felt that he was just too big to be a house dog.  Still, others were considering bringing  him home and trying to make things work, but Bennie Ray assured these folks that he was a farm dog, not a house dog. It would not be good for the dog of the family if he was to be cooped up in a home for the majority of the time. He would eventually chew the furniture to pieces and scratch a hole in the door, out of frustration. Rogan felt the same way. Dogs like Rogan needed open spaces where they could run. Being chained up or led by a leash was not something large dog breeds do not need or want.  Either of these would break his spirit in no time.

Still, there were several families who qualified and Rogan seemed to be a good fit. After a number of weeks, several personal visits and serious consideration, there were only two families who could actually provide him with the type of home he needed. Rogan was in the process of considering both, but waiting on one…

Rogan, being a Labrador Retriever, had a tremendous disposition. You could not get him mad. He was as laid back as they come, but still managed to keep the attention of those around him. You could play with him but you could not take advantage of his playfulness. He was affectionate and easy to love. He could laugh and cut up with any and all of the dogs in the compound, but he still reflected a tremendous discipline and managed to kept things in line while having a good handle on his surroundings. He was a mature lab, not a puppy. As a puppy, up until his second year, Rogan was a terror. Playful and fun, but he was unAlder to control himself. He ended up as a drop-dog over in Big’un County. After a few months here, be matured and settled down. Today, he was Bennie Ray’s obvious choice, according to all the dogs in the compound. However, with these other families considering him, he felt it would be wrong to get him all adjusted to living in his place only to have to uproot him again in a week or so. So, his “appointment” was being delayed…but, unknown to Bennie Ray, bringing Sarge into the house could have a tremendous impact on life in the compound as well.

 

 

Chapter 20

Sarge’s Introduction

 

The “Alpha Dog” scenario had no effect on Bennie Ray. As I mentioned earlier, he was totally ignorant to the entire situation. So, with no real worry, Sarge was invited to stay with Bennie Ray – in his house.

To say this caused the dogs in the compound some concern would be an understatement. Every dog in the place took a grievance towards his selection. They never met Sarge and already disliked him. Even the new arrivals that were just getting introduced to the place were upset. Rogan had worked long and hard,  serving loyally for well over eighteen months. He was recognized by the others to be the next in line as he held both their admiration as well as their respect. To have this pulled away in such a fashion was like a slap in the face of every dog that ever had aspired to the position.

They were unaware that Bennie Ray had no idea of what was going on. That Bennie Ray would arbitrarily pick a dog to come into his home simply because he liked them had never occurred to any of them. Allowing bad feelings to develop truly was unfair, yet, while the dogs in the compound had no idea about Bennie Ray’s innocence in the entire matter… Sarge did.

Bennie Ray, though, is a class act. After having the situation explained to him by Sarge, he set out to right any wrongs that may have happened. He knew that Rogan was expecting an invitation, so he went out to see him first. They took a walk…a long walk. Rogan considered Bennie Ray to be a god-like figure, so just being allowed to go with him on a walk was quite an honor. Bennie Ray knew how to communicate with all the dogs and felt very much at ease with Rogan. As they walked, he asked about the families that were considering giving him a home and if he preferred one above the other. Rogan thought about it and said,

“Bennie Ray, they both have everything a dog could want. The kids in both families are well behaved and the adult two-leggers seem serious about doing something. I really like both families. Either one would be a blessing to me.”

Bennie Ray responded, “I thought you would see things like that, Rogan. They are both fine folks. I believe that either place would make a good home. I know I am going to miss you here. You have been a good friend and a tremendous help. I will make some calls and see what we can get set up. Plan on making your move over the next few days, alright?”

“You reckon it could be so soon? That would be fantastic, Bennie Ray. Finally, I would have a home to call my own.  A place where I  would belong. Don’t get me wrong…I love it here. But to have a place of my own. That is what every dog here longs for, you know?” Rogan was very excited and his tale was wagging so hard and fast it was creating a breeze.

“Well, this leads me to this, Rogan. If you are going to be leaving so soon, I do not think it would be the smart thing to have you move into the house only to have you move out the next day. What do you think?” Bennie was watching to see if there was any let down in Rogan’s face. He got quiet as he waited for Rogan’s response.

In light of everything else, that was not a big concern with Rogan. Sure, he was looking forward to being the Second in Command and all, but having a place of his own far exceeded any other consideration. He knew he could trust Bennie Ray as well. There were no games being played here. Bennie Ray would go to work to get things done.

“No problem there, Bennie Ray. I am fine where I am. Shoot, been there for nearly two years now any way. A few more days will not be any problem.”

Bennie Ray went on to explain about meeting Sarge. The special thing about Sarge, in Bennie Ray’s mind, was that his Paw loved Beagles a great deal plus he had a Beagle when he was a kid. Sarge reminded him so much of Smiley, his pet Beagle from years back and they seemed to get along so well right off the bat. If Rogan was gonna stay around for a while, there would be no question. He was in. But with him preparing to leave, Bennie felt this would be the fair thing to do. He wanted to discuss this with Rogan first, so there would be no hurt feelings. You see, Bennie Ray truly was a standup guy.

This all left a tremendous impression on Rogan and did nothing but build greater esteem and respect for Bennie Ray. “Sarge must be special,’ he thought, ‘for Bennie Ray to take to him so fast.” There were no second thoughts lingering in Rogan’s heart or mind, so it was settled and things were going to be fine.

Still, knowing the compound the way he did, he knew that there was going to be some problems with this, not with him, but with the others. He felt that he could smooth over any bad feelings at the next Dog Hall meeting, which was held on the first Monday of every month. This was actually going to be held in three days. Bennie Ray was amazed that they were having meetings and about the entire “Alpha Dog” thing.

“Can I ask one thing from you, Bennie Ray?” Rogan asked as they turned back towards the barn.

“Sure. But if it involves money, you are out of luck. You ain’t got any pockets to put it in.” Bennie Ray used this one a lot and it always made him laugh.

“Would you introduce me to Sarge? I’d like to meet him. I want to see what kind of dog he is.” Rogan was wanting  to give Sarge a break down on the politics of the compound and what to expect. Along with this, he intended to invite him to the Dog Hall meeting. There he would introduce Sarge to the entire group. He had a plan. If it works, things would go better than expected.

“Sure will, Rogan. We will get together and have dinner in the house. You won’t be interrupted at all.” Bennie Ray was very accommodating.

Dinner that night included Salisbury Steak, gravy, potatoes (when mixed with gravy, the dogs loved them) corn and apple pie. This is what was offered that day during lunch at the coal mine. Bennie Ray always got to keep the left overs because the health department made them throw what was not eaten into the trash. Mr. Rowlin simply put it all in separate bags and set these bags outside. Bennie Ray would put them in the truck and take them home. The dogs were always well fed.

After dinner, Bennie Ray watched some show on the television while Rogan and Sarge stayed in the kitchen to talk.

“Sarge, it’s been a pleasure to meet you. You seem to be a good dog, but I don’t know if you are ready for what you about to face, once you move in here.” Rogan was straight forward.

“What do you mean, Rogan? Bennie Ray is a bad guy?” Sarge inquired.

“Oh, nothing of the kind. He is the best of the best. It is the system that is getting ruffled. The politics are getting turned upside down.” Rogan explained.

He went on to ask if Sarge understood the way things worked in the compound. Sarge gave him a quick rundown of what he knew and Rogan saw that he was a quick learner. He also discovered that Sarge had no interest of any kind in becoming the ‘Alpha Dog’ nor any real intentions of staying here for a prolonged period of time. He had a home in Morehead, Kentucky and was intent on returning there one day in the near future. However, he did feel a real kinship had been established between Sarge and Bennie Ray. He also came to understand that staying in the house was by Bennie Ray’s invitation, not something Sarge had concocted.

“Does Bennie Ray know about any of this?” Sarge asked.

“You know, I don’t believe he does. It ain’t something he ever seemed to be aware of. He is a pure hearted fellow and moves by love and respect, not politics or position. I doubt he ever considered there would be a political system in his own back yard. Shoot, I reckon the Alpha Dog would hold as much weight with Bennie Ray as the Mexican Chihuahua that just came in last week.” Rogan laughed a bit. Sarge could see instantly that he would love to be friends with Rogan.

“Now listen, I don’t want to be found behind the barn all chewed up because I live in the house with Bennie Ray. I sure have no interest in being the Second in Command or the ‘Alpha Dog’. I just want get things set in my mind, make some friends, eat a bite or two and get home. Nothing more. I am not out to take advantage of Bennie Ray or anybody. I will do my part to help out however I can.” Sarge was coming across clearly in expressing himself. Rogan took note. He had no doubts as to what Sarge was telling him. He could see that he possessed tremendous qualities and was a good dog. It was agreed that the transition of Rogan’s leaving and Sarge’s moving in would not take place until after the Dog Hall meeting. This would give ample opportunity to explain the reality of the situation to the others and to give a good introduction of Sarge to the compound. Plus, he and another idea that the dog’s would readily accept and he explained that to Sarge. Sarge was game and it was going to happen.

When they finished their discussion, they were Alder to speak about other things. Personal aspirations, real goals and such were all discussed. They both enjoyed laughing about when Boss learned Sarge could talk and Rogan laughed about his name. “Call me Rogan. I know about the “Rogaine” hair product and all, but believe me, that is not about me. That name was on my collar when I showed up here and it has stuck ever since. Wasn’t even my collar. Rogan makes me think of a clumsy hound.  I am just a dog, nothing more. Sarge. Just a dog….” He laughed and Sarge smiled. But that statement struck a deep cord in Sarge’s thinking. “Just a dog and nothing more.”

Sarge realized then and there that he had developed a condescending attitude towards other dogs. He always viewed himself as being better than a dog…he was a Beagle…a ‘Special Breed’.  In reality, he was just a dog. It did not hit him as a demeaning statement or a belittling consideration. It was a demarcation, it was just a fact. Bennie Ray was a human, he and Rogan were dogs. They were dramatically different…because Sarge was a Beagle…Rogan was a Labrador…in his mind, Rogan was an inferior breed. With Rogan, he and Sarge were different breeds indeed, but equal. There was the rub. Sarge was having trouble, but was learning…

They headed out of the house together and their friendship developed into one that would last a lifetime. Both were looking forward to next Monday night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 21

Scratch

 

“Yo, Sarge. Over here. Big Sarge.” a voice called out as they walked towards the barn. Sarge turned attempting to see who was calling but the darkness would not allow it. He did not recognize the voice at all so he stepped over to the side of the barn to find a Beagle that was approximately his size with unusual spotting and oversized ears standing there. He was not a dog that would grab your attention, but his spotting was a bit heavier than most Beagles. What was strange was that he spoke with a heavy New York accent. Like he just stepped out of a Rocky movie.

“S’up, big dog?” Scratch said.

“I am doing good, I reckon. How are you?” Sarge answered. This was going to be rap session, Sarge was thinking. This Beagle was moving from left to right, moving and grooving to his own beat of music.

“Same ole, same ole. It’s all good. It’s all good.  See you chowed down in the big house tonight. Eh? Ma dog…” he asked, thinking the food in the house was different then what they got to eat.

“Chowed down? Well, we had potatoes, corn, gravy, Sad Buried Steak, and some kind of chunky sweet stuff. What all did you guys eat?” Sarge was trying to being as casual as Scratch.

“No, kidding’? This is what you guys ate in the big house? No kidding?” Scratch was surprised. “Dude, say it ain’t so.”

“Yeah. That’s it. It was really good. What did you eat?” Sarge asked again.

“Same thing, Big Dog. Same thing. Dog, I love the gravy and potatoes. I could eat that like…like every day, dog.” Scratch seemed to have a bounce about him that no other dog he had ever met. An excitement…or maybe it was just manic energy. It was hard to tell.

“Doggy dude, I would have thought you big dogs be eating Ribeye with Kibble n’Bits on the side or something. What all you do in there, Big Dog? Anything special?” the conversation continued…

“I don’t know, just ate… I dunno…talked about things. You ever eat in there?” Sarge shot back. “How did you know my name, anyway? I don’t think we have ever met before, have we?” Sarge asked.

“Nope. I road in from Somerset, Kentucky. Somerset, Home of the Pulaski Maroons. No, dog, no, don’t say it…Morons…dude, that gets so old. Like, dog, I arrived up here by way of a half filled packing truck. Wanted to get away from the country life, you know, live it up in the big city. I hit Lexington for a day. It was big, alright. Big trucks, big people everywhere, big thug-looking homeless looking ugly mutts roaming the streets. Dude, I even saw some cats that would put the fear of God in you. Got my fill of that place real quick. Got scared to death, dog. Jumped on a packing truck heading out of town right before they closed the door. Ended up here. GFS unloaded me right at the kitchen door of the Clearview Coal Mine. Been staying here now about two years. If you ever met me, you had to have been in Lexington or Somerset. Ever been there?” Scratch was talking fast and furious.

“Nope. How did you know my name?” Sarge asked again.

“Big Dog. You all the talk around here. The new face. Everybody around here knows your name. Moving in the house, Second in Command. Dog, you moving fast, big and hard. One blow, don’t you know. Lay it on me, Big Dog.”  Scratch puts is paw out for Sarge to tap. They exchange a paw tap and Sarge is shaking his head. He is truly amused with Scratch. He was the first “jive” dog he had ever seen.

“That is blown way out of proportion, Scratch. I think folks got the wrong idea about that.” Sarge points out without going into detail.

“Yeah? Why so Paw-o?” Scratch keeps the banter alive.

“Can’t say right now. Where you stayin’ Scratch? You gotta roommate or any spare room?” Sarge asks.

“What? You needing space in the barn? You be staying on the ground with this clown? Dude, for real? You playing me, dog?” Scratch is truly surprised.

“No, I am for real. Do you have any room?” Sarge asked again. Seems that this was the only way to talk with Scratch. Ask the question, get a hip-hop, Rocky smack response but no answer to the question. Then, ask the question again. Then, you get an answer. It took a great deal of patience to simply talk to Scratch. He comes across very obnoxious.

“No problem-o, dog. No praaba-lemm-ooo. Plenty of space. Shadow me, Boss. Come on…” Scratch leads Sarge into the barn. As they walk down the main corridor, all the dogs are looking but not talking. Sarge glances over at a Collie and nods, but the Collie looks away. No eye contact? You gotta be kidding…and Collies are generally friendly dogs, you know? They are always the ones running for help on the television shows. Same with the Cocker Spaniel and Bird Dawg. Cold shoulders from everybody. Scratch was the only one showing any friendship at all. This was a bit odd. ‘What have I done?’ Sarge thought.

Rogan came up and saw that Scratch was showing Sarge around. He let them go for a second, but then called to Sarge…

“Sarge, you gotta second?” Rogan called out.

“Sure.” He stopped and looked behind him where Rogan was calling from.

“ Scratch, I’ll be right back.” Sarge trotted over.

“You know who you are with, don’t you, Sarge?” Rogan, knowing that Sarge did not know exactly who everybody was or their reputation.

“Yeah. His name is Scratch. Met him about ten minutes ago. Why?” Sarge asked.

“Yeah, that’s Scratch alright. He will talk the ears right off your head. Most dogs round here try to avoid him because of that. He wants to be all hip-hop and cool. He has been here nearly two years…longer than me…and he still has not found a place among the ranks. I don’t know, he’s just a bit odd. You be careful, okay?” Rogan was tryin to be helpful and give Sarge a heads up.

“Got it. Thanks for the update.” Sarge nodded as he headed back over to Scratch and asked where he could get a blanket and pillow. Scratch ran and got one of each.  Soon, they were laying down trying to sleep. Sarge found that Rogan was right. He had Scratch pegged. This dog kept talking jive, asking questions and talking smack like he was on the streets of New York. Sarge laid there, rolling his eyes at the silly questions and all the smack talk…sheesh…all night… “Look at them stars, dude. Just look at’em. They really something, ain’t they, big dog… you know, Twinkle Twinkle little star….”

The next morning was Sarge’s first full day at Bennie Rays place. Naturally, Scratch was going to give him the grand tour. About an hour into the tour, Sarge stopped Scratch and looked him in the eye.

“Dog, you tell me you are from Somerset, Kentucky. Let me ask you something. OKAY?” Sarge says.

“Sho thang, dog. Ask away, Big Dog.” You would have thought that Scratch was going to start break dancing.

“Why are you talking like you are from New York? Talking smack and hip hop all the time? Makes you sound silly.  Listen, I like you and think you and I could be good friends, Beagle Buddies, you know? But this hip-hop talk has got to stop. If you are from Somerset that means that you are a country dog. If you are a country dog, be a country dog. Be who you are and what you are.” Sarge was being brutally honest. What he said to Scratch struck him hard as well. “Be who and what you are…”. Sounded like something Mr. Old Joe told him…

Scratch took this hard and grew quiet and withdrawn for a long time. He did not even look at Sarge as they toured the land. Scratch not talking was something very unusual. Sarge knew he was upset but something had to be done. Finally, Sarge hears this comical voice behind him. “Da cweek is ovah der and Bennie Way’s pwace is wite in fwunt a you.” he finally said. Sarge looked at Scratch as if he was going to the other extreme.

“Scratch, come on now. You do not need to do that, either.” Sarge said.

“Do what, Sarge? Do what?  I am tawking stwaight wit you. It’s how I tawk at da house. Dis is why I done changed my way a tawkin’ up heah. Dey made me dah butt of dey jokes n’laffed at me awl dah time in Somerset.  It got so old and hut so much, I changed dah way I tawked and weft dat pwace.” Scratch was clearly confused and embarrassed. Sarge felt bad for the dog.

“Scratch, I apologize. I did not know.” Sarge said.

“Was yew fah weel about being my fwind, Sawge?” Scratch asked.

“Yeah, I was, Scratch.” Sarge nodded.

“Wisten, I ain’t stewpid, Sawge. I tawk country…and maybe I got a pwabwem wiff da way I tawk. But I ain’t  stewpid. Sawge. Don’t tweet me wike I am stupid. okay” Scratch was looking for some help here, Sarge could tell. To laugh and walk off would be a crushing blow to him.

“I never thought you were stupid, Scratch. But listen. How come you lose the speech problem when you use the other voice?” Sarge was puzzled.

“Don’t know. It just wuks out wike dat.” Scratch explains. “Somethin’ in my bwain, I wecon.

“Tell you what, Scratch. If you talk with the Rocky voice, go slower, get rid of the hip-hop smack stuff, you will be just fine. I understand you are wanting to change. Really, you improved quite a bit, but the talking smack just does not work. Really. It drives everybody crazy. Plus, you talk too much as it is” Sarge laughed but was serious. Scratch understood.

What you saying den, Sawge? Keep tawking da new smack but swo it down some?” Scratch was practicing now.

“No, keep the accent but get rid of the ‘smack talk’. Try it.” Sarge is standing there listening.

“Okay, how’s this?” he breaks into to a new banter…”You likin’ this place. It all look good to you?” Scratch sounded a bit like Rocky from the movie. A few adjustments, some practice and he would be okay.

“It’s all a lot better, Scratch. But drop the New York vocabulary and work on speaking like you are from Somerset. Slow down. You are from Somerset, Kentucky, not New York. You do not talk smack in Somerset, do you?”  Sarge was nodding his approval.

“Not really. I got the smack talk from watching television.  Sounded cool. But, you think slowing down when I talk will help things? No kidding?” Scratch was smiling. “Nobody ever took time to help me with this, you know. A little work, give me some time and I will have it. Dude, you gonna keep helping, ain’t ya?” Scratch was looking helpless as he reverted back to the smack for a second, but caught himself. He needed the friendship more than anything. Why did he talk smack? He just wanted to fit in and for others to quit making fun of him. Sarge was really helping him a great deal. Just finding a friend who was willing to help was more than Scratch ever expected.

Sarge noticed these things in dogs. He had to be brutally honest with Scratch. Scratch was being obnoxious with this New York gangsta smack talk. He had been like this for a while…nearly two years. It got on everybody’s nerves real quick. You either got away from the dog or you helped the dog. Most simply rolled their eyes and got far away from Scratch.

The hard facts of life are that few dogs really want to help. It’s easier to laugh and be uninvolved. Sarge wanted to help and helping really did not take much. Scratch caught on very quickly and in no time, his change was noted by the others. “Imagine,’ Sarge thought to himself, having to tell people that your name is Scwatch! That’s gotta be hard”

Scratch was being obnoxious because he thought that’s what it took to fit in. He overplayed the part. Nobody ever told him, “Keep it up and we gonna slap you silly” is what he mostly heard. This is why he was left alone. If they did tell him, he sure did not listen.

Sarge was learning. His “trek” was causing things to come together. He was beginning to understand things. He was changing. He was growing up inside. Maturity was setting in. He

was thinking about Boss and some of the things he had said. It was starting to come together now. Things were starting to make sense. He was being obnoxious and hard headed…like Scratch. He thought it should be this way, when really, it should be that way. Trying to get Boss into a fight with a neighbor…what was he doing? He had to be crazy!

Sure, it was a flashback…a bad memory. It was part of what Sarge was hoping to find. What was he doing that needed to change? Back home in Morehead, he thought everything he was doing was okay and everybody else was wrong. Helping Scratch made him realize how wrong he had been and he felt awful. But seeing and understanding these things was causing him to change inside. It was humbling him and molding him. Scratch was helping him more than he realized. So was Bennie Ray, Ed, and Mr. Rowlin. Everybody he had met so far, they were all helping. There was an awakening in his mind…he was growing up. No, it was more than that…he had to grow up.

After having spent the morning with Scratch, Sarge extended his paw for a paw tap. Scratch’s heart swelled with pride. He tapped Sarge’s paw and said, “Dude. That what it’s all about.”

“Yeah.” Sarge agreed.

Scratch just smiled. The two friends continued their walk…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 22

Dog Hall Meeting

 

It may seem like Sarge’s life since leaving was actually filled with new, exciting adventures almost on an hourly basis. The fact of the matter was that there was a great deal of time spent in solitude, thought and sleep. Days were spent walking long distances and avoiding cars, two-leggers and other animals. Two-leggers, passing at high speeds were a constant danger while on the road. Also, many of these cars were filled with mean spirited individuals who liked to try to hit Sarge with bottles and other trash found in their cars. Walking in rural areas, Sarge encountered a host of different kinds of animals that did not seem to even want to try to be friends. He had been chased by a paddle of ducks, a flock of goats and a herd of cows. You think of this as being amusing, and it is, when someone else is being chased. But when you get goosed and then have twenty feather covered wild eyed ducks quacking after you, it becomes a harrowing experience, to say the least. Why, his head became the target of one particular bird while he was leaving Mr. Old Joe’s place. It would dive down out of the trees and peck his head and then swoop back up into the leaves.

The days were generally mundane and dreary. Lonely times when all he could do was walk. During these times he would think about things and replay events over and over in his mind. Boss, at first, was a cause of anger and frustration. The more he walked and the longer he was gone, Boss became more of a friend. The good things started coming to the surface. Stanton and the first ride home, setting up home, that silly alarm clock. Lindsay’s running around the house always amused him. He would chase her and they would fall into a pile of leaves and Lindsay would laugh and laugh. Watching Big’un discover the “Beagle Secret”.

When he wasn’t walking for distance, he was sniffing to find food. Water was a big thing as well. You can deal with hunger for a few days, but thirst was tough. Then, when he wasn’t walking, he was sleeping. He never seemed to be Alder to get enough sleep. Just a minute here and there. It seems as if dogs require at least fifteen hours of sleep a day. If this was true, Sarge was dealing with bone deep fatigue.

With Monday night being scheduled for the Dog Hall Meeting, Sarge was going to take the next day or two to catch up on his rest. He told Scratch of his plans and asked him to keep all the other dogs away while he curled up in the barn and took a long needed nap. Scratch stood watch allowing for Sarge rest his road weary bones uninterrupted. Except for meals and water breaks, Sarge slept.

Monday night finally arrived and every dog in the compound was found in the barn. Rogan was there and was prepared to speak. Sarge, rested and refreshed, was there, Scratch, Sledge, Furry, and Slim. Dogs of every size and shape and breed. A wooden box had been set in the middle of the pack. A moderator they all called Irish Mick, an Irish Setter, was standing front and center. He cleared his throat and stood still and raised his paw high into the air. “This dog has character, doesn’t he?” Sarge asked Scratch. Where is he come from?” Before Scratch could say anything, the meeting was called to order.

“Attention. You all listen up. This is the Dog Hall meeting for the month of November. I hereby bring the meeting to order. With Carlton being gone, we find ourselves without a Second in Command. It had been our hope to receive Rogan as our new Second in Command. However, with certain recent events that have taken place, this possibility has been brought into question. Discussion on this subject is the reason for this meeting having been called. This meeting will come to order. Please be seated.

With this, every dog sat down keeping a keen eye on Mick. Mick was perhaps the oldest dog in Bennie Ray’s care. He had to be close to fifteen years old. He had grey whiskers complementing a distinguishing grey beard. His head was topped with grey hair and he had heavy eye brows. He had actually held the position of Second in Command once for an entire year. This was years ago, long before any dog in the compound had come along. After a year, he was taken in by a family over in Paintsville thus ending his term. He came back due to the family moving Tennessee. The Momma of the family actually brought Mick back to Bennie Ray prior to leaving for Nashville. They were moving to the suburbs and felt that Mick needed more than a fenced-in back yard. It was a heart breaking separation for Mick. He had come to love the family and kids.  Bennie Ray did not hesitate to embrace his old friend and welcomed him back. Mick was actually glad to come back, but the pain of leaving his family took quite some time to overcome. He and been here ever since and if he had his way, he would never be leaving again. Mick never uttered the first word of complaint. Since then, he says, this is home.

Mick cleared his throat and stood still. With all eyes on him, he said, “Rogan has done asked to have the opportunity to say a few words.  You all listen up. I would ask that you hold all questions and comments until he has finished speaking. …Rogan….” With this, Mick stepped down giving up the podium to Rogan.

Howling and barking rolled through the barn as a display of affection for soon to be leader. The room grows quiet once more with the eyes of every dog in attendance focused on Rogan. ‘Alpha Dog”. He stands on top of the box and clears his throat and looks out amongst the dogs present, nods and raises a paw.

“I am so glad to be here with you all and I fully appreciate the support you have shown as well as the opportunity to speak. I realize that there is a rumor mill at work that has been cranked up during these past few days. I assure you that it has been fueled only by rumors, rumors that have no fact in them at all.

I have worked hard over the past eighteen months and have done my best to earn the honorAlder position of ‘Second in Command’. But things have come up that I have had to consider. After long discussions with Bennie Ray and careful thought, I have elected to forego my appointment and allow another to take my place. Please allow me to explain…”

This news set the barn to jumping. The dogs were howling and barking and running in circles. Having not heard all the information, the dogs began to shout, “It ain’t fair! It ain’t fair!” There were growls and snarls. Teeth were showing in protest. Rogan was surprised at the support he had garnered but he knew he had to calm things down as soon as possible. He held his paw high into the air.

“Settle down! Settle down!” he pled with the crowd. When nobody seemed to notice his efforts and while they were allowing themselves to get worked into a frenzy, Rogan let out a viscous growl and a menacing bark that caused all the animals to stop instantly and look up.

It took a few minutes for the excitement to die down and all the dogs find their places once more. When Rogan saw all were quiet, he called Mick up to the box. After a few seconds of discussion, Mick walked out of the barn and Rogan began to speak.

“I have reasons for my decision that you all need to hear. I do not have any desire to vacate my responsibilities, but I have a greater opportunity which has arisen in another area. One you will all understand and appreciate.  The Charles Big’un family has been after Bennie Ray for two months now to allow me to come and live with them on their farm over near Tudor Key. After visiting with them, I have decided to accept their invitation and intend on moving there by Wednesday of this week.”

The dogs were ready to celebrate the good news until Ricky the Rottweiler stood and stated in a low, husky voice, “We gonna miss you something terrible, Rogan. But we ain’t gonna have this Sarge dog running this place. Nobody knows him. It ain’t that we don’t trust him or don’t like him. We just don’t know him and are sure that he don’t know us and our way of doin’ things.”

All the other dogs barked their agreement and Rogan shook his head as if he fully understood their thinking. He kept looking at the barn door waiting for it slide open.

“I agree with you and fully understand. Sarge should not be placed in such a position of responsibility right now, and I am more than sure that he would agree…” Rogan was saying this when Mick pushed the door open. Up walked both Mick and Sarge. They went directly up to the box and stood beside Rogan.

Rogan nodded to Sarge while he was stepping down from the box and allowing Sarge to stand in his place. “Sarge has come to give his opinion on things and let you know his thoughts. I believe it is important for you all to listen and hear what he has to say.” Rogan looks a Sarge and this is his mark to begin speaking.

All the dogs got quiet, leaned forward and lifted their ears. One wrong word could have caused the entire place to go off like a keg of gun powder. The air was filled with tension as every dog had their mind made up. Sarge was not about to change it, either.

Sarge started off slowly. “I realize most of you have no idea as to who I am, where I am from, or why I am here. Let me set your minds at ease. I am from Morehead, Kentucky. I got here six days ago and have had numerous discussions with Bennie Ray. Also, I have had several discussions with Rogan and Mick. Personally, I would want to nominate Rogan for the position of Second in Command, no questions asked and no reservations. He’s the dog for the job, not me.

I have no desire to be Second in Command and will not accept the position, if offered. I came here simply because I got caught eating in the kitchen at the Clearview Coal Mine. I was trapped and could not get away. Mr. Rowlin got Bennie Ray to bring me out here. I was invited to be here, just like the rest of you. I’m glad to be here. Thankful, actually.  Good food and great company.  But I have no intentions of staying here for a long time. Regardless of whatever happens, I am not going to  be an “Alpha Dawg’ or Second in Command.

Bennie Ray has asked me, no, he invited me to stay in his house. Got me a place all fixed up and we are Alder to talk quite a bit,. I will probably do that, if you all don’t mind. I want you all to know that I understand the situation. I simply want to be friends with whoever will be a friend. I did not have any enemies when I got here and I sure hope I do not have any when I leave. I will help in any way I can.” Sarge finished speaking and stood there.

“Any questions?” Rogan asked, opening up the conversation.

Ricky the Rottweiler that spoke earlier, stood once more. He was satisfied with the way this was going and appreciated the way things were being handled and let it be known. He ended by saying, “I just got one question, Sarge. How did you managed to get invited into the house so fast when most of us never even seen the inside of the porch?”

Sarge sat on his haunches and looked at Ricky. He was a big animal, not one to be messed with. “Good question, Ricky. The way Bennie Ray explained things to me was that he and his Paw raised Beagles when he was a kid. I reminded him of a Beagle that his dad raised when he was a kid…I am talking about eighteen years or twenty years back, when Bennie Ray was real young. Honestly, I think we all feel the same way about Bennie Ray, right?” Everybody howled in agreement.

“I really admire the guy. Mr. Rowlin as well. Two of the best two-leggers I ever met. He asked if I would mind staying in the house. I thought, “Why not?” and I agreed. This was before I knew what I know now.” Sarge had given a good explanation.

“Okay. If you are not going to be Second in Command, who is? Ain’t nobody else ready for the position.” Ricky said, telling and asking all in the same sentence.

Sarge looked over to Rogan. Rogan winked and nodded his okay. Sarge then was quick to answer. “Oh, you got a Second in Command already. He is tremendous and more than well prepared for the job. You all respect him now. Rogan, what you think?”

“I am in full agreement.” This caused everybody to get still and quiet.

“Irish Mick, get up here” The place erupted in howls of acceptance and bays of excitement. Everybody loved Irish Mick. He was the one they all went to when they had heart questions and personal struggles. They looked to him as a father figure. He was a natural fit and shoe in for the position, if he would accept.

Irish Mick was on the box looking out over the dogs. His heavy, thick brow was glowing with pride. He loved his family here. Each dog was special to him. Rogan called for a vote. Paws went up and the dogs all howled in unison. Irish Mick was in. He could not refuse. Mick was the ‘Alpha Dog’, Second in Command. Clifford informed him that his chambers would soon belong to Mick and that they were to be expanded.  The dogs were dancing in celebration. This was one Dog Hall meeting they would never forget.

Afterward, Sarge received a warm welcome from all the dogs in the compound. Scratch was standing beside Sarge the entire time. Rick came up and they paw tapped. “Hey, listen little fellow. You seem to be a good canine. My kind of canine. Sorry for the cold shoulder and questions. No offense meant. We good?” he looked down at Sarge. Sarge was smiling and said, “No offense taken, Ricky. We good.” The night continued like this for a while. Finally, Sarge leaned in to Scratch and told him, “You have been a good friend, Scratch.” Scratch almost became emotional when he heard this. He knew then that he had a friend in Sarge. A real, true friend.

“No, Sarge. You been the best of friends.”

A few other things were discussed and the meeting ended after and Irish Mick had been patted on the back by every paw in the place. Rogan and Sarge knocked paws.

“You did it, Sarge. Great job.” Rogan said.

“Naw, Rogan. These guys love you. You had them from the start. Me, what did I do? Just told them who I was and what I was doing.” Sarge was taking the low road…for the first time.

The tension leading up to the meeting was gone. In its place was a greater unity among the pack than ever before. Irish Mick was in his place and he would hold this for a long, long time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 23

A Return to Somerset

 

Scratch had been experiencing quite a bit of restlessness over the past few weeks. He had listened to Sarge regarding his style of talking and took his advice regarding the need for some changes. He put these suggestions into action immediately and noticed a marked change among his peers. It was all making sense to him. Life was changing for the better. He was being accepted as one of the group and included in more activities. Still, there was something that was pulling at him, nagging him relentlessly. Sarge was the only one he felt he could confide in.

A week past and Scratch had to speak to Sarge, so, one evening after dinner he found Sarge alone. “Sarge, you got a minute?” Scratch stepped back and Sarge joined him.

“What’s up, Scratch. You got something on your mind?” Sarge noticed that Scratch was serious.

“Yeah, something big. Can we take a walk?” Scratch looked around and was trying to be discrete. They took off down the fenced pathway that led round the property. It was a worn pathway due to repeated treading of paws. Scratch had been and was presently struggling with telling anybody about his plans, especially Sarge.

“What was your home like, Sarge? Did you have good two-leggers, or were they mean and hard to get along with?” He asked Sarge a direct question.

“Well, Scratch. Boss was a fine fellow. A good man who cared for his family, the neighbors and I truly believe, me. He and I would sip coffee on the porch in the evening while discussing things. We got along real good.”

“You drank coffee? How was that?” Scratch made a face.

“From the first taste, it was really good. Boss would always put some French Vanilla creamer in the cup and it would make my tongue slap my eyebrows. It was really good, to tell the truth.”  Sarge was licking his lips even thinking about it.

“Never tried the stuff. Never even liked the smell.” Scratch commented.

“Yeah. Some don’t.” Sarge agreed.

“You miss home?” Scratch was getting closer to the real issue now.

“More and more, Scratch. I do and I have been thinking about heading back there, but I still have two things I have yet to understand. I get these things answered and I am ready.”

“What two things, Sarge?” Scratch was serious now and speaking friend to friend.

“Well, I understand that I am a dog. I accept that. Boss is a two-legger, a human. We are definitely different.  On several occasions, Boss and others have mentioned that two-leggers “own” dogs. I don’t see that. How can I be owned by anyone? That is the first thing.

Then there is the issue of being equal. I understand I am a dog but are we not equal with humans? I can talk and think. I know that we are different, but I have yet to meet two two-leggers that are alike. We are all different. Does that mean that one is superior?” Sarge was talking freely as he had never done before. Scratch was listening.

A few minutes passed before either of them spoke a word. Finally, Scratch cleared his throat..

“Sarge, the ownership issue has been discussed among Beagles for years and years. I see it like this. Ownership simply means that that two-legger has taken complete responsibility for me and my wellbeing. He has to watch over me, protect me, feed me and so on. He cannot tell me what to think and all that, but he does have the right and responsibility to care for me and set boundaries. I have no problem with that. Boundaries are needed and good. As a matter of fact, I am thankful for that. Those are the things that protect me. More dogs get hit in the road then in their yards, you see. I am told not to get out of the yard. I obey, I am safe. In the road, I am a target. Get it?”

“What? Why would you say that?” Sarge asks.

“Well, Sarge, just think if you were left on your own, with nobody to care for you. You would be drinking out of mud holes and having to hunt up your own meals every day. When a two-legger owns a dog, all that is taken care of.

No owners I have known of have ever tried to tell their dogs what to think, though. They have had requirements and responsibilities and that is fair. I bet the kids in your house had to clean their rooms and wash dishes and such, and they are the responsibility of the Momma and Paw. Owned, you could say…” Scratch was making perfect sense. He was right. Sarge had been mistaking ownership for slavery. With animals, ownership meant responsibility.

“Okay, what about being equals? How would you answer that one?” Sarge is inquiring.

“Two-leggers are superior to dogs. We are not even close. Two different species. Human beings are on a far higher level than dogs, Beagle or not. They answer to God. We don’t. They have greater abilities and greater responsibilities. They can think and are creative. We can think about simple things but name me one thing a dog has created. Something major in the past or present?” Scratch was smart as a whip and was surprising Sarge.

Sarge could not answer this. He was stumped. Actually, he was amazed at Scratch’s depth of understanding in these things. He had answered the ownership question that had nagged at Sarge for well over a year, and in dog time, that is a long, long period. That question was answered and the answer satisfied the heart of the question. Now, Scratch was fairly blunt regarding the equality issue…and he was right.

Sarge was getting more out of this walk than he anticipated. He never thought Scratch was capable of such deep thinking. Scratch had a brain and he knew how to use it, too. Socially, he had issues, but he was quickly overcoming those things. Scratch was changing almost daily and Sarge noticed it. He finally had his major questions answered. He had to think on these things for a while, but something deep in his heart was telling him he had received the answers he had been looking for.

“One more thing, Sarge.”

“Yeah, what?” Sarge said.

“That ‘I’m a Beagle. Special Breeding’ stuff you talk about all the time?” Scratch said.

“What about it?” Sarge looked at Scratch.

“Get over it. Are you going to say that you are more special than Mick? Or Rogan? You got a Labrador Retriever and an Irish Setter…different breeds from the Beagle. Are the less than the Beagle or better than the Beagle? You see what I a mean here?” Scratch was driving home a real lesson.

“We’re dogs, dude. We are all dogs. Mick is as good as you and you are as good as Mick. This special breeding stuff is a bunch of whooeee stuff.” Scratch was hitting hard but he was hitting home. It was all making sense to Sarge. He felt like a huge weight was rolling off his shoulders. He could breath. His anger was being blown away by logic and reason.

“Wow. Scratch. That is some good thinking. You have given me a lot to think about.” Sarge trailed off as he was thinking of what all he was hearing. It all made perfect sense.

“What did you want to tell me?” Sarge was quiet.

“I’m heading home, Sarge.” Scratch blurted out.

“ What are you talking about, Scratch?” Sarge was at a loss.

“Yeah, Dog. I wanted you to be the first to know. That’s why we are on this walk. Big Dog, it is time for me to boogie back home. Dog, I got to get back to Farmer Brown and Miss Mable. They are my two-leggers, I am their dog. Two of the best folks you will ever met, Big Dog, I am telling.  It is time for me to head home” with that he stopped and looked at Sarge waiting for a response.

“Dog, I know you having struggles with what I have to say, but, Big Dog, listen to me.  I realize that I am just a dog, nothing more but certainly, nothing less. I am not a human, I am not equal to humans. Shoot, Dog, I ain’t even got no thumbs. God made me a dog. This had to be the hardest thing for me to get a hold of, Dog.  Sure,  I am special because God made me. But, when he made me, he made a dog. Great. I cannot change that. But I can enjoy that.

I was owned by Farmer Brown and I blew it all by leaving. Been a hard, hard two years, dog, I am telling you. Then you show up, show me what friendship is all about. I start seeing things  clearly and suddenly, it all fits. Time for me to go, Sarge. I need to get back home.” Scratch was almost in tears. It was hard for him to tell Sarge these things, because he knew that it meant ‘good-bye’buddy.

Sarge was rattled by what Scratch was saying.  He was “just a dog, not a human”. He now knew that Scratch and others meant when they said that. He could appreciate what they were saying and not become frustrated. It was akin to saying, “I am just a dog, not a fish.” Still, he had to push further so that he could truly understand. He asked Scratch some searching questions…

“Why did you leave in the first place, Scratch?”

know why? ‘Cause they stupid, you know? Just stupid.”

“Number Two, I wouldn’t listen. Because I would not listen, I could not learn. I was stubborn and hard headed and as dumb as a dog could be. This was causing a great deal of friction between Farmer Brown and me. One day, I just thought enough had been said and done. I had had enough and took off. I was going to find a better way. Yeah, right.”

“Sarge, Look at me now. You reckon I found the ‘better’ way? Really, how much have I improved things? Here I am in Bennie Ray’s compound, under the care of Bennie Ray, eating Bennie Ray’s food. Depending on Bennie Ray for shelter and living by Bennie Ray’s rules. Nothing, regarding my living situation, has really changed. Somebody, i.e. a two-legger, needs to give me shelter and food. Without this, I am in trouble – Dog, we all in trouble.

Guess what? I had all this in Somerset. Only, there I loved Farmer Brown and Miss Mable and they loved me. There is the missing piece right there. It’s like what the song says,  “Without love, I have nothing, I have nothing at all…you remember that song?” Scratch is sounding like an experienced Sage. What he is saying is making sense and is striking chords that had been broken for a long time. He was talking a lot, but he was not rambling on with empty words. He is saying something and it makes sense. He continues…

“Big Dog, Farmer Brown and Miss Mable…dog, they are my owners, not Bennie Ray. I have no complaints towards or about Bennie Ray. Love the man, dog, love the man.” Scratch was laying it all on the line. Sarge was saddened by the news that he was losing a friend, but he was so impressed with Scratch and his understanding of things. He was sitting there with tears in his eyes.

“When are you wanting to leave, Scratch? Anytime soon?” Sarge was going to miss Scratch, that was a given, but when was his friend going to be actually leaving?

“Anytime, I reckon. Gotta make some plans and get things ready. It’s a long, long way down there, Dog. Take me a good week or more traveling the back roads. But it’ll be soon.” Scratch and Sarge were sitting down looking over the creek as they talked.

“ Well, yeah, Scratch, I reckon it’s time, buddy. You know I am going to miss you. You have been a true friend, ‘Dog’” Sarge looked at Scratch as he said that and they both smiled.

With everything being explained, they headed back to the barn. Sarge headed to the house. That evening, Bennie Ray and Sarge sat in the living room. Bennie Ray was reading quietly and Sarge was lying by his recliner on the floor. Sarge lifted his head up to look at Bennie Ray, acting as if he was about to say something, then he laid it back down. Bennie Ray noticed and asked, “You want something to eat, Sarge? You hungry?”

“Naw, Bennie Ray. Dinner filled me up. It’s about Scratch. He feels like it’s time for him to head home.” Sarge was a bit discouraged with this and it came out in his voice.

“No kidding? He has been here a long time. I really like him, too. Where is home for Scratch?” Bennie Ray inquired.

“Somerset.” Sarge replied.

“Somerset? Somerset, Kentucky? Why, Mr. Rowlin is going down to Somerset this Thursday to get a new cooler for the kitchen. He will be leaving real early but coming back the same day. That is really something.” Bennie Ray was thinking…

“Really! You think he might give ole Scratch a ride? If not, Scratch’s gonna take off on foot…no food, no water…said it’d take him a week or so. It will be a hard and dangerous trip.” Sarge was concerned and Bennie Ray could tell.

“I will speak to Mr. Rowlin tomorrow about it. I was hoping to go myself, Sarge. I have never been to Somerset before. I will definitely let you know something tomorrow night, Sarge.” Bennie Ray was excited about going to Somerset and he was glad for Scratch. Going home is always a special thing for anybody. Bennie Ray always encouraged dogs to return home as a first consideration.

The next day was a busy one and moved quickly. Still, Bennie Ray and Mr. Rowlin managed to have a long talk as they were leaving work. The white S10 pulled in the long dusty drive. Sarge knew the sound of the truck and heard them coming before they got there. He stood out under the canopy of trees that lined the drive, watching them drive up. Bennie Ray was smiling, giving a thumbs up to Sarge. Sarge smiled and ran to find Scratch. He found him in the barn, sitting in a darkened corner, alone. He was real quiet. For Scratch, this is not normal.

“Scratch, I got some great news. Mr. Rowlin can give you a ride to Somerset this Thursday. Gonna leave early in the morning. You gonna be home real soon.”

Scratch didn’t respond with a lot of joy at the news. He nodded his acceptance but his eyes had a sadness filling them.

“What’s up, Scratch. I thought you would love to hear something like that.” Sarge was a bit surprised at Scratch’s lack of reaction.

“I am glad to hear it, dog, but leaving here is gonna be tough. I ain’t got no friends down there. That was part of the reason I left to come up here. They all made fun of me because of the way I talked. It was a hard life down there. You reckon things done changed, Sarge?” Scratch was ready to forget it and stay.

“You bet I do. Scratch. You have changed. You have grown up.  You do not talk funny anymore and you are a lot smarter than you realize, buddy.  Plus, you gonna have Farmer Brown and Miss Mable taking care of you. You have a home, Scratch. A place where you belong. Rogan had to wait almost two years before he found a home…you got a home…two-leggers that love you and want you to be there.” Sarge was thrilled with what he was saying and it was contagious. Scratch was getting excited as well.

Scratch started nodding his head and stood up. His tail was wagging uncontrollably. “Yeah, Big Dog. You right…I’m goin’ home. I get to go back home. Dog, I gotta ask you something. One favor….”

“Yeah, lay it out, Scratch. You can have anything but my private stash of Kibble n’Bits.” Sarge laughed.

“Private stash of what?” Scratch looked curiously at Sarge. “You been holding out on me?”

Sarge stuttered for a second, not knowing that to say.

Scratch laughed and yelped. “Big Dog, I was just playing you, dog. All I want is that you go with me. I mean make the trip with me. We will have a blast and it will be our last time together for a long time. Come on, dog. What else you gonna do? Lay around here all day? Get fleas? Come on, dog.”

“Sure, I will go with you, if I can. Let me clear it with Bennie Ray.” He saw no problems unless Bennie Ray said something.

Thursday arrived with a blue sky that was sunny and clear. A perfect day, really. Not a cloud in the sky. Lunch was packed, the truck was running. Mr. Rowlin sat with Bennie Ray in the cab. Scratch and Sarge were sitting in the bed. It was time to go. Scratch was filled with anticipation. The day had arrived. Sarge was going along to keep him company.

Mr. Rowlin took the Mountain Parkway up to Winchester then looped around by the Daniel Boone homestead. This put them directly onto I-75. They stayed heading south for the next two hours. It was about a hundred and sixty miles to where they needed to go.

Mr. Rowlin was listening to the radio while Bennie Ray was watching all the scenery. They passed by Richmond, Berea, Mt. Vernon, Renfro Valley and came up to London, exit 22. Scratch was starting to recognize things. Plenty of things had changed over the course of two years. New exits on the Highway, a huge new outlet mall, a few new gas stations. Essentially, though, things were still the same. Scratch was so excited. He propped himself up on the bed of the truck and was hanging his head out the side. The wind was blowing his tongue around and his ears were flapping like playing cards in a bicycle spokes. His eyes were filled with delight. Sarge was excited as well. Something’s are just naturally contagious, you know.

“You know something, Big Dog? This reminds me of a movie me and Farmer Brown watched a long time ago. It was called, “The Willard is Odd” or something like that. You ever seen that one?” Scratch was talking kind of loud because of the wind blowing in his ears.

“Don’t think so, Scratch. Tell me about it.” Sarge said.

“This little girl named Dorfie gets blown way when a tornado hit. Her house travels for miles and miles until it finally lands on this fat lady that lived in a land of little people. Dorfie comes out of the house, after it landed, and saw what had happened. She called her Auntie Jemima but she wouldn’t answer and the road done turned yellow. The little folks saw that Dorfie didn’t have no shoes on her feet, so they took these ruby red shoes from the fat lady that was under the house and gave them to Dorfie.

Anyway, that got a bunch of monkeys all excited cause they started jumping around and doing all sorts of bad things. They were all bent out of shape bout her having them shoes.  Guess they hated the color.

Then there was a bunch of small people trying to get those shoes back. Guess she didn’t pay enough for them or something and a witch got all involved but ended up turning into a pile of green stuff.  Everybody kept tellin’ Dorfie that she needed to go see Willard. I never understood who or what a Willard was, but that is who she needed to go see. So, she starts singin’ this song…I ain’t never forgot it…”We gonna see the Willard, why is the Willard so odd.” But here is the kicker…Dorfie starts kicking her heals together real hard, saying, “I wanna go home, I wanna go home. Next thing you know, her brothers was standing by her side with Aunt Jemima.” She was back home in Manassas. It was a real good movie.”

“You want to know something, Big Dog?” Scratch continued…

“What’s that, Scratch?” Sarge responded.

“I feel just like Dorfie. I wanna go home, Sarge. I wanna go home.” Scratch was looking out and watching as Mr. Rowlin took off down Highway 80 towards Somerset. “Ha! I was just checking my paws to make sure I didn’t have on them red shoes…don’t want no monkeys chasin’ me. Hehehe.”

Mr. Rowlin turned right onto Highway 39 and headed up the road. There was Butter Houston’s old gas station, Carter’s Grocery and the Johnson’s big white house. He was not far from home!  His heart was beating fast. He was losing his breath.

Another two miles and Mr. Rowlin turned onto Frog Holler Road. The truck came to a stop. Nothing had changed. The white Cape Cod was still white. They waited a minute before getting out of the truck.

Not Scratch. He had jumped out running full speed to the porch. He started scratching on the door and barking. Sarge just watched. Bennie Ray and Mr. Rowlin were smiling as they watched as well.

The door was opened by an older lady with gray hair and a neat plaid dress. She wore glasses and had her grey hair up in a bun. When she saw Scratch, she put her hands over her mouth. “Brown! Brown! You best get out here.” she shouted. Farmer Brown arrived at the door wearing a pair of worn and faded overhauls, work boots and an old ball cap. He too was sporting a pair of glasses and had a head full of grey.

“Scratch? Scratch? Is that you, boy?” Farmer Brown said with amazement. Scratch jumped around the porch, filled with such joy while the Brown’s smiled and looked to Mr. Rowlin.

Mr. Rowlin shook hands with Farmer Brown. Then he and Bennie Ray explained how they located the dog a couple of years ago. He had been staying at Bennie Ray’s place up in Salyersville. After reporting the find to the dog pound, they took care of him during that time, feeding him and such. Mr. Rowlin, Sarge and Bennie Ray were all watching Farmer Brown to see if he understood about the “Beagle Secret”. Miss Brown was crying tears of joy. This caused Bennie Ray to shed a tear of two as well. Mr. Rowlin stepped out to the truck, followed by Farmer Brown and Sarge.

With tears building in his eyes, Farmer Brown confessed, “I have missed that dog every day since he left, Mr. Rowlin. We searched for him for weeks after he left but thought somebody done carried him off. He was a tremendous dog. Do you know Beagles well, Mr. Rowlin?” Farmer Brown was searching to see how much Mr. Rowlin understood about Beagles.

“Oh, sure do. I’ve had the pleasure of having owned a few in my day. Great rabbit dogs as well as great conversationalists.” he laughed. The lights came on as they both understood what was meant.

This was a total shock to Bennie Ray. Mr. Rowlin had been aware of the “Beagle Secret” and never said a word to Bennie Ray. Mr. Rowling was thinking that if Bennie Ray ever had questions about this, he would bring it up for discussion during a ride home. Without it being discussed over the years, Mr. Rowlin never bothered with it.  Bennie Ray had several Beagles staying with him, but for some reason or other, the “Beagle Secret” never came up. Mr. Rowlin always suspected that Bennie Ray was well versed in Beagle talk but for understandable reasons, he never asked Bennie Ray about it. Now, they both knew where the other one stood.

Bennie Ray walked over to Mr. Rowlin and Farmer Brown. Scratch was standing right beside Farmer and they were discussing the ride down, were the Clearview Coal Mine was located and what all Bennie Ray was doing with the dogs. Farmer Brown was so impressed with Bennie Ray’s ability with dogs; he gave Bennie Ray a bear hug.

Sarge and Scratch were walking around the house while the two-leggers were talking.

“Well Scratch,you glad to be back? Is it what you expected?” Sarge really was pleased for his friend.

“Sarge, it is more than I could imagine. I suppose time will tell the rest of the story. But I am so glad to be back. I am home, Big Dog. I am home where I belong.” Scratch was all smiles. His tail could not stop wagging.

“Big Dog, you have been a friend. You have been my only friend. I can never tell you how much you have meant to me and how much you have helped me. You know I am going to miss you, dog. If you ever make it down this far, you gotta place to stay.” Scratch stood still and looked at Sarge.

Sarge nodded and thanked Scratch for the kind words. He sniffed, “Buddy, I will miss you too. You have helped me as well, Scratch. You helped me find the answers to the questions in my heart. I know now it is time for me to go home, as well. I wish you could go with me…” with that, Sarge turned and ran to the truck. Bennie Ray had the tail-gate down so Sarge easily jumped into the bed. Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray were ready to go. With waves, good wishes and plenty of smiles, they backed out of the driveway. Within a minute, they were gone. Sarge kept looking over the bed so the blowing wind would keep his eyes dry.

That evening, Farmer Brown sat in his rocker on the porch. Miss Mable brought him a sweet tea. Scratch was lying beside him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 24

Set to Go

 

On the long drive home, Sarge sat between Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray. Little was said as Mr. Rowlin kept an eye on the cooler he purchased. Sarge was able to replay practically his entire life. Going to Morehead from Stanford, he rode with Boss and slept almost the entire way. Meeting the kids and getting to know Boss, he found that life was good. He found a home. Then the shot that changed his life. Loss of his dear girlfriend, Big’un finding the truth, meeting “Wild” Bill…all of it. It all played as if on a screen before his eyes.

He saw how silly he had been and how he did some really dumb things. Dumping garbage cans as a way to get food, he saw now how it would get somebody pretty mad. He was wrong. He messed up. Frida, though still a beautiful specimen in his mind’s eye, was a bit deranged. He must have lost his mind there for a while. The gun shot…he covered it all. He was understanding now. It all fit in place. It was time, his “trek” was over.

They arrived home without incident. Sarge entered the compound and saw Irish Mick.

“How did it go, Sarge? You okay? Mick asked with a sincere look in his eye.

“Long trip. Going down with Scratch was a good for both of us. I already miss him. His ‘hip-hop’ attitude is going to be missed around here.” Sarge commented.

“Yeah, Sarge. Yeah. He had made some real strides, though. Ever since you and him teamed up, we all noticed that Scratch seemed to change dramatically …I don’t know…ah, he seemed to develop into a true dog, you know?” Mick was missing Scratch as well.

“Yeah. Mick, he was a true friend. But, I need to talk to you about something totally different. You got a minute?” Sarge started walking to the barn, hoping that Mick would follow.

“You don’t need to talk to me, Sarge. It’s time to go. I can see that. Your trek is over. You got your answers.” Mick had not moved.

“Am I wearing a sign? How can you tell me that? How could you know?” Sarge was amazed.

“Sarge, I have been around you “trek” dogs for a long time. You know that most dogs on a trek are Beagles? Yep, just Beagles. They get all torn up thinking about being a special breed. I got news for you and believe that now, you can hear me. Sarge, we are all special breeds. I am an Irish Setter… a special breed, you know. Helga over there…a German Shepherd…special breed. Jorge…a Mexican mini-Chihuahua…special breed. He even has a town named after him in Mexico. How special is that? But none of them have the struggles that Beagles have with the idea of being a “Special Breed”.

Beagles have to work through what that means. Once a Beagle comes to understand what this is all about, he settles down and can start learning. A smart Beagle is one of the best dogs you can find. They make tremendous friends, great hunters and families count them as among America’s favorite breeds.”

“You know about the “special breed” thing? How did you know about my coming to understand these things and wanting to go home?” Sarge was puzzled and impressed. Mick was indeed a wise dog.

“I was here years ago when a young Beagle came. Since then, I have met hundreds of them. They are Bennie Ray’s favorite. He loves helping Beagles. But this one, oh Sarge, he was all torn up. Angry at the world. Fought anybody, anywhere and often. I worked with him daily. Bennie Ray worked with him. As I recollect, so did his daddy. It took three months of daily walking with him, answering questions and listening. He fought so much because he felt he was superior to other dogs and had to prove it. He could not accept anything less than this. He is the one that started this whole “trek” thing with the Beagles in this area.

“Believe it or not, He lives near hear now, about thirty five miles away, in a town called “Zag”. He got to Zag because his original owners dropped him off there. He was left roaming the streets. Some preacher man took him in and nursed him to health.

How he got all the way over to Zag from Stanton, Kentucky is sad, actually. His owner found another Beagle named Lucy and together, they sired a family that had grown quite large. Matter of fact, from what the other dogs tell me, he was the only Beagle in Powell county, so if there is a Beagle in Powell County, you can almost bet that Old Joe is the grandfather.

Still, even with Lucy in his life, he continued with the fighting. He said he finally had irritated his owners with his constant fighting to the extent that they wanted to get him far, far away because he fought nearly nightly. Folks in the neighborhood was getting upset. They said to get rid of the dog or else.

So, they loaded Old Joe up and drove about fifty miles, taking him to somewhere he had never known. There, they let him out of the car on a corner and drove off. I remember him crying so hard when he told me he left Lucy and a family of pups in Stanton. Lucy understood him. She was a Beagle. The pups, his family. Gone. He was angry and heartbroken, Sarge. He had to work through some difficult things.

He did it, though. He made it. Last I heard, there were so many grandkids running around, one of the owners was riding around in a red pick-up truck giving little Beagle pups away to anyone who would take one.”

Sarge jumped up on stump. He sat there listening. Irish Mick had no idea that he was telling Sarge the story of his grandfather. Sarge was just shaking his head and failing miserably at holding back his tears.

“Hold on, dog. Hold on. What is going on here. Did I say something wrong?” Irish Mick was quick to ask.

“Mick, you actually know Old Joe. Old Joe and Preacher. I met them both when I was coming down here. We spent a few days together up in Zag. If ever there was a dog that I wanted to be like, it has been Old Joe. From everything that you are saying, Mick, Old Joe is my grandfather. Old Joe is my family.”

Sarge jumps off the stump and walks around for a moment, he is almost in awe. He knew there was something special about Old Joe, a like a connection of sorts, but never did he envision this. “Mick, I was one of those little pups that fellow was giving away…”Sarge was filled amazed at the details and how their lives had crossed paths.

“Well, it is a small world after all, ain’t it? Sarge, you should be very proud. Old Joe turned out to be one of the best dogs to ever walk on these grounds. I believe Bennie Ray’ll tell you the same. A fine dog…real fine dog.

“Sarge, this is what we all think about you, as well. You are a good dog. You have some sterling qualities about you. Look at how you stepped right in and helped Scratch when nobody else would go near him. We all appreciate you, Sarge. Now, you have your questions answered and that is good. Now, it’s time you get back home. Dog, don’t you know you been missed something terrible?”

Sarge was quiet. He thought Irish Mick was the dog for the Alpha Dawg position. The big thing about leadership is caring. Irish Mick went beyond caring. He loved his dogs.

“Yeah, and to be honest, I am really sorry that I left like I did. I really am. It is time for me to get back home, Mick.” Sarge was ready. There were no more questions needing to be answered. There was no more anger and frustration. He knew there would be challenges that would come up in the future, but he had no doubts about who he was and where he belonged. “Guess I need to see Bennie Ray, you reckon?” He looked at the house.

“Yeah, I would let him know. Time’s a wasting. Go on and get the hard work done. Son, you have passed through a tremendous life s’perience. It will serve you well for the years to come.” Mick pat Sarge on the head and nodded. It was time to go.

He milled around the yard for a few hours and spoke to several of the others. Leaving here was not going to be easy. He had met some of the dearest friends he had ever known. He thought on these things all day.

Still, Boss and the family in Morehead stood head and shoulders above all others. They loved him and sacrificed for him. He loved them more than he ever realized he could. That was home. That was where he belonged. There were no doubts regarding his decision. The only question was when to leave, tomorrow or the next day.

Bennie Ray and Mr. Rowlin drove down the lane as they had down every day for years. Now, there were two folks that had a great love and respect for one another. Bennie Ray waved as they pulled up.

“Hey, Sarge. You doing good?”

“Doing good, Bennie Ray. Better than expected, actually.”

“Oh? Something up?”

“Bennie Ray, it’s time for me to go home.” Sarge said this suddenly and quickly. He did not know any other way to say it and he had no idea how Bennie Ray was going to react.

“Sarge, that is great. Are you sure?” Bennie Ray had been thinking about this, but never brought it up to Sarge. It had to be a decision Sarge arrived at on his own with no outside influence. He had to be ready or he would be frustrated yet again.

Sarge, for his part, was surprised at Bennie Ray’s response. “Yes, I am sure. No doubts or confusion. Bennie Ray, it is time. I know it.”

Bennie Ray walked into the house and sat down. Sarge followed and jumped into the chair opposite Bennie Ray. Bennie Ray began, “ Sarge, it has been more than a pleasure having you here. We are all so proud of you and we have watched you from the first day you got here. Mr. Rowlin really likes you a lot. Said you remind him so much a Old Joe, a dog that was here years ago. But listen, do not feel bad about leaving. I will miss you something terrible that is true. My job, though, is to help you and get you back home. There is no place like home, Sarge. I cannot replace what you had there. So, to be honest, I am so happy that you are ready to get back there. I may have some pull with Mr. Rowlin…he is going to Mt. Sterling on Wednesday. He can easily go by Morehead on his way. That will save you a few days and be a lot safer. What do you think?

Sarge’s heart took a leap. “That would be great, Bennie Ray. When could you know for sure?”

“I can call him right now. Hold on…” Bennie Ray said as he picked up the phone.

“Mr. Rowlin, how are you? Yes sir. No, it’s all okay here. Yes sir.  No sir, I was calling for Sarge. He said that he is ready to go home…He was going to walk. Morehead.  From Mt. Sterling it’s about thirty miles.  No sir, not too far, I don’t think.  From here? About sixty miles or so… It depends on how you go.  Tuesday?  Before Mt. Sterling or after? Okay, I will tell him. Thank you.” He hung up the phone and was smiling. He told Sarge to be ready to leave early in the morning.

“Sarge, this is good. Really. I am so glad.” Bennie Ray rubbed Sarge’s ears and then went in to his room. Sarge laid down in the living room.  He was not about to sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 25

Homecoming

 

The night hours passed slower than ever before. Sarge listened to the clock in Bennie Ray’s living room tick tock all night, hoping it would cause him to sleep. He remembered how Boss put the alarm clock in his bed and laughed. He walked around and looked at pictures, sniffed at things and laid back down. He wondered when the morning would arrive, or if it would ever get there at all.

He watched as Mr. Rowlin pulled up. He seemed to be quite a bit earlier than usual, but who knows. Sarge was nervous and edgy. Bennie Ray ran out, grabbing a cup of coffee on his way and he waved for Sarge to come on. They all were sitting up front as they headed out for Morehead. Sarge had no idea what time it was, he just knew it was exceptionally early.

Morehead was only fifty miles away, which was a relatively easy drive. You catch the Mountain Parkway and take it up to West Liberty and then drive directly into Morehead. Turn left on Highway 60, go two miles and you are at Sarge’s place. It was all mapped out and supplemented with a GPS that Mr. Rowlin had purchased a few months earlier.

Sarge was not at all familiar with any of the surroundings they were passing through. Nobody seemed to be driving their cars this morning for some reason. He did not know they had left around five thirty that morning. There was a reason for this, a reason Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray had kept from Sarge.

They drove straight through. Mr. Rowlin stopped at a Marathon Gas station to put some gas in his truck grabbed a cup of coffee and they were back on the road. Bennie Ray had fallen asleep with his face mashed up against the passenger window and Mr. Rowlin was busy driving. Sarge just watched and listened to the radio. He was excited and ready.

They pulled up to the intersection of Highway 60 and Highway 519. The sun has yet to rise so it was still dark outside. However, you could see on the left was a Texaco gas station and on the right a Save A Lot grocery store. Traffic was fairly heavy as the morning was getting started for folks in Morehead. A stop light controlled the flow of traffic and when it turned green, Mr. Rowlin eased to the left and headed down Highway 60. He reached over and shook Bennie Ray awake. He raised his head and looked around.

“Where are we?” Bennie inquired.

“Got about a mile to go. You gonna let him in on the surprise? If you are, you got to give him instructions, Bennie Ray.” Mr. Rowlin was smiling. He was itching to see how this went.

“Okay, Sarge, you know where you are now?” Bennie was almost clapping his hands with excitement.

“Got a general idea. Are we close?” Sarge was nervous with anticipation…

“Very close. But here is the plan. You need to listen. okay?” Bennie Ray was looking directly as Sarge.

“Go ahead. I am listening.” Tail wagging…Sarge took in everything Bennie Ray was saying.

“When we get to your road…” and he gave all the details. Sarge laughed and thought it would be tremendous. He was ready and game.

When they pulled into his road, Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray parked at the street just prior to Sarge’s house. They let Sarge out and he walked past Big’un and Tiny’s place, heading up the hill towards his house. It was still dark outside so the lights were on in the house and you could tell there was a lot of activity going on. The morning rush. Once at the house, he sat out in the front yard but near the front door. There, he waited. Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray were walking up the street and watching as well.

The door burst open with a young lady saying, “Gotta go. Bus is coming…come on.” Then, three more kids marched out of the door intent on getting down the hill as soon as possible. Sarge ran up and joined the girl as she stood there, having dropped her books and staring.

“Sarge? Sarge…is that you?” she ran and dropped to her knees and hugged Sarge with all of her strength. The others followed right after. They laughed and danced. Sarge was jumping and dancing as well. He was barking and howling and happier than Bennie Ray or Mr. Rowlin had ever seen him.

After hearing such a commotion, I ran out to see what was happening.

I stood there, leaning on the door post, and just watched. My kids were so happy. They were delighted. For a couple of weeks, Lindsay would cry herself to sleep after having prayed for Sarge to be found.  I  just shook my head and smiled. I could not say a word. I actually had to take several deep breaths as tears of joy welled up in my eyes.

“Momma, you gotta see this.” She came running to see what the excitement was all about. Momma saw Sarge and turned and buried her face in my shoulder. Her tears of joy poured out. “See what I mean? It’s always something,” she laughed.

As a family, finally, we were all together. It was a moment that you “s’perience” once in a lifetime. Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray had quietly eased down to the truck. They blinked their lights as Sarge saw them pulling out. Before he could get away from the kids, they drove off. They knew this moment belonged to Sarge.

“Sarge, buddy, why don’t you come inside. Kids, looks like I will be driving you to school today. First, we have got to get Sarge situated.” Sarge ran inside, finding that nothing had changed. They brought him some Kibble n’Bits, some cool water and took turns combing his hair. Sarge loved them in return.

A day or so had passed since Sarge arrived home when there was a scratch at the door, then a heavy knock. Big’un and Tiny had come up along with Betty. They had a bag of Kibble n Bits as a gift for Sarge. Tiny took Momma’s hand and said, “I know you must be so glad to have him back. We barely knew him and found ourselves worried sick when he left. I think Betty is in love with him.” She laughed as if this was a joke. It was no joke, though. Betty was in love with Sarge. When I heard that, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes…

“No, Boss. No. Things are different now. I assure you.” Sarge whispered. Big’un grunted, Tiny giggled and I laughed….Momma never caught on to the rhythm. She just listened.

As the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, Sarge and I begin to rebuild a friendship. We became inseparable. Momma relaxed the “no dogs allowed” rule for the couch with Sarge being the only exception. I eventually bought a nice dog bed that sat right beside my desk. We planned a trip down to Zag to visit with Preacher and Old Joe, then, the plans were to head on over to Falcon. If we had time, which I was sure I could find, we may even try to get down to Somerset. Who knows…

For the next fifteen years, Sarge and I were known around town as Pete and Repeat. The college kids would see me driving down the road with Sarge at the passenger window and holler, “Hey Mr. You girlfriend sure is a dog.” I would look over at Sarge and say, “Boy, they got that right.” and laugh. Sarge learned to laugh as well. Sarge aged well over time and moved quite easily for a dog of his advanced age. He and Betty sired three litters of Beagles and every Thanksgiving, most of them came, bringing kids and parents and, yes, more puppies, for a big get together in the Morehead City Park. The fellow with the little cart would give rides around the park on the back of his vehicle. Kids would accompany their pets and the park personnel welcomed Sarge back every year.

Eventually the city voted and started having cookouts and inviting others to come as well. It became known affectionately as, “Dog Town Dancing… a Saturday in the Park”. After a few years, the entire community was invited and it became an annual event, Sarge being at the center of it all. Before you knew it, Sarge was almost seventeen years old. For a dog of any breed, that was old age. I was pushing seventy. I guess we aged gracefully together, never having a dull moment and never experiencing another cross word. In the evenings, I would find my rocking chair on the porch and Sarge would lay right beside me. We spent our evenings looking over the rolling green valley in front of us.

One evening in the late fall, I helped Sarge onto the porch. This particular evening, Sarge barked the husky, low bark of an aged hound and tried to jump into my lap as I rocked in the rocking chair. His hips were given out, so I gently helped him up and messaged his neck.

“Remember our first day, Boss.” Sarge was speaking in an almost whisper.

“Yeah, I do, Sarge. I think of it a lot. Why?” I asked.

“I was so glad you picked me. Nobody ever picked me for anything before that.” Sarge actually sounded so thankful.

“Yeah, Sarge. I am glad I picked you, too. The fellow that I got you from said he hoped you turned out to be good one. Sarge, I think you turned out okay” I was rubbing his back.

Sarge looked up at me and gazed straight into my eyes for a long moment. He gives a faint smile as he laid his head down on my right leg. The constant rolling motion of the rocking chair eventually caused Sarge to fall into a sound sleep. I am not normally an emotional kind of guy, but I was really overcome with pride at that moment. “Yeah Sarge, I remember thinking, ‘I got me a friend now’” I said. At that moment my mind drifted back and I was driving back from Stanton with a small puppy sitting in my lap.

It was a beautiful night. The moon was so clear. I was sipping my coffee. Sarge raised his head up and looked at me once more for a long time. He winked at me and laid his head back down. Sarge left us that evening, slipping away in his sleep, right there on my lap.

 

 

 

As winter deepened and the wind blew hard, there was a knock at my front door. Momma answered. “Boss, it’s for you.” She called.

I walked into the living room and smiled. It was Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray. They drove up from Falcon on their way to Mt. Sterling. Just wanting to say hello, they dropped in for a friendly visit. They had come by several times over the years. Sarge left that kind of impression on people. They had a large bag of Kibble n’Bits and a dog bone.

“Y’all have a seat. It is so good to see you. It has been a while, hasn’t it? Momma, could you get us some coffee?” We exchanged greetings. There was an awkward silence as Sarge’s absence was noticed.

“Boys, I appreciate you coming by. Your visits have always been appreciated. I am sorry to tell you that Sarge is not here today.” I cleared my throat as I continue. Both Mr. Rowlin and Bennie Ray know what is coming. They could not control the sadness they felt themselves. Bennie Ray openly wept and Mr. Rowlin was deeply moved. Their beloved friend was gone. It  was moment of heartfelt sadness.

“Men, he was just worn out, I reckon. Oh, but he was happy. He never failed to talk about you both, almost on a daily basis. Bennie Ray, you held a special place in his heart. He turned out to be…” My voice broke as I lowered my head. I took out a handkerchief and wiped my eyes. “Please excuse my emotions, boys. I apologize…I was saying that Sarge turned out to be the best…the best friend this man ever had or could ever wish for. There will never be another one like him, will there?” Again, I wiped my eyes and sat quietly as Bennie Ray and Mr. Rowlin stood, with heavy hearts. We shook hands and looked each other for a moment.

Bennie Ray was now pushing hard on forty-five years and Mr. Rowlin was nearly seventy. I myself was holding seventy years of age and had been retired for quite some time.  It is hard to say when you are old. It’s like a puppy turning into a dog, you never know when it actually happens, but one day you realize …

 

I still miss him.

 

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After Sarge returned from his trek, he was changed in every way. He and I became inseparable. We never had another fight or misunderstanding. Whatever happened during his prolonged absence was for the best.  While we missed him terribly during his absence; character and wisdom were being forged in his heart and mind. Sarge became a very gentle and thoughtful dog, obedient and trustworthy. His spirit flourished. He never revealed his ability to talk to anyone other than those mentioned in this account …to my knowledge. He always said, “S’perience will build the dog.” And he had plenty.

Not many animals, regardless of what species they may be, enter a person’s life and have such an enormous impact and leave such an enduring impression. Sarge did that. Whoever he was with received all of his attention. I have no idea what he did or how he did it, but he made people feel better. Over the years, he proved to be a friend to whomever he came into contact.

The kids on the school bus waved at Sarge every morning for more than fifteen consecutive years. Every morning, long after my children had graduated, married and had children of their own, Sarge marched down to the bus stop, sat and waited. The weather never stopped him, nor did sickness. When the bus drove by, he would stand and wag his tail and howl, bringing smiles, waves and rolls of joyous laughter from all on board. The kids loved him and they all knew his name. It has been said that he affected a generation of children in Morehead.

People who knew him when they were kids and kids of today, they all speak of him as one of their fondest memories. Sarge was the one “special feature” that is always mentioned when people talk about Morehead.  Every now and then, I will receive a letter asking about Sarge and his wellbeing. These letters come from all over the nation, from folks who have moved away and just want to know. The wagging white tipped tail is sorely missed by all.

Local Magazines here in Kentucky have written several articles about Sarge over the years, as did a regional periodical called Southern Homestead. Nationally, several magazines did feature FYI articles on his faithfulness at the bus stop.

A Japanese dignitary, Mr. Inagaki Oku, came to Morehead State University as a visiting professor and after hearing of Sarge and the bus stop, drove by every day for a week to verify the stories he had been hearing. Sarge was there. This so impressed Mr. Oku, that he mentioned Sarge to his superiors upon his return to Tokyo. Sarge was then mentioned in the Japanese Parliament in comparison with Hachiko in respect to his loyalty and daily patronage of the bus stop in Morehead. His picture accompanied a long lead story on the cover of the Nikkei, a widely circulated National Journal in Japan.

The City of Morehead erected a statue of Sarge in the city park. It stands as a reminder of his free spirit. Every year folks come from all over to the Dog Town celebration and get to hear stories and see the statue. It’s a nice gesture and quite an honor.

Several folks even went as far as to compare him to Balto, the famous Siberian Huskie, but I have to admit, some things can honestly get carried away and just go over the top. I even had to look up what the Iditarod was all about. I don’t think Sarge, even in his youth, would have made any claims that outlandish. Regardless, with Sarge, Momma was right; It was always something. That is for sure.

I have met many of the characters Sarge mentioned in his stories. As Sarge aged by my side, we traveled and visited most of the places he talked about so often and most of the people.

Mr. Rowlin, whom you met, was truly a fine, caring man who was devoted to his work, his men and his God. The Clearview coal mine was eventually forced to close due to financial strains and economic conditions. Mr. Rowlin opted to retire and spent his time fishing and playing with his grandkids. Grandkids have a way of making kids out of old men, you know. He passed away five years back. His funeral was attended by hundreds of former miners as well as my wife and I. He was a fine, fine man.

Bennie Ray is a top notch individual who has never lost his passion and love for animals. He still resides in the same house mentioned in the story. After the mine closed, both miners and town folk were concerned with his well-being and his ability to continue his work with the animals. They all united and there was an outpouring from the community that allowed Bennie Ray to carry on. Also, Mr. Rowlin named Bennie Ray has his benefactor and upon his death, Bennie Ray’s financial needs were satisfied. From what I understand, he will never have another financial need. Ain’t it  amazing how the Lord takes care of things?  Bennie Ray uses his time and money to continue his operation in Falcon. I informed Bennie Ray of this book and he asked if I would send his greetings to all. So, hello to all from Bennie Ray.

State Trooper Johnny Botts and I have had coffee together several times. He retired from public service back in 1999. According to Trooper John, the moonshines served ten years and have been released now for about sixteen years.  Last he heard they were living near Manchester, Kentucky, far out of his jurisdiction.

Farmer Brown went home to the see the Lord around eighteen years ago. His wife remains in the home and is leasing out the land. Scratch, she says, stayed by his side and they were inseparable friends up until his passing.

After that, Scratch would sit on the porch every morning with the newspaper he fetched from the end of the drive. It would be sitting in Farmer Brown’s rocking chair. Scratch passed away three months prior to Sarge’s homegoing. On several occasions, my wife and I put our feet under their table down in Somerset. Mrs. Brown is a fantastic good and makes the best turnip greens in Kentucky.

These folk are and were what you and I would call ‘good’ salt of the earth people, with the exception of the ‘shiners and Paw. Paw finally came around, cleaned up and has become a productive member of society. His little girl married and the two boys both graduated from the University of Kentucky. Paw remarried and still resides on Mordica Branch Holler. He has three grandkids and two Labrador Retrievers. Folks say for some reason, he has a strong fear of Beagles.

They all helped form Sarge into be the best dog I ever owned.

Sarge has been referred to as the dog’s dog. At the time of his passing, Sarge was adamant in saying that he was just a dog, nothing more and nothing less. This is how God had made him and he was satisfied with being just that. Ever since his return, this was the only claim he would ever make. It has been a constant reminder to me and my position as well.

Sarge wanted to get the lessons he had learned across to his family and grandkids. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, he and I took time to put this down in writing. Also, I might add that we visited Old Joe and looked were able to study his genealogy. We found some amazing things.

I want to say this before I put my pen down.

You may have a Collie, Labrador, or Boxer. Me, I had a Beagle. Your dog is a special breed, no matter what type of breed. Dogs are special animals and family pets are to be cared for and loved in a special way. For me, Sarge was a Beagle, a mighty special breed!

 

Roland Hughes  a.k.a. Boss

Watching a young man discover that manhood has unanticipated requirements accompanied with long term responsibilities is difficult for the father to do in a “hands off” manner. There are things that are simply difficult to explain to a young man due in part to ego, testosterone and textbooks. It is best to place your hands deep into your pockets and hold your tongue. The pot holes that rocked your world just a few years earlier are still close to the surface making you a bit sensitive and defensive. You shared these in hopes of teaching and giving instruction. It appears that they were ignored. These were important lessons, learned after years of struggle. You have given fatherly warnings and life lessons. As you watch, it is apparent he still does not know. He is not convinced. He has not learned. Experience has not caught up with theory. There is a time to teach and instruct. Then, there is his time to learn and practice. Experience takes theory and puts it into practice. This is the time fathers must learn to pray and be patient. Sometimes failure is the schoolroom for greater growth and success. We cannot step in and interrupt the process.

You now have the painful privilege to watch God at work. Nobody wants to see their child struggle or suffer. I sure don’t. But it is through the violence of daily living that the boy begins to take on the characteristics of a man. Size and strength do not make the man. I personally know some big boys that are older than me. It is the heart where character is found…that is where excellence is formed. As that boy thinks in his heart, so is he. That is where God works.

However, watching him grow and mature gives rise to a realization that within me resides vast areas that remain undeveloped, ignored and untouched. I cannot criticize for my mistakes, only ask forgiveness. My rush to instruct and correct must be tempered with consideration and sobriety. I cannot make my son be what and/or who I should have been. A mirror helps remind me to be slow, merciful and patient. The leniency that I allow myself and my sin must be shared.

It just takes a moment to look back over the past twenty five years and see my son sitting in his high chair, watching me, closely observing how I conducted myself and listening to what I had to say. He could not make rational decisions. He could only see and copy. Regardless of what I like to think, my child is a reflection of my life and values. Now he stands where I once stood. His boy, Sawyer, is watching him closely, copying his actions and attitudes. It is unavoidable. It’s life. It is my legacy and the legacy of my father.

My son works hard. He provides for his family. Character is being formed in him. Look close and you will see his father, to a degree. It is my prayer, the prayer of his father, that if you look closer still, that you will see the fingerprints of God. He reflects a genuine love for family and friends. He spends quality time with his wife and new-born son. He helps his mother when help is needed and he I have sat in the cab of my truck and have discussions that have gone way into the night. I proudly call him my son.

My confidence regarding my son is supported by the fact that only the Lord can form His character within an individual, regardless of who is involved. This is the handiwork of God. Concerning my son, we spoon fed him biblical principles daily – literally. I tried my best to mold him into what I thought he should be. For years, I called upon the Lord to assist me as I worked to grow a son. Soon, I discovered, I had very little understanding as to what I was doing. I pulled my hands back and planted my knees and folded my hands in prayer. God does not need my help in doing what only He can do. I still have so much to learn. I assist when called upon.

I do desire great things for my son. I pray that he will know success. I pray for safety to bless him, I pray for happiness to be his. I wish you could meet my son….I am still watching, with amazement and gratitude. Only now, I am watching the Lord at work…and I am confident that He who has begun a good work will be faithful to complete it.

My prayer is that my son follows hard after the Lord, lives first and foremost to please Him and knows the peace that passes understanding. Regardless of all that a man can gain, the accolades and accomplishments he can achieve, these will not be the things he embraces when death closes his eyes for the last time. The joy of seeing Him who formed him and knowing that he pleased Him while here in this body, in this life…ultimately, that is all that matters.

Name: Petros
Profession: Apostle
Age: 36

I thank you for the opportunity to speak about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is such a privilege and honor to even speak the name of Him who came from God. Indeed, you were correct, I have much and many things I could say, but I must be limited in my thoughts so as to say what is important here. To speak of all my experience would demand the rest of my days and there is not enough parchment and too few scribes for such a task.

I was not raised to be a studied man. My brother Andrew and I were simple fishermen by trade. My Papa, Jonas, taught us all he knew regarding this business and he taught us well. He was a good man. He loved us and loved my mother. They cherished us and treated us with respect as men.
At a young age, Papa took me and Andrew to the waters of the Sea of Galilee

I remember my brother crying as we pulled in our nets and his hands were aching from the long day of work. For me, it was exhilarating. The smell of the water and the sun upon my face was more than enough to convince me that forever I would be fishing in these waters. The three of us, we men were facing the waves together. For a young man, this was very satisfying. The mast, the sail, the oars and the nets…this was furniture found in my classroom. Fishing was my education. I learned many, many things. You may laugh, but my dear friend, fish are intelligent. To catch them, you have to understand them, their habits, the weather and the water. Andrew and I learned all my Papa had to teach. Eventually he and I both grew into strong men.
My Papa was a man who feared God and taught us to fear Him as well. By the time I had twelve years, I was working daily in the boats with my father. I worked among the fishmongers in the marketplace along the streets of Bethsaida of Galilee. Bethsaida is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and is not to be confused with Bethsaida of Julia, a Roman enclave twenty miles north. Two totally different places…the Bethsaida of my youth was a beautiful town. Filled with fishermen, it was always a busy place. Andrew and I watched many other men as they practiced their trade be it either catching or selling fish. There were always plenty of stories of the big one that got away and superstitions were very much alive. My brother and I would sit and listen to these tales late into the evening and then be too afraid to walk home. The men would smile at our fears as they escorted us back to papa. Eventually, we moved to a neighboring village called Capernaum which was very close by.
I even became a good cook and developed quite well in my ability. My specialty? Fish. There was nothing about this trade I did not know and did not love. For me, it was not work. It was life and I reveled in every moment.

I apologize now in advance for normally, I have a friend who helps me write when writing is needed. He has not been here for quite some time. His name is Marcus. He is a tremendous scribe and can paint wonderful pictures with words. He and I work closely together, but he has gone with Paul and Barnabas on a voyage. Perhaps he will return soon. He is young and very smart, but I think his youth is hurting him. He is much like I was at his age. He cannot sit still. I told him before he left that he was too young to travel so far from home. He and Barnabas were very close. So when he was invited to join their entourage, he responded with excitement. Ah, youth…it is true…it is wasted on the young! So, I write what I can. Perhaps he will return and write for me as well.

For now, I will take you quickly through how I meet my Lord Jesus.

I had my purchased a large fishing boat at that time. I had been fishing with Papa for nearly twenty years. He and I discussed our separating in order to grow our business and it was decided that I needed to do this. With a boat, I became responsible for working a crew of men and riding the waters daily from early morning until evening. It was my calling and fit me like a sandal fit a soldier. At twenty eight years, I was moving ahead.

It was during this time that I married my lovely wife, Miriam. Many things were moving rapidly in my life at that time. With a wife, I needed a home, so my brother and I were building a place. I was training my crew while continuing to help my father. I was cooking for men in the marketplace and enjoyed my friends. The responsibilities were many but I enjoyed every minute of it. Life was very active in those days. One evening, though, all that changed.

Andrew had gone down to Jerusalem several months prior on business. When he came back, he told me of a man named John who was baptizing in the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan River was a dirty place, muddy and shallow. Andrew was traveling had come by the hearing of John. He listened, he told me, and it was as if God Himself was speaking to his mind. He felt his sins were many and his obedience to God was greatly lacking. On that day, he repented of his sins and was baptized for the remission of his sins. He was taken with John.
He continued to go back as often as time would permit to listen to the rambling of this wild man. I was not against John; I just did not like the idea that he was distracting my brother in such a way so as to harm my business. Andrew was an asset to me and here he was sitting around listening to some man in a river? I had men needing leadership and supervision. I tell you I love my brother to death. He is a fine man. But in those days, I was becoming frustrated. As I told you, I too listened John. What he said was good and hearty. He had no fear to speak the truth. Centurions and men from the Sanhedrin came to hear the man speak. People from all over flocked to hear the man. Many said that I was a disciple, but I would not embrace that claim. I listened, but I had a job and a business. Andrew, he followed.
One day, Andrew came running up to me after having been gone all day following this John. He was running with an anxious look on his face, one of delight as well as one of surprise. He called me aside and asked me to walk with him for a while. I glanced around at the men and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “Andrew, some of us have work to do. I have no time for this.” He was insistent. I had my lead man take over and off we went, walking into the wilderness.

Andrew asked me if I remembered how Papa taught us about the Messiah that was to come to Israel. Naturally, I told him I did. I remembered it quite well. Andrew began to explain what all John had said, but he was nearly breathless. I calmed him down as we sat on a rock along the way. What he told me then was enough to take my breath away. I know Andrew, you see. I know when he plays and I know when he is serious. At that moment, he was quite serious. I sat silently after hearing what he had to say. Andrew looked at me as if I had to speak. I had to respond. I asked if he was sure. He restated how John took him into the Jordan and said that he needed to be baptized by Him and that he was not fit to tie his sandals.
“Why would he want you to be baptized?” I asked.

“No, Simon, no. John said that he was not worthy to baptize this man. This man should baptize him.” Andrew was animated now.
Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptizer for some time now. He had never seen anything like this. John told him that this was the Messiah, the Promised One, and the Christ. Also, he told him that instead of following and hanging around him in the Jordan, Andrew should follow Jesus. I agreed and to be quite clear, I was shocked. Andrew assured me that his name was Jesus. I asked where we could find this Jesus and we agreed to set out first thing in the morning to speak with him.

Now, I must say that I was a bit skeptical. Papa used to tell us how the Messiah was going to come and set us free. I thought it a bit odd for this One to come and be baptized in the muddy waters of the Jordan. I mean, was He not supposed to come in power and set up a kingdom? Something sounded right but suspiciously planted. It could be a plot of the Sanhedrin to be done with John. They did not like him at all. I was prepared to find out.

It was difficult finding sleep that night. Work filled my thoughts but the idea of the Messiah being here was causing me to toss and turn. The Messiah. Imagine this. Christ, the Promised One. It was difficult to believe. I could not sleep.

The sun rose slowly. Before it had fully risen, I was standing over Andrew and pushing him with my foot. “Let’s get moving” I tell him. He jumped up and off we went, down to the Jordan. Naturally, as we walked, we discussed all that Andrew was learning and he asked me about work. It was a good time to spend with one another.

Eventually, we arrived at the Jordan and met Jesus. I recognized him immediately. Not that I had ever seen the man before, but his standing was different. His presence was different. Andrew had no need to point him out. I wanted to cry when I saw him. There was not much left to say. Andrew was right. John the Baptizer was right. This was the Messiah. No question.
Before any words of introduction were said, Jesus looked me over with a smile on his face. Not a joking smile, but a smile that seemed to say that He had been expecting me. He put His hand on my shoulder. This was no girly-man hand either. He had scars and muscles like those of a carpenter. He grabbed my shoulder and greeted me.
“So, you are Simon? Andrew’s brother. He speaks highly of you, Simon.” He continued smiling. I looked over at Andrew and nodded. I was smiling now. Come to think of it, we were all smiling. It was like a family meeting for the first time. Jesus looked over at me and said, “O.K., you are Simon the son of Jonas. From here on out, you will be called Cephas.” And he nodded at me, still smiling. It made me think for a minute. Cephas means ‘rock’ or ‘pebble’, like a stone. There was no mistaking that this Jesus possessed qualities that I had never seen in any man. I was committed to learning from Him from that moment. He made no demands of me or spoke of any expectations that day. He simple called me the man of stone, Cephas.
I liked the name.

We spent the remainder of the day with Jesus. Andrew and I would exchange notes later as we walked home, but I remember spending those first hours there with Him. I was excited. I will say this, I was impressed with John. He was a tough man who feared no man. His message was clear. But this Jesus, He was different. He was grace in the form of a body. I cannot get words for how to say this. Seeing His face, looking into His eyes and hearing Him speak. Indeed, the Messiah has come. This meant God was standing in front of me. My mind was spinning and my soul was stirred.

I writing from where I am today, I see how young and inexperienced I was just so few years ago. I saw Jesus and listened. It took me a sometime to understand. In the back of my head I wondered often at night, how He would set up His kingdom. Would I be ready and man enough for the task? Then, as I listened, though I was drawn by my passion to know more, I would need to spend time thinking about what I was hearing. Today, I can see where I was so wrong in thinking these thoughts.

Jesus came to establish His kingdom in the hearts of His people. His kingdom was not for this world. John and James, I think they got this early on, so did Nathan. Me, I was slow to learn and so caught in my emotions. But this one thing I can say. Jesus had my devotion. He is the Lord, you know. Now as well as then. Then, I knew this was true, but was learning. Today, I know my Savior lives. I would agree with my brother, Thomas in saying, “My Lord and my God.” This knowledge comes after many trials and much tribulation. When my mind thinks back to that day, I weep more than I realize I do. Oh, what did these men do? Oh, what did my Father in heaven do to show me He loves me? These tears…I am sorry.

That was when I met Jesus for the first time. That was when my life changed. My life changed. Business took a back seat. Sure, I had things to tend to but it paled in comparison to this new venture with Christ. My mind was racing and my heart was so encouraged. It was not a cause I was caught up in…it was a Person. Christ was the cause, you might say. I wanted my friends to come and I spoke to several but they were mostly interested in their fishing. Me, I wanted people to know what I knew now. One man who stood out was Philip.

Philip was a good man from Bethsaida and he was constantly studying the scrolls in the synagogue. He had heard men talking about John meeting the Messiah and naturally began to mull over the possibilities of this being true. When I saw him that evening, he was preparing to come and see Andrew in order to ask him about John’s encounter.

I assured Philip that I had met this Jesus and that He was the Messiah. He could go to the Jordan and speak with John if he wished, but I declared to him that John would tell him the same. Andrew came in while we were discussing these things and Philip was taken in by the conversation.

The next day, Jesus came to Bethsaida and Andrew and I introduced Him to Philip. They spoke for a while and again, we were all smiling. You could not help but smile around Jesus. Not some silly smile, but a smile of joy and contentment. So, there we stood, talking in the street, smiling and nodding our heads. Philip was in his element. He was speaking the things of God, which he loved to do. Jesus was schooling him right then and there. Then, he told Philip to follow him. We all knew what that meant. Follow me like Andrew followed John.

Things were ramping up and moving fast. Jesus was now getting a group of guys that were solid and serious. One day we were working and throwing our nets out when Jesus walks by and calls us to be ‘fishers of men’. I was taken with this. I would no longer just catch fish. I did not understand what all this meant, but it was something new. That was the day we told Papa that we were going to be going with Jesus and that fishing would be a secondary thing. Papa was not the happiest man in the world until he met Jesus for himself. This being done, his entire attitude changed dramatically. He knew that we would be fine.

As we went along, Jesus stopped and looked over to Zebedee and Salome’s boat. Zebedee was one of the best in the business and had done well. Everybody respected both he and his wife. They worshipped God in the synagogue and Zebedee often read from the scrolls. I was thinking that to get Zebedee would be a major step. But I was wrong…He was looking at James and John, Zebedee’s two sons.

There was a brief discussion and an introduction was made. Again, smiles were on every face and greetings went back and forth. Zebedee asked me why I was not casting nets. I smiled. Really, I did not know what else to do. It may have been a dumb smile, so I just nodded. Jesus began to speak to Zebedee and he instantly began to listen.

James and John stopped what they were doing to listen as well. Smiling and nodding, they looked at one another and we all knew then what was going to happen. James and John left the nets and began following along with the group. Zebedee was in complete agreement. He agreed to tell Salome. It was fantastic and amazing. Good men of solid and strong character. We had great fellowship. The joy of those days is indescribable.

One of the encouraging thoughts I had during those first days was how Abram went through a name change; Abram to Abraham. Then there was Jacob who became Israel. Now, there was me, Simon, who became Cephas, or “the Rock”. I was so young in my way of thinking. In the back of my head was the coming Kingdom when Jesus would be Ruler. I would be there as the Rock, keeper of the throne. Little did I know that it was my head that was hard as a rock. I found that as emotional as I was, I was far from being a rock. Again, I was young and filled with excitement. Though our journey only lasted three short years, I had such a long, long way to go. Now I can see this…then I could not.

As we continued our journey, we had a few more join our ranks. Leaving Galilee, we had Philip, James, John, Andrew and myself. Only us five and of course, Jesus was leading us. As we continued, we gained Nathanael and Bartholomew, both from Cana. Nathaniel was very intelligent and loved to study and a good friend of Philip. Philip had run ahead of us as we approached Cana, shouting back to Jesus that he had a friend he wanted us to meet. When we reached Cana, Philip caught up with us with two men in his company, Nathanael and Bartholomew, but who seemed to be good men.
Naturally, smiles were everywhere as we each introduced ourselves. Jesus greeted Nathanael and stood back as the others greeted him as well. I overheard Nathanael speaking with Philip. Assurances were given to Nathanael that this was indeed the Jesus he mentioned earlier, Jesus of Nazareth, son of that carpenter down there…the one that married Mary. Joseph, I believe was his name. Nathanael looked a bit taken and asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. I had never considered this.
Nazareth was a small town in north western Israel, the region we knew as Galilee. It was close to Cana and thus Nathanael knew the town well. Now, when I speak of Nazareth as being small, I mean it had maybe four to five hundred people living there. These people were poor and were suspected to be involved some pleasantries. If you were going to move your family, it would not be to Nazareth, not by choice. So, when Nathanael hears that the Messiah has come from Nazareth, naturally, he is skeptical. Me? I had never considered this. But Jesus, ha! He doubtlessly heard Nathanael but never lost his smile.
“Nathanael,’ he said, ‘behold, you are an Israelite with no guile.”
Nathanael was not drawn in immediately and asked how He knew who he was and what he was like. Jesus answered without a moment’s hesitation, “Listen, before Philip came and got you, when you were alone under the fig tree…I saw you.” Nathanael’s face lit up and he looked around at all of us then back to Jesus. He said, “Teacher, you are the Son of God. Yeah! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus put his arm around him and off they went, walking through the land there, talking and speaking about heaven. Later I found out that Nathanael had been praying, silently, that God would watch over him and let him know that He was watching…while he was sitting under the fig tree.

Nathanael’s friend was Bartholomew and it was not long until he was there and we were all sitting down, eating a meal and discussing what was taking place. Our little group was growing fast. James, John, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, Bartholomew and myself. All wanting to learn and willing to give up everything for the opportunity. We were learning not just intellectual things, but the things and ways of God. Every day was a new adventure.

Now, to keep things moving, you see how I met my Lord Jesus. I began to learn and to love Him and all that for which he stood. He was my master. There was no one else that had the words of life. There was no were else to go. The Sanhedrin was filled with corruption. Everybody knew that. We were forced to participate simply because those bandits controlled the Temple. Caiaphas and his group of thugs were no beloved bearers of good news. No, they wanted to hear the money tumbling into their coffers. We all knew it and were opposed to it.

With Christ, we learned the truth. The more we learned, the more we longed to know. We spent most of our time studying and learning. The rest of the time we were on the boat, casting nets, catching fish and earning a living. It was the life I never dreamed I would live. I was being mentored by God in flesh, taught daily in His ways. Then, I was able to get out on the water and feel the spray in my face and the sun on my back. My wife was delighted, Andrew was thrilled and our business prospered and my passion for the Lord was growing stronger every day.

We learned at His feet, walked with him the way and saw Him perform miracles upon miracles. When He spoke, it was with such power that no one could resist Him. Only a foolish man would attempt to debate Him regarding the words of Scriptures. He wrote them! Yet, almost on a daily basis, the Pharisees would have their agents come and quiz the Lord on different aspects of the Holy writ. They would leave embarrassed and with harder hearts than when they arrived. Jesus did not play games with the boys and told them straight up the way things really were supposed to be. They would resort to personal attacks.

At one point they began to say that He was of Satan and that He was a bastard child. His rebuke was sharp and pointed. The fight was heating up and the pace was quickening. Things were moving fast. We did not realize it, but we were in the last few weeks of His time on earth. He was telling us plainly what was about to happen, but none of us realized what He was saying.

Then the Lord had us all meet one evening in the place we called “The Upper Room”. There we all sat for a meal that took on a rather somber mood. All were there as Jesus began to speak.

The odd thing was that He stood up and walked off to the side and removed his robe and wrapped himself in a towel, like a servant would do. I looked over to Andrew and he just shrugged, as if he had no idea what was happening. John and James were questioning one another. We were all taken by surprise here.

Then Jesus took up a water bowl and began to stoop down and wash feet. He would wash their feet and remove all the dirt and grime from the day and to my amazement, they let him do this. Nobody said a word. When he came to me, I pulled back. No way was the King of Glory, the Son of God going to wash my feet. He was above this. This was so far beneath His dignity; I just could not allow it. Looking back, I was so wrong. Who was I to tell the Lord what to do? I was blessed with generous amounts of ignorance.

Jesus looked up to me and said quite plainly, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have not part of me.” He was shaking his head with a tight smile. Something was going on. There was something in the air, a tension of some sort.
Jesus stood up and walked back to His seat. Without sitting down, He began to speak. He told us that if He being who He is, washed our feet, what should we do? We should take the low road with our fellow man. We can lord over whoever we wish but what good will that do? He was trying to teach us something and I was trying for all I was worth to listen and learn. He said that we were to do as He did. Me, I took that to mean that we were to be humble and willing to serve one another. It was a simple lesson but so powerful that it brought tears to my eyes. Then again, it did not take much to bring tears to these eyes of mine.

Jesus then started to act a bit troubled. I had never seen Him act in such a way. Never. He became somber and said that one of us, somebody in our group, was going to betray Him. Now, me personally, if I had known who it was, I would have taken him out to the Sea and that problem…no, I suppose that is big talk coming from a little man. I don’t know what I would have done. Still, I could not imagine any one of us betraying Jesus. I knew these men. I lived and worked with them daily for the past number of years. Again, I was correcting Jesus in my mind. Nah, none of these will betray Him. I know them. They wouldn’t do it.

I leaned over and got John’s attention. He looked over and I whispered and motioned to him to ask Jesus who it was that would betray Him. I then whisked my hand towards him. “Do it!” I moved my lips. John turned and said nothing. I was about to jump when finally, he leans in and asked Jesus who it would be.

Jesus said, “I’ll dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the one.” So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Looking back, one always has perfect understanding, you know. At that moment, none of us understood what had happened. Judas was out bookkeeper. He was a good man that we all trusted. Later, of course, we discovered that he was actually a thief. Me, I have no need for a thief to be around me. Can’t stand them. At that moment, we watched Judas take the bread and swallow it down his sorry little throat. He wiped his mouth and sat back all satisfied. We were dumb as dolts. Then Jesus said, “What you are going to do, go on and do it.” With that, Judas stood up and left the room and he looked sick, angry, sad, confused…you name it. He looked horrible. I thought he had some bad fish and was leaving to take care of the matter. Again, I was wrong.

As soon as the door was closed, Jesus began to talk silly talk. To me, at that time, it was silly. I mean, His kingdom was about to come and be set up. If he was dead or gone, that would not be something to consider. So, with all this talk about going away and being received into glory. I was becoming confused. Then He said he was going away and we could not go. I was growing more and more frustrated. I asked where He was going, wondering why we could not go. It was not making sense to me. He said I could not go now but I would follow Him later. Again, I could not understand all of this. I blurted out that I was ready to die for him. I had left my family, my business, my men – everything. I truly was ready to die for Him…I thought.

Jesus had his elbows on the table and was breaking some break from the loaf and listening to my ranting’s. He swung an arm over the back of his chair and nodded his head and swallowed. He then said something that shook my entire being, one reason because of what He said and two, because of the assurance with which He said it.

Petros, my friend. Oh, I love you, Petros. Would you really give your life for me?” He said. Then He paused and looked directly into my eyes, not in an angry way, mind you, but in a plain way, you could say. Then He said, “ You know, tonight, this very night, Petros, you will deny that you even know me three times.”. He held my view. Inside I was fuming. I was hurt that He would think this way of me. My life I had given. Inside, I knew that what I said was true. I would die. I was not afraid of any Roman Soldier or Jewish male! I would not fall back one foot from a challenge.

The night drew to a close. Thomas asked where He was going along with some other questions and discussion carried on a bit. It was a somber moment, I tell you. It was a different kind of moment. I shook my head as we headed out. It was late and we were heading to His favorite spot out in the Kidron Valley, a small grove of olive trees in a garden spot called Gethsemane.

I am amused with the questions I often receive regarding the twelve of us. Many think that we traveled as a group, twelve men walking along in a large group with Jesus in the center teaching. Can you see this happening with traffic and all? It was not this way at all. We would sit often to the side, under trees and in various places.

Also, many were under the impression that I had left my wife and children in order to follow Jesus, my Lord. Far from it. Often, they would accompany me and help prepare meals for the group. We spent a great deal more time together following Christ than we ever did when I was finding my living on the sea. Many of us had wives and some even had friends who followed. Many learned from Jesus. Indeed, there were twelve of us initially. Of course, you already are aware that Judas Iscariot left our ranks, but he was soon replaced with Matthias. But twelve us were seldom found. Our ranks would swell sometimes to twenty five or thirty. Family and friends. We had a fellowship of people who followed Christ.
Heading to the Gathesmenie, we had a good number. When we arrive there, we began to set up and find our places and some began to rest and speak with their friends. We did this many nights.

Jesus came and got James, John and I together and was acting out of sorts. He was not fretting or complaining, do not misunderstand me. Nothing of the sort. He was heavy with something. We could not know. He pulled us aside and asked us to pray with Him for a while. Personally, this was a privilege and an honor. James and John felt the same way. So we strolled deep into the garden and sat in a circle to pray. Jesus, well, He moved down from us. We could see Him but we could not hear Him.

John prayed and then James and then I prayed. I would imagine that we were all spent from the long day. After just a few minutes, our words were gone and out tongues grew thick with fatigue. James and John both laughed at me, saying that ideed something was wrong if I was growing quiet. I smiled. Friends. I slapped them both on the knee and had a hardy laugh. I leaned back and sat on my elbow. Things were getting still.

I looked over and it seemed as if Jesus was having a time in prayer. His arms were up and He stood. He stopped and raised his hands one more. Again, we could hear nothing, but He was animated, that is for sure. We prayed once more and then we began to doze off. I have no idea how long we had been asleep when Jesus woke me up by shaking my sholder. My eyes were rolled back in my head and I tried to respond but was so tired. My arms felt like dead weight and fatigue simply over came me. Jesus was telling us to get up and pray. “Rise and pray” he said, ‘lest you fall into temptation.”. He was distressed more than I had ever, ever seen him. His face was covered with rivulets of blood. His hair was drenched with sweat. He seemed to be in incurable agony. What could we do to help him? I was at a complete loss. With James and John, I attempted to pray once more and again, we fell into what seemed to be an unavoidable sleep. We were out of it. I cannot explain why on this evening of all evenings we were overcome with such an intense fatigue.

Sometime while we were sleeping, Judas Iscariot showed up. I now realized what Jesus had done when he gave him the bread. Judas was betraying Jesus. What did he gain from such an act. His name will be forever remembered as the one who betraying the Son of God. There was a great number of soldiers with him as well. Some Roman soldiers and some of the temple guard and of course, Caiaphas was leading the pack. If ever there was an evil man, it was Caiaphas. Judas walked up to Jesus and gave him the kiss of friendship. For a moment we thought things were going to be fine but when the guard reached out to take Jesus into custody I knew it was time to stand.

I had a sword and felt that I could at least offer a defense. I took up arms while the rest ran. The wives took off and the others ran fast to hide. Jesus was left alone. Well, not completely. I was there. I raised my sword and swung as hard as I could. I got a piece of Malcus’ ear. I was aiming for the center of his head, but he moved. All I got was his ear. I knew then I was a dead man. I was just waiting for the fatal blow when Jesus told me to put the sword down. “You live by this, Petros, you will die by this. Put it down.” He then reached down and picked up the ear I had loped off and reattached it in its proper place. Then, they tied Jesus up and hauled him back to Jerusalem. This was a two mile journey and you would have thought that they were marching into a huge battle. I followed at a distance.

I will tell you right now, I was scared. I was more than scared. I was terrified. I was isolated, alone and cold. My wife had departed with John. The crowd never noticed me as I slipped in amongst them. What were they going to do with Jesus? Why had Jesus not told us of what was to happen. Had He not known how serious this was going to become? All of our lives were threatened. We were all in danger. I remember thinking of how I loved fishing and the sun on my skin and the sea breeze in my hair. Had I made a rash decision in following Jesus? Was I marked as well to be killed or imprisoned?

With these thoughts filling my mind, I walked along with the crowd. I did not say anything, not wanting to be discovered as being among them. My heart was beating and my hair was soaked with sweat. The crowd pushed along and the soldiers were mistreating Jesus and dragging him. His hands were bound with leather and a rope was tied to him. They pulled him as soldiers behind him pushed. Caiaphas jeered and scoffed. It appeared as if the entire Sanhedrin was following. The proud Jewish leaders and scribes who were constantly frustrated as they tried to belittle Jesus followed like a group of victorious thugs. These were the leaders of Israel. These were the sorriest men I had seen and they stood in the highest positions in Israel. The days of David were long, long gone. This is how far we had fallen. A broken people be led by a group of wretched men in white garments covering black hearts.
They had Jesus. They had my Lord. Dear God…dear God. I was in a panic.

Another issue that at that time was causing my mind to race. What was I doing wrong? What was I doing that was somehow earning a rebuke and a moment of instruction from Jesus. There was not a question in my soul regarding my commitment to Jesus. I was ready to give my life for him. I swung my sword, did I not? I stood when the others ran. Still, there was this nagging doubt that was following me. It was like a black dog that shadowed me everywhere I went. I was wrong.

As I look back, these were key issues that troubled me. Now, things have changed. My understanding has been enlightened. The Comforter has come. I was so wrong. I say this often, I know. It is not with self-condemnation that I speak. It is with a sense of self-realization that I say these things.

I would often say things to correct the Lord. Even in those last moments before Gethsemane, Jesus told me that I would deny Him three times right after I had told him that I would die for Him. To be quiet honest,

I was hurt by His correction, but He was right always. John looked at me when Jesus said this. I had to constantly go back in my head and heart and tell myself that this was God, not some mere man. I was correcting God? Me? How careless and thoughtless. Three times he said I would deny Him. Three times I denied him.
He wanted us to feed thousands of men and women and children when all we had was seven loaves of bread. I was challenged. I suppose I was tire and frustrated. But what about Jesus. Did He not get tired? People were constantly pushing on Him and crying to him. We did what we could do, but the people never stopped coming. You know, not once, not once did I ever see Him frustrated. He loved the people. They knew it…and we disciples knew it. The food and feeding this many, I was frustrated but He was concerned. He was able to do it.
I had a different idea of what Jesus was sent here to do. I had a fixed idea about how His kingdom was going to operate. So, my thinking led my mind and my mind led my body. I was wrong. Ah, again, these tears…
I walked in the crowd trying to act as if I was one of them. It was dark and with my hood up, I walked unnoticed. The pace was brisk and these soldiers were moving fast. Caiaphas barked out that we must go to see his father, Annas.

I was surprised that we would go before Annas. What did he have to do with anything? He had left any position in Israel years earlier. Still, though, he held sway over the minds and ears of his corrupt children. Caiaphas had yet to break free from the wicked chains of his father-in-law, Annas.

The crowd beat a path to the house of Caiaphas. He, Caiaphas, preferred to call this place a palace. It was a large place but nowhere nearly as nice as the Praetorium that housed Pilate, the Roman Governor. Still, it accommodated a large number.

When we arrived, I saw John in the crowd. I was surprised and pleased. I caught him with him and we walked together. Neither of us said a word as we walked. John’s eyes were reddened by tears and he looked terrible. He was far more sensitive a man than I was, so I knew instinctively that this was killing him. When we reached Caiaphas’s place, John knew the man. I was unaware of this and a bit surprised.
Personally, I had no desire to enter into this place and waited around the door. John went in without any hesitation. He spoke with somebody who I did not recognize. He came over and took me by the arm and led me in to the hearings. We sat around a fire and were warming ourselves as we waited.
Listening to the arguments being made, John and I looked at each other. These leaders were nothing more than a group of liars. My blood began to boil and I was angry. John’s face was lined with tear tracks. I was shaking.

As we sat there, we were both filled with fear. We could have easily been taken into custody and put on trial and we both knew it. Some lady that was sitting around the fire heard us speaking and as we sat there, she got up and walked closer, looking directly at me. She pointed her finger at me and told the others that I was one of the ones following Jesus. She looked so smug as if she had made a major discovery. I laughed and waved her off, assuring her that I did not know what she was talking about. I denied that I knew Jesus. John turned to look at me. His stare lasted a good while. I felt bad but held my hands up as if to say, “What else was I to do?” John shook his head.
I continued to sit and tried to listen. Then, I stood up to move a bit closer. The crowd was larger that I could have imagined. Who all would get up and be wandering about at this time of the morning? I stood by another fire and leaned in. Another woman looked over at me and said rather loudly, “This fellow is one of them. He is one of them.” Again, my denials were quick in coming. I was nervous and wanted to make a quick exit, but I knew if I withdrew now it would only solidify their accusations. Sweat began to pour down my back. I lost sight of John and looked to Jesus, whose back was towards me.

The trial only lasted about an hour or so, but getting the people situation and all the fine leaders coming in all took some time. So, we had been there a while and then a group o men came up and asked, no, they actually stated it like it was a fact, that I was indeed one of the followers of this Jesus that was standing trial. I blew up. I was afraid and knew that if I was proven to be a follower, that I could suffer the same fate. I began to cuss like the fisherman I was. I spit out my denials and insisted that I was not one of His followers. “Why are you making such accusations?” I remember saying. “Leave me be!” I insisted.

It was at just this moment that Jesus turned. His face was swollen and his eye was nearly closed due to the beating they were administering. He turned and looked at me. He did not look in my direction. He looked at me. I froze. Chills went down my back and I could not move. He looked at me. When he did this, I remembered what He had told me just a few hours earlier. I would deny Him three times. My Lord and my God…I denied Him in his most horrible moment. I claimed I had no knowledge of Him. My feet were fixed to the ground. I grabbed my robe and began to move to the door as quickly as I could. Tears were burning my eyes. My heart was devastated. I was a hypocrite. I was a liar. John heard me and shook his head. I could not breath. My world was literally caving in all around me. I could not see. I pushed hard for the door. I had to get outside, away from the crowd. If had to find a hole somewhere that I could crawl up in a die.

Once outside, I ran as far as I could. I was running for the walls of the city. Jerusalem. The City of God. I did not belong here. I could not stay here. I screamed out in absolute agony. I wept like a baby. Nothing could staunch the flow of hot salty tears. I denied my Lord in His most dire moment. I turned my back on everything He stood for because I was scared that I would have to suffer as well. I did not want to suffer. I did not want to die. I loved my life.

For hours, my friend, my life hung in the balance. I followed afar as the drug Jesus over to the Praetorium. This was the headquarters of the Roman governor, Pilate. This meant that they were taking Jesus to be tried before Rome. What had we done to offend Rome? I thought. But Caiaphas, he was an evil man with evil thoughts and intentions. He had a plan devised. Also, rumor had it that he had some financial arrangements with Pilate. Money has a way of making enemies become accommodating friends.
John entered into the Praetorium and stood in the courtyard. Me, like a coward and one who was totally unworthy, I stood outside. I was broken. I was broken with no hopes of mending.
People were everywhere. Hundreds of people were milling around and the Scribes and Priest were all gathered up front behind their leader, Caiaphas. It was early in the morning, long before Pilate would normally have awakened. The noise was clamorous and the Roman guards were at battle ready status. You could see their faces were asking for a reason to run into the crowd. Pilate would be in no mood for this. I believe this was the intent behind this early morning gathering. Caiaphas was no fool and he was playing every angle. He was assuredly an unrighteous devil. I wept. Bitterly. I could not bring a halt to the anguish I felt. What had I done.

Not being privy to what was being said, I watched still move activity as they drug him like an animal over to Herod’s palace. Herod was an infidel and we all knew this. He knew he had power but his authority held sway in other area, not in Galilee. Pilate knew this as did Caiaphas. Word had it that Herod found nothing worthy of death. He sent him back to Pilate.
I wept all the more.

Finally, the sun was rising and Pilate was making a decision. He gave into the desires of Caiaphas as evidenced by the cheers of the crowd. I was told that he washed his hands of he matter and threw it into the hands of Caiaphas. The poor man, thinking he could wash himself of his personal responsibilities before God. His guilt will follow him to the judgment. He will not be held guiltless of this horrible sin. I witnessed the soldiers, burly and robust men, anxiously move for what they were about to do.

As I sat in the shadows, hidden from the view of the people, I wept uncontrollably. Thought race through my mind and I was able to recall clearly that Jesus told of several times just recently that he was going to be taken and crucified. We all heard it but I could not imagine that he was talking about it all happening so quickly. That soon.

The soldiers took Jesus and beat him. They were like ravenous dogs, tearing the skin away, showing no mercy. Some of the crowd went to watch. Caiaphas was one of them. The evil embodied is this man was hard to imagine. I remained in the shadows.

I spotted Matthew. He too, was walking with his hood down. Eventually, I saw Bartholomew and Nathan. John followed the crown and behind him, I saw James. We were all walking in fear. Except for John. John stayed the course all the way through. I was so filled with shame I could not hold my head up.

They finally opened the doors that headed to the Sheep Gate. There He stood. There He STOOD. I weep now as my memory recalls Him standing there. I cannot imagine how He stood. He was bloodied and beaten. I could not recognize Him. His head was up and He looked around. Turning His head, I knew he saw me yet again. I could not be sure, but I believe that He did. I wanted to run to his side and defend Him but it was too late. How He had the strength to stand amazed me.

The soldiers came and placed this long wooden block across his shoulders. He fell to his knees and cried out. The pain had to be incredible. They tied his wrist to the wood and forced him to his feet once more. He was beaten so badly that blood had covered his entire body. Not a soldier would touch him as they whipped him to his feet. They cried, “Stand up! Stand, King, Stand!” and lashed Him. He struggled to his feet.

He began dragging Himself towards the dump, Golgotha. The stench in the air was horrible. Thousands of sheep were being taken to the temple for sacrifice. People were stopping to look the criminal. Women were crying. People from all over were in Jerusalem.

He fell once more. His face skinned the road. He could not find his feet. He could not stand. My Lord could not stand. Oh, dear God, this is horrible. Dear God, help Your Son! Dear God, I pray. I could do nothing but cry for my Jesus.

The soldier grabbed a young man and told him to carry the cross for Jesus. The man was shocked. He looked at Jesus with a face of compassion. For a moment, they looked into one another’s eyes. Jesus nodded is head in a familiar fashion. A smile, I saw a smile. In the midst of such torment, He smiled at this man. The man stood and walked quickly. Jesus stayed on his knees for a moment. This called for a lash of the whip and cursing.

After what seemed like hours, the crowd arrived at Golgotha. The center post was already in place and the crowd swelled. Soldiers were marching around the area, all ready to do battle. The Centurion named Ignatius was overseeing the entire operation. He was not a gentle soul. He had a scowl on his face. Caiaphas was marching around as if he was supervising the scene. Pilate was there as well. It was an awful moment.

I felt as if my heart was literally tearing. There was nothing I could do. At that time, five years ago, during that particular day, I was washed up. I had denied even knowing the Lord Jesus. I was finished. I was walking away when I hear Jesus cry out, “Father, forgive them…” and I fell against a building. Here Chris hung on a Roman cross. I had denied him and all the others took off running. We were nothing but a band of religious cowards. We offered nothing but a nice following. Me, I was a fisherman. Who was I fooling? But hearing Him cry for forgiveness for others. That gave me a hope, hope that I thought was gone. Jesus was my only hope.

John stayed with Mary, the mother of Jesus. I left. I had to go. I could bear no more. It took me a while to recover. I met up with the others. Judas Iscariot had committed the last possible sin. So, his office was open and we voted Matthias to fill it.

I met Jesus once more on the shores of the Sea. He had made breakfast and He sat, leaning back on His elbows. He nodded in His familiar manner and smiled. He knew me. He knew fully of my failure. I could not hold my head up before Him. “Petros?” He called my name.

I knew then that all would be fine.

Name: Simon the Cyrene
Profession: International Trade
Age: 39

I am called Simon the Cyrene. Most people say, “Sigh-reen”. To pronounce it correctly, you must say “Key-reen”. I have been asked if I would write of an experience I had five years ago in my visit to Jerusalem. I agreed to do this because of my personal involvement and because it was a not just a visit that affected me, but the day that my life changed.
I come from Cyrene, so that should easily explain my name. Cyrene is found in a beautiful valley in the Jebel Akhdar uplands of northeastern Libya. Being unashamed and very biased, I have always held a deep love for my home in eastern Libya. Cyrene was established in 631 B.C and named after a spring of water called ‘Kyre”, which the Greeks, legend puts forth, consecrated to Apollo. You see, the Greeks believed they were led to this area by mythical hand of Apollo and shown this fertile resting place.

The original settlers came from Thera (Tear-ah), a small island in the Mediterranean. Being decimated by famine due to a terrible draught that was naturally affecting their food supply, they had to find a new home or die. There was no rain, the food would not grow, and animals were dying and so on. Nature was forcing them to relocate, or, Apollo, as they say. In 631 B.C. then, these guys came looking for a better place and found it in Cyrene.

The settlement quickly became a center of trade with other Greek cities in the area and swiftly became one of the most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean district. It was centrally located and easy to reach. People started relocating to the region and the population swelled. Eventually, three new towns were built to accommodate the people. All were a part of the Grecian Empire.
Cyrene grew in every respect and particularly as an educational center. Located at the foot of the fertile Akhdar Mountains, Cyrene was an ideal setting for the Cyrenaics, a school of philosophy started by Aristippus, who was a distinguished and loyal disciple of Socrates. This school was begun primarily for the benefit of the Greeks located in the region. Naturally, as time passed, acceptance of a wider section of the population was given and the school grew. While I have never had any leanings toward Rome either in philosophy or religion, I studied in the school for several years as a young man.
My father was adamant regarding education. If I could get it, he wanted me to have it. Education is always helpful. A Greco-Roman education has proven to have been very beneficial. Being an educational center has given Cyrene the reputation of being the “Athens of Africa”. That is why I am known as Simon of Cyrene – it indicates that I am educated and very important. (I am smiling now, I want you to know.)
In year 74 B.C., with the fall of Greece, Cyrene became a Roman province. From what I have read, little changed as Cyrene continued to prosper. Whereas it once was considered a political blessing to be under the protective wing of the Greece, now it was deemed a good thing to be under the protection of Rome. Roman influence was vast and powerful. Over time, Rome impacted the entire civilized world as it does today. I presently have thirty nine years in this life and have never known life apart from Rome.

I believe it would be helpful to tell you that I am Jewish. Many do not realize this because of my name and the color of my skin. I am a Roman subject but I was born to Jewish parents. In Cyrene we have a large and growing Jewish community. We had been very involved in the activities of the town and yes, we prayed daily for Israel. Quite often we were found in the Synagogue. As a child, it was my dream to visit Jerusalem and bow in the Temple during the Passover celebration. Perhaps this information will help you understand why I was in Jerusalem back in A.D. 33. A Jew in Jerusalem should not sound odd, right? How about a dark-skinned Jew? Ah, so now the questions begin.

When I was younger, I worked with people from the all over the world. Every so often, they would ask if I was indeed Jewish or if I was a servant, due to the color of my skin. We would laugh. These remarks were not found to be offensive as I fully understood people’s dilemma. You see, I am a dark skinned man by birth. I am from Libya. Libya is what we called Africa in those days. Here the population is generally dark skinned and by dark-skinned, I do not say black. Black Africans come from the south of Libya.

Cyrenenians have a definite blood connection to Greek ancestry. Our people are noticeably darker than most but we have definite Greek facial features. It is like the people of Italia, they are olive-skinned with dark eyes and black hair. We were a bit darker than most, but we have wavy hair, Greek noses and high foreheads. However, despite of all the ancestors, I was Jewish by birth, a descendant of the line of Ham. Prior to my visit to Jerusalem, I had never been out of my region and was limited in my understanding and experience. Though I dealt with internationals on a daily basis, I had never traveled to their lands. My experiences were all Libyan – really, and to get closer to the truth…they were all based in Cyrene. I dreamed that one day I would visit Judea and bow in the Temple. To me, this would be a blessing from Jehovah and the goal of a lifetime.

As I grew, I sat on my father’s knee and listened as we participated in the synagogue worship in Cyrene. My father would read from the scrolls and teach us daily concerning the ways of Jehovah. Elohim was God and there was no other is what we learned. David was my hero and my father would often tell me of David’s might exploits. My father was a good and righteous man. Though I did not discover this until I was a man, he suffered many times for his beliefs. This I never knew. He said nothing to me about this. In business, he worked the international markets and was often called upon to help officials in the high political offices of the city. He was very intelligent and willing to do what he could to help, in spite of the abuse.. As I grew, he taught me the business and when I was old enough, I began my work with him.
He died when he had fifty two years. Me not being a man of medicine, I do not know why he died. He became ill and died. Indeed, this hurt my heart for a long, long time. I was a young man and did not know much. After his passing, I was given charge of the family and all related affairs. We mourned his loss but I made sure we continued to hold tightly to the things he had taught us. I eventually took his position in the synagogue. Since then, my sons have sat on my knee as I would read, a blessing I hold in high regard. Going to Jerusalem was a distant dream now. I had many, many responsibilities. Some dreams, I thought, must remain just that…dreams.

As I grew into manhood, I began to understand my place in the world; by this, I mean my place as a Jewish man. Rome had been in Libya long before my birth. They had allowed the Jews to continue practicing their faith but it was more through toleration than allowance. I believe the Roman Social Engineers assumed that we would somehow assimilate into the broader culture over time. When this did not happen, the government made numerous attempts to force us fit in. We were different and they often tried various and sundry ways to make us fit into their empirical schemes and their Greco-Roman mythological religion. We suffered persecution by way of exclusion and isolation.

During my lifetime, I never knew anyone to die for their faith, but I knew of many who suffered greatly for what they believed. Also, I might add, I did not know of any who left the synagogue due to these injustices. We were a strong community. In our synagogue we had two hundred men and enjoyed a true and solid fraternity.
Sure, we were surrounded by other beliefs. Pagan gods were well represented and it was as if every family had their own special god. As a child, the differences were unknown to me, but as I grew, I began to notice the opposition and sense the resentment.

We were different from other people. I was different. I thought differently and acted differently. As Jews, we were a peculiar people indeed. We followed Elohim, the God of Creation, not the pagan gods of the Greeks and Romans. We believe there was only one God and we believed in heaven not Elysium. We lived by a different code of conduct.
At times, some people were very hateful and said hard things. As a child, these things were painful and I could not understand why folks so were mad. As a man, these things are still painful and hurt as well but with maturity comes understanding and a certain ability to forbear such insults.

In our synagogue, we stood. We supported one another and encouraged one another. My father stood among the leaders. It was my hope to stand like my father stood. He was a good man. As he was a good man, I want to be a good man.When the opportunity came through a business contact to visit Jerusalem, I did not hesitate to take advantage of it. I would be the first man from our synagogue to visit Jerusalem. The voyage would take some time as we would need to travel by ship across the Mediterranean into the Jamnia Harbor then travel a day’s journey by caravan. We prepared ourselves to leave. My cousins and family would be managing the business in my absence. With everything in order, my wife and I gathered the kids, said our good-byes and set out. We were living the dream. After many days, we arrived in Jerusalem during the Passover week.
Perhaps you feel that I am rambling in my writing and you are probably correct. I am not a writer and am attempting to explain things. I believe I need to explain how and why I came about going to Jerusalem in order to help you understand how I became involved. I was not on the Sheep Gate road by accident that day. Some say I was coming in from the country and they are correct. I was coming in from the Kidron Valley the morning of the crucifixion. I believe the following information will explain.

Knowing that we were going to participate in the Passover meal while there, we secured a lamb in the temple and paid our fee upon arrival. We would retrieve the lamb after the sacrifice was made in four to five days and prepare it at the Inn for the Passover meal. This would allow the required five days for examination, insuring that the lamb had no spot or blemish. With this done, we set out to find our Inn and then, to see Jerusalem. Then as a family, we walked the streets and saw the sites. We saw the streets that Abraham and Isaiah walked upon. We were amazed to think that we were standing where King David stood and thrilled to consider that Solomon ruled from there. The history was breathtaking.
The Passover was a major event every year. Sheep were everywhere, making the streets smell like pasture land and there were people were scurrying about all over town. Excitement was everywhere to be seen and experienced.

One thing that everybody was talking about was a Galilean man named Jesus. I heard him called a prophet and a healer, the Messiah and the new King. Talk was everywhere. There was a huge expectation in the hearts of the people and many were hoping to see him. Some said he would be in Jerusalem soon.One man told of two sisters he knew over in Bethany. They told of how Jesus caused their brother, a man named Lazarus, to come back from the dead. People were listening intently but when this was mentioned, they laughed at the impossibility. I rolled my eyes as well. A man brought back from the dead? Come on.
Another told of this Jesus feeding five thousand men, not counting women and children, out of one single basket of fish and bread. Many nodded in agreement. The man went on to say that they took up twelve baskets full of bread and fish afterwards. Many claimed to have been there and actually to have seen this happen. It made me think. Tales of blind men receiving sight and crippled men walking, the stories were many and varied. I was intrigued and more than interested. Could this be the Messiah?

In Libya I had never heard anything of this Jesus. Nothing. In Jerusalem, people all over were speaking about him in excited voices. I had studied the Torah since I was a child. The idea of the Messiah was something that brought hope to any serious minded Jew. The more I heard of this Jesus, the more my heart stirred within me. I had studied business at the feet of some very astute Roman professors. One lesson they beat into me over and over was that I had to establish the facts regarding a matter, see what needed to be done and then, and only then, decide. I wanted to learn more about this Jesus…before I decided anything. I must say, though, the stories I was hearing were compelling.The more I heard, the more I wanted to know the facts. People get excited and say silly things, believing them to be true. I was not going to make that mistake. I decided to accumulate some facts, so I went to the Temple and met with some very intelligent and influential men. I explained to them that where I came from, Cyrene in Libya, we kept meticulous records of births and marriages and such in our Archive building. I wanted to see if that was done here as well.

Then I began asking questions, the elders began to ask questions as well. They wished to know what I was looking for and why. I told them all that I was hearing regarding this Galilean named Jesus. I wanted to get more information regarding his lineage.Several of the older men remarked that this Jesus was a special man and highly intelligent. I nodded in agreement, but explained that I had never heard him speak. They continued and told me that the man was brilliant beyond understanding. One of the men spoke of an incident that occurred nearly twenty years earlier. It was Passover and the Temple grounds were filled and people were everywhere.

There was a group of Temple officials having a discussion regarding some facet of the law when this kid walks up and begins to listen. The men noticed and in a jocular fashion, asked what he had to add to the conversation. He gave his thoughts and the men were staggered. The wisdom displayed was stunning. The intelligence was beyond question. The men grew silent and eventually began to ask the boy questions. The man telling the story said this was a factual story and that he was one of the officials. That was this Jesus. Eventually, his mother and father came to collect him and take him back home. He could not recall the names of his parents or the town he came from, but this Jesus was no simpleton and certainly not a rabble-rouser. I was amazed to hear what I was hearing.

They all told me that what I was doing what I was doing was a good and wise thing. Apparently, it was so wise that they actually asked if they could accompany me to the Archive Building and help me in my research. I welcomed them and we actually took off in a small group. My eldest son Rufus wished to stay with us while Alexander, my younger son went with his mother. They were in a vacation of sorts and went to find the shops and look around while Rufus and I headed out to find information.In the Record Storage area of the Archive Building, there were massive stacks of scrolls that went back many, many years. Various records were recorded and you could have found whatever you wished regarding ownership of land and materials and such as well as information regarding births and deaths. As I was searching the lineage of this Galilean man, Jesus, the men were asking me why I was interested in this information. I pointed out that in order to be King in Judah, one had to descend from the line of David and that ten generations were required before another king could occupy the throne of David due to infidelity on the part of Judah. They all nodded and listened.

I informed them that I had asked several people regarding this particular matter and nobody could give me a good, solid answer. I got a shrug of the shoulders and several, “I don’t know’s”. I truly was wishing to eliminate all doubts, mainly because seven days hence I would be traveling back to Libya and I did not want to go back with rumor filling my mind. What if this was the King? What if it was the Messiah?
So, my new found friends and I began our search. Soon, we were surprised at what all we actually found. Not only had Jesus descended from the line of David, but both lines descended from David. Mary, his mother and Joseph, his father, were both the last viable representatives of the Davidic line on their respective sides. Both kingdoms were represented in his lineage, northern and southern. In this Galilean man you had the only man who could ever truly represent the kingly line that Elohim had previously appointed to power and the only one who could unite the kingdom that split after the reign of Solomon. We could trace his ancestry all the way back to Adam with the information that was provided.

Now, if this meant that he was the Messiah or not, I could not tell, but I do know that it did show that he was the rightful king of Israel and was the last man who could rightly occupy the throne of David. With his death, the line of David would be done. This was troubling to see, because it was believed that Jesus was not going to be around much longer. Jehovah had promised that David would never lack a man on his throne. If Jesus were to die, that ends that. Something had to happen. Something big. It was going to, I could feel it in my bones. Was this faith stirring within me?I sat with the men in that room for a few more minutes and it was silent. We were quietly discussing the weight of our discovery. We all knew the ramifications of our findings. Jesus was King. Jesus was the rightful King. Jesus was the lawful King. This would change nothing in the eyes of Rome, of that we were all certain. However, if the people had a full understanding of this, they would riot against Rome.

We all agreed that Judea posed no threat to Rome and any uprising would be futile. Jesus knew this, I was certain. He was not blind. No, I was told that he was brilliant. I was excited and my heart was racing. I had done more than simply make a visit to Jerusalem. Rufus and I had seen the last possible direct descendent of the great King David, one of the most famous Kings ever to have lived. We all stood, shook hands and agreed to keep silent regarding these matters. None knew what was going to happen in the next few days and presently, all agreed that Jehovah knew all and would do what was needed. The atmosphere in the streets was far too hostile at the moment for such news to be announced. Knowing this, I took my leave and could not wait to tell my wife the news. I had one week until Passover. One week.

I wanted to meet this man Jesus. I wanted to speak with him and ask him many questions. I suppose I was not alone in my desires. Thousands thronged him daily. I doubted if I would ever have such an opportunity.
Leaving the Temple, I eventually found my wife and younger son. I nodded at Joanna and messed up Alexander’s hair. They ahad been have the time of their lives. We made our way back to the Inn. Settling in, I explained what I had found as Joanna listened. She was amazed. She agreed with me that I needed to find this Jesus but assured me that I needed to be very careful. She had overheard many people and there were several who were speaking harshly regarding this man. Still, we both agreed that I needed to at least hear what he had to say.

Rufus was very interested in what we were discovering and was asking all sorts of questions. He was asking what a Messiah was and what all the facts we found actually meant. He was too young to comprehend the information, but he was asking the right questions. I learned years earlier in the Lyceum that to gain a proper understanding one had to ask the right questions. Asking the wrong questions simply led one down the wrong roads and you would find nothing. Learning the right questions to ask is a major part of any education. Rufus was asking the right questions. I was impressed and proud.

Early the next morning, he and I set out to find this Jesus. It was Sunday and the Passover was the following week. We had four days to find out what we wanted to know. We still need to tour the city as a family and come Thursday, prepare the Passover lamb and get ready for I decided to become more of an indecisive seeker of sorts to this Jesus group. This way, I would not be mistakenly identified as a follower nor disregarded as an enemy. From what I was hearing, following Jesus could lead to being incarcerated or worse, beaten and put out of the Synagogue. I wanted neither of these, especially if everything I was hearing proved to be wrong. I had to stop for a moment and think. Was I seeking this fellow out for entertainment and amusement? If that was the case, I would stop immediately. Too much was at stake and my family had to be considered. I was searching for the truth behind what I was hearing. I cleared my mind regarding this matter took a deep breath and moved on with a clear conscious.

Rufus and I walked a good ways away from the Inn before we began with our questions. Several told us that Jesus was expected to come to the Passover and word had it that he would be coming in from Bethany. O.K. this was good information but I had no idea where Bethany was located and needed further assistance. The shop keeper who was directing me took me outside to the cobblestone street. Pointing east and said that Bethany was directly down this road. More with his hands than his words, he instructed me to follow it and told me that if I was to see a crowd, know that this was Jesus. I thanked the man and took my leave.
We walked nearly a mile when, just as the shop owner indicated, we encountered a large crowd. Long before we actually saw the crowd, we heard them singing, “Hosanna, Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna to the Lord of Host”. The people were excited and delighted. They were singing and dancing and throwing palm leaves into the road and garments and such. In the center of the crowd was a smaller man that was not really much to look at. He was sitting on a small donkey and the people were surrounding him. He smiled and seemed perfectly at peace. He did not act exalted, mind you. He was not acting as a showman or a politician. He was hugging the people and embracing them. His smile was genuine. The people, in response, embraced him and danced with joy.

So, this was my first encounter with Jesus. I was going to follow him at a distance for a day and try to get a true understanding of what he was teaching. I stayed to the outer edge of the crowd, listening and watching. Not much was said but the people continued to follow him. He went directly into Jerusalem and straight to the Temple. From near Bethany to the Temple, I suppose we traveled about, I don’t know, a mile and a half or so. We moved slowly but we finally arrived.Every eye was on Jesus and every ear was keenly listening to any and every word he uttered. When he walked into the Temple, his demeanor changed radically. A look of anger came over his visage and he stood still for a moment. He looked around him and began to shake his head as if to say, ‘No, you don’t!’. He took his leather waste belt and wrapped it over his open palm and with one hand he began to walk by these vendors tables and turn them over, scattering money and paper all over. He had no regard for the man sitting there. He was saying in a loud voice, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, ’but you are making it a den of thieves.”. I was shocked. One fellow told me that this was the second time he had done this. He drove these guys out but they came right back. He was getting these guys very upset, yet they did not attack him. Instead, they backed up and stood there. They were amazed as well.

What impressed me was that once he had turned these tables over and run these vendors off, he did not leave the area due to fear of reprisals. No, he stayed in the Temple area and people began coming to him to be cured. Some were blind, some lame. I was watching with absolute amazement. From what I understood, he had been doing these things for three years or so and in Libya, we had heard nothing. Not even wild rumor. I only heard of these things upon my arrival. Today, I was beholding the truth of the claims. He was healing the blinded eyes and commanding lame men to walk. Rufus was tugging at my robe and pointing. He pointed over to one corner of the Temple floor. There stood the High Priest. He was all decorated and looked special. He was surrounded by an entourage and the look on his face was not happy at all. He watched as Jesus healed the sick and lame. He saw this take place as easily as I had seen it. Then, as he watched, a group of kids danced by singing to Jesus, “Hosanna to the son of David”. It looked like Caiaphas was going to scream. An argument ensued.

The High Priest approached and asked Jesus if he heard the kids singing. Who could not hear them singing? Jesus was steady when he answered and said, “Yeah, I heard them; have you never read in the Torah where it says, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nurslings you have brought forth praise’?” They just stood there, not saying another word. He left the Temple and started back to Bethany. I headed back to the Inn. I could not wait, again, to tell Joanna what I had seen. Rufus was equally excited. Somebody in the crowd said that Jesus was going to be around for five days. I thought this would be sufficient time to learn what I needed to know.

I was almost out of breath as I arrived at the Inn. Joanna had a meal prepared and Rufus found Alexander and they headed out to play. I sat down and begin to explain things as they happened. When I told her of the tables being overturned, she was as astonished as I was.
She suggested that this may slow things down a bit and cause additional problems. You see, the people could only offer a lamb that was spotless and without blemish. They would go in on Sunday or Monday and buy the Lamb and then the lamb had to be observed for five days prior to sacrifice. With the vendors being shut down what would happen? I had no idea. I kept telling her of him healing the blind and lame. I committed to go out again Wednesday and follow. Tomorrow was family time.
Wednesday came and Jesus was out a bit early, He did not do a lot of miracles and seemed to be slowing down some. He talked to some Pharisees and told them something about tearing down the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. I could not make heads or tails out of that. Then he spoke with a group of gentiles, which I thought was a bit odd, but I am sure he had a reason. Then, his group headed back to Bethany for a meal.

Rufus and I followed for a while and decided that due to the hour, we should head back. So, we turned around and headed back. We stopped along the way and talked to several men regarding the Passover and were asking them what to expect. Time got away as we talked and I did not realize how late it had become.
As we were preparing to leave, it had become dark and we had to get specific directions once more, so, we spent a few minutes gathering this information and finally, we turned to leave.
As we were leaving, one man who I had seen earlier walked past us at a very fast pace. He looked mighty familiar but I could not recollect where or when I had seen him. As we walked along, he moved quickly and put a good distance between himself and us. I did notice, however, in the ambient light of the moon, that he turned into the Temple area. Then I knew who this man was. He had been with Jesus. I do not recall his name, but he definitely was a part of the Jesus group.

Since there were few people in the Temple, I thought I would go in to ask some information regarding Jesus. I would need to be tactful as I am sure he was there praying. So, I moved slowly.
When I entered the Temple area, he was nowhere to be found. I did not spend a great deal of time in seeking him out so Rufus and I turned and went to the Inn. I thought it strange that one of the Jesus group would come here alone, but it was a passing thought. Joanna had a delicious meal prepared. We ate and then slept. It had been an uneventful day. Thursday had to bring more than Wednesday.
I awoke to the sound of bleating. Sheep were being sacrificed. Moment by moment, sheep were being sacrificed. Once the sheep was killed and bled out, it was wrapped up and marked for the owner to take home for preparation of the Passover meal. Things were busy and moving like a whirlwind. Joanna and I had to retrieve the lamb we purchased upon our arrival. We had to prepare things for ourselves as the Passover was approaching.

In our hustle and bustle we had almost forgotten our reason for being here. So, we had a rush that morning. At the Temple, I was able to secure the lamb I had purchased earlier. Sacrifice was made and for at least the following year, our sins were covered before God. I brought the lamb home and with a small fire out back, we began our annual Passover celebration.
Joanna knew exactly how to prepare things and the kids helped when and how they could. I wondered what the Jesus group was doing and where they were. Who knew? I am sure they were celebrating Passover, or would be in just a few hours.

Thursday, the fourteenth of Nissan, was going to be a busy, busy day. The entire city would be in preparation for the Passover meal and sacrifices. On this day, lambs would be sacrificed in the Temple. The ceremony began at twelve o’clock. The second Tamid lamb of the days sacrifice would be brought out for examination. This is the day the lambs and kids were to be sacrificed at the Temple The ceremony began at twelve noon when the second Tamid lamb of the daily sacrifice was brought out and tied to the altar for all to see its perfection. The lambs were sacrificed at the hour of the second daily sacrifice from three p.m. and continued until about five p.m. At the end of the ceremony, the lambs were taken home and prepared for the feast that night. The sacrificial animal was to be roasted whole, no bones broken. The next day for us Jewish people began at sundown. At sundown it would be the fifteenth of Nisan, the night of the sacred meal of the Passover sacrifice and the beginning of the day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Joanna and I were looking forward to these events.

I could not help but wonder about Jesus and his group. People spoke of how Jesus loved the gardens in the area and often went to one so he could be alone and pray. Perhaps they were in a garden. We would find out tomorrow. Friday gets us one day closer to the actual day. I was arriving at a milestone. I never dreamed that I would bow my knees in Jerusalem. Simon of Cyrene…in Jerusalem. Who would have thought…my father would cry tears of joy.

This part of the story is hard to describe. It began under darkness and was difficult to believe.

When we were deep into the night, a runner came through shouting that a Roman cohort had gone to seek Jesus. At first pass, I could not understand what had been said, but then the runner passed a second time a few minutes later shouting about the Roman cohort once again. I was fully awake and Joanna was sitting up. I told her I was going to find out what was being done and that I would return shortly. Quickly, I was in the street. I was not alone.had and somehow convinced the local Prefect to allow a group of soldiers to be sent to arrest Jesus. That seemed strange to me. Jews arrested Jews and yet here they are working together? To commit a Cohort to the cause was substantial. A Cohort is around four to six hundred men…armed soldiers. Perhaps there were additional men in this Jesus group of which I had no knowledge.
It was said that these were the Tower of Antonia soldiers. “Tower” soldiers were an elite group of men that had been trained implicitly for special use. They were housed in this special place that was named for Marc Anthony. When I asked about Marc Anthony, it was the same that I had heard of. THE Marc Anthony…apparently Herod and Mr. Anthony were friends at some point.

The Antonia Tower was a huge building that stood high over Jerusalem and served as a training ground for this elite group of men. From this building the soldiers could easily see the Temple grounds. These were some highly skilled men that were extremely dangerous. Why would this group be called out? While I was not overly involved – nothing more than a personal curiosity and had not committed to their cause, it was like I was tangled in an intense conspiracy. My heart wanted to know more of what was going on. For me, things that were happening were highly unusual. I normally do not get emotionally involved into such situations, but something was totally different about this. Roman soldiers working the Jewish officials to go an arrest one man. My heart was pulling me forward. I began to follow the crowd.
It was extremely early for this many people to be out, but the road was filling quickly. Each door I passed it seemed as if another face joined the march. Where we were going I had no clue, I just followed the flow. These were hometown folk and they seemed to know where to go.

We headed out of the Dung Gate and into a place called the Kidron Valley. There was a running brook there that seemed to have plenty of water. The road was filling with people. Everybody was talking in excited voices and nobody knew exactly what was happening. You learn a lot simply by listening and I was getting an entire education.
Most accounts I was hearing this Jesus was a fine man. Many, if not all, considered him to be a prophet sent by God. Some were convinced that he was more than that, but nobody was for sure. He performed miracles, more than I can recount in this writing for sure.

One man boasted that Jesus walked on the water during a storm. This caused voices to rise. Even in my mind, walking on water seemed to be a stretch. Still, another told of a man named Lazarus who died and was called back to life by Jesus. Eyes rolled back on this one and not only voices raised, but arms as well. With each step we took it seemed that the stories grew. Still, I noticed that the stories were about things that he did to and for the benefit of other people. They did not seem like the selfish and self-centered stories that filled Greek mythology. People raised from the dead, deaf people hearing, blind people seeing and lame people walking. Some of this I had seen with my own eyes, so it gave plausibility to these other claims. In my reasoning, which is more difficult…to give sight to a man that had been blind since birth or to call someone forward from the dead? They were both equally impossible and thus both fully possible.

Some mentioned that this was the Messiah and that made my heart race. If this was the Messiah, that meant that God was now walking among us. God…Elohim, Jehovah was in human form. Jehovah was here. Isaiah spoke of Emmanuel in his writings. Emmanuel means, ‘God with us’. If this was even a remote possibility, would not the High Priest show deference and interest instead of indignation and distain?
When I asked about Caiaphas, I received a scornful laugh from the men surrounding me. He was a Jew, this is true. His father, Annas was by far the better man, but hated none-the-less. He had been removed from his position by Gratis, the former Prefect. Caiaphas was nothing more than a Rome puppet siphoning off money for Rome while lining his own pocket as well. Jesus turning over those tables in the Temple was like Jesus destroying Caiaphas’ personal income. The men I spoke with loved Israel and longed to see the nation restored, but they detested Caiaphas and his men. They were referred to as the Roman “Boot-Lickers.”.
This Jesus had captured the imagination of the people. He elevated the hopes and dreams of an entire nation. He preached of new things and brought hope back to the hearts of the people. He was to be king. The people had every intention of bringing this man to the throne. The only obstacle for this being done was Jesus himself. He had no desire to be king. Every time the people moved in this direction, he would take off to the mountains or somewhere. He revealed no political aspirations and certainly no desire to be set up as king.

For my part, I had only been exposed to this information for four days now. The facts I had discovered in the Synagogue regarding his lineage was irrefutable. The rumors were beginning to be connected into a narrative. Rumors as opposed to truth tend to become farfetched and ridiculous. This is what drove the concept of the Greek gods from the minds of men. Stories of Thor and Hercules were far-fetched and mythical. Dreamers dreaming dreams. I could never consider these stories as reality, though I do realize that many of those that were uneducated accepted them.
However when considering this Jesus; I had seen and heard enough to reach a solid conclusion, but not a final conclusion. He was someone that was special. He was King, by all rights. He was immovable and unafraid and his confidence was unshakable. Was he the Messiah? While I wanted to say yes, I could not. I was not sure. That was a plunge I was not ready to take. To say he was the Messiah would not, in my opinion, deny my Jewish faith. No. It would complete it. It would reveal that all the prophets were right.
The vast majority stopped just short of making absolute statements when it came to saying he was the Messiah. They felt that if he was indeed the Messiah he would deliver Israel from Rome. He would sit in the throne of David in power and rule. He would not be chased across the countryside by Roman soldiers, live in poverty and deny the people of his rule. The fact that a Roman Cohort was going out to arrest him would reveal a great deal. Could they actually do this? Arrest the King of Israel? It remained to be seen. Something deep was stirring in my heart and mind, but I could not explain it. There was something I could not express in words. Still, I followed, wanting to see what was going to happen.

It must have been a real site to behold. Half of Jerusalem was marching out (or so it seemed) the road to the Mt. of Olives, led by a Roman Cohort and many of the Jewish high ranking officials of the Sanhedrin including Caiaphas, the High Priest. It looked like an army marching into battle. The soldiers had torches and spears and swords and the Jewish Leaders, well, they had their opinions. Forward we marched until finally we arrived at this small garden place that was filled with Olive Trees called Gethsemane. We were on a ridge that stretched for a couple of miles.

There was a fire burning and it appeared that there was a group of people who had been milling around there. When we arrived, these men were huddled together in discussion. When they saw the crowd coming, this one fellow takes up a small sword and waves it in the air as if he was saying they should attack. I heard some of the soldiers laughing as this occurred. It would be a joke if this happened, a deadly one at that.
All these men had come out for this little band of poorly dressed and unshaven men. These were working stiffs not an angry mob. Looking at their faces, I saw more fear and despair than rebellion and hatred. It was obvious that not one of them wanted to do battle…with the exception of one fellow they called Petros. He was a bit animated.

What surprised me was that there were wives and a few children and some older folks as well. I assumed these to be the parents of some of the followers of Jesus. There was actually a fair amount of people in that garden, but not one of them, not one, in my estimation, was there for battle. Instead, the word quickly rambled through our crowd that they were praying. Praying.

Here we stood, almost one thousand strong, and half of that number being made up of trained, elite soldiers. Even the High Priest was there. We had come to arrest one man of this group. Talk about killing a gnat with a hammer I did see something I did not understand and nobody could explain it to me. When Jesus came to the fore, he was covered with blood, it seemed. Not deep rivulets of blood, mind you, but blood. It was like sweat, I suppose you might say. He was wiping his face as he approached. I am sure that you understand me…the edges of his collar, around his neck, were soaked with this. I may be wrong, but the fellow next to me noted something as well.

Things were moving very quickly now. It seems that once they encountered Jesus and had him manacled, they were in a rush to get him back to the Temple. This was more of a command, I believe. Still, I do want to say this, because I found it to be amusingly strange. Jesus came and asked how he could assist the Centurion. The Centurion stood tall and svelte. He was an elite commander, controlled and in charge. He had this helmet that was tall with plumes and a chest plate and shin guards and a sword. He was the picture of a battle ready warrior. Behind him stood literally four hundred and fifty of the meanest men I had ever seen. Battle hardened and ready to fight. Behind these soldiers were found the brave and bold Sanhedrin Jewish leaders and then, almost like and audience in attendance, we stood off afar.

When the Centurion said that he was looking for Jesus, Jesus calmly said, “I am he”. The Centurion took a step back and either tripped or slipped, but he, along with his men, fell down…backwards. They went sprawling over backwards. The look on the religious guys faces was suddenly transformed from absolute arrogance and pompousness to fragile temerity and fear. Caiaphas looked ready to bolt at the slightest indication of trouble. He, along with his men, looked down at the soldiers and up to the Jesus crowd and for a moment, they did not know what to do…run and hide or what. Granted, the soldiers were up in an instant and on guard and the moment passed. The crowd was silent but I almost openly laughed. It was truly an awkward moment if there ever was one.

After this, Caiaphas stepped back and looked behind him. Out of the group of Sanhedrin officials came this fellow I had seen going into the Temple the other night. When I asked who this was, people began to look trying to see who it was. Judas, I was told. Judas Iscariot, son of Simon. He was Judean, not a Galilean. He was the Treasurer of the group. I was wondering what he was doing there. Then I heard Caiaphas say with a voice that was dripping with condescension, “Get up here and earn your thirty pieces of silver, little man.” He approached Jesus and leaned in to kiss him, as if he was he was a dear friend. Jesus held him close and called him friend as he shook his head. With tears falling from his eyes he said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Judas shrunk back into the darkness of the crowd as the soldiers closed rank.

The soldiers had their swords drawn and they bent their knees as if they were ready to pounce. They were embarrassed and their egos were a bit damaged. If word of this got back to Ignatius Ludovic, Centurion in Charge, heads would roll. This being the case, not much time was wasted in taking Jesus into custody. The others who had been with Jesus began to scatter very quickly, running in every direction. The soldiers showed no real concern with their leaving. They had their man and nobody remained standing with Jesus except for this Petros fellow. He had this little sword and with both hands held it out. I thought he was surrendering it but apparently he stuck a man in the ear and not accidentally so. I was surprised that Petros did not feel the sudden sting of a Roman sword. The man, who was Malchus, the servant of the High Priest, groaned, grabbed his head and fell to the ground. Bloodied and fallen, Jesus approached him as he said, “You live by the sword; you die by the sword, Petros. Put that away.” Seeing Malchus in such pain, he reached down and healed his ear. In front of all these men, Jesus healed this man. Malchus stood up, all pain gone, looking into the eyes of Jesus. Now that will be with him for a life time.
They rushed Jesus back into Jerusalem and we all tried to follow. They deposited him in front of Annas, the former High Priest. This is where things started getting confusing to me, but again, I was not involved in politics so, really none of this was making a great deal of sense to me.

Annas had been deposed several years earlier. Gratis saw to that. The two of them did not agree about much and Gratis was the man in charge, so Annas was released of all responsibilities. I was told that during those days the animosity was so strong that Annas nearly was beheaded. Only an appeal to Qirinus saved him. However, he was no longer over the Temple. Yet, they bring Jesus to him to be judged. What could he do? I did not understand initially. I was not allowed into the court so I did not hear anything that was said. I do know that Jesus spent about an hour there and was transferred over to Pontius Pilate. This was all happening during the wee hours of the morning and I was very tired but wanting to see what was going on.
One thought that ran through my mind over and over was the fact that should this turn out to be the Messiah, the majority of the Jews lay in their beds sleeping. This would say one of two things. They were totally oblivious to what was going on, which was hard to believe, or they were totally indifferent. I know that the runner that woke me probably woke the majority of the city with his incessant calling out of the news. People heard, responded by coming out and seeing what was going on or by rolling over and pulling the pillow over their heads. They were missing out on history. I could have been wrong, I thought, but I did not believe I was. Time has proven that I was correct in my assumptions. The facts played out and the truth was revealed.
Now, it was early and the court yard at Preatorium was filled. The Jewish leaders had been busy. It was starting to make sense now. These Jewish leaders hated this Jesus. They literally hated this man. They wanted him dead but by law, they were not allowed to legally put a man to death. Only Rome could do that. Pilate had to make the call. But, he had to be motivated to do so. Getting all the Jews into the courtyard was imperative to the success of the High Priest’s plan. But that was part one. Part two was getting them so worked up that it would bring fear to the Roman Governor. So, money was paid and people became motivated.

Pilate comes out of the Preatorium and was disheveled and highly upset. He resided in Caesarea but had to be in Jerusalem due to the Passover. Jews tended to get out of hand due to their religious excess. He was here to help ensure that this did not occur. Also, the High Priest and his officers refused to defile themselves by entering into the Praetorium. It was a game of politics. It is too early for this nonsense.
Pilate stands on the grand stairway and glares down at the High Priest who in turn, glares up at him. There is a mutual power struggle going on. You could tell. Something was at play. I knew Rome. I knew the rules – at least in Libya. You did not kick the Roman legs. They did not take to this at all. Pilate had the power of Rome at his command. He could crush these Jews with a word, but he did not. In stead, he asked what the situation was and listened as the High Priest stated his case.

The High Priest lies. He shows no remorse in doing so and no hesitation to do so. He lies. He claims that this Jesus was perverting the minds of the people and turning them against Rome with his lies. He said that Jesus was teaching the people that they did not need to pay taxes to Rome. Pilate refused to bite. Caiaphas wanted him to agree to crucify him for this reason. However, lying was not a capital offense under the Romans, so Pilate insisted on trying him himself.

You know something…I was not in Judea a week and I had already developed a very strong disdain for Caiaphas and his ilk. This man was sinister and corrupt and evil as a snake. I had never seen religion in such a light before. Never. Never had I felt so dirty for being a part of a religious system as I did this morning. How could the Jews allow this man to rule as he did?
Jesus never stood a chance. Pilate tried to do what he could to free Jesus. He offered the Prisoner Release as a way out, but Caiaphas insisted on the Crucifixion of Jesus. He wanted this man dead.
There was more to this than one could see on the surface. I did not know what it was and could not put anything together from what I had seen. Jesus being King, contrary to what I have heard, would not play a strong part in this scenario. If he were put in place as King, Rome could have him removed and toted off in a pine box the next day. It may cause a few small riots and some bloodshed, but Rome would easily come out on top of the heap. There was more to this. No way Caiaphas speaks as he did to Pilate and not feel retaliation. No way Pilate tolerated this sort of belligerence from an arrogant, high minded pompous Jew, regardless of his position unless something else is at play. Caiaphas had something on Pilate and Pilate had to give in. This is strictly my opinion and I have nothing at the date of this writing to substantiate this. Regardless of my feeling back then, there was a life on the line and I believe it was a completely innocent man. Actually, I could not believe how animated I was becoming – how angry. This man was being run down with nobody to help…so I thought.

Pilate sent Jesus over to Herod in an effort to get some sort of injunctive relief, but Herod offers no solution. Jesus was Galilean and Herod was in charge of Galilee. Still, the problem was not a Galilean issue, so Jesus is back before Pilate within the hour. Herod was simply wanting a performance. He was a waste of human flesh and notably wicked. Even back home we had heard of Herod and his father. How did these men get into these positions? Debauched, sorry and evil men running and ruling in the nation God established.

Pilate does what he can. He has Jesus punished and brings him back before the court, hoping that this will spur on some sympathy from the High Priest. Nothing doing. Caiaphas is more emphatic. Jesus is a bloody mess and absolutely innocent. Still, Caiaphas insists on his crucifixion. Pilate pulls Jesus into the Preatorium and speaks with him once more. The tension is palpable and Pilate is anxious. His back is to the wall regarding this man. Jesus is brought in and we could not hear anything of that conversation. Pilate comes out shaken. He seemed nervous as he presents his final solution. Pilate suggest the Prisoner Release. It would give the Jewish leaders a respectable way out, they would not lose face and an innocent man would go free.
Caiaphas grows more defiant than before. He was beyond reason in his insistence. He was crying out for the death of a man who had done nothing but good. He had not deceived the people as he was doing. He did not lie and twist and turn matters like he was doing. Everything Jesus possessed in character qualities, Caiaphas lacked. Jehovah would have nothing to do this this Caiaphas, Herod or Annas. This was a farce. A farce. One that had Jesus holding the punch line.

Pilate comes out and offers Jesus to the people and Caiaphas cries out for Barabbas to be released. Barabbas was a true insurrectionists and a murderer. He was wicked and evil and filthy. This was the type Caiaphas desired. Israel had fallen. This was incredible. Three times tried, by three separate judges and found innocent three times. Yet, Caiaphas, the religious leader, is insistent. Caiaphas finally says that Jesus claims to be the Son of God. By Jewish law, he deserved to die for such blasphemy. Pilate froze. He was an intelligent man, of that I had no doubt. This last statement gave me cause to believe that he was a superstitious man as well. When he heard this, once more he had Jesus escorted into the Preatorium for questioning. Again, we were not privy to what was being said. Finally, he comes out fighting for Jesus, doing all he could to have him released. He was met with a personal threat of a sort. Caiaphas said in a very loud voice and without fear of reprisal that Jesus was setting himself against Caesar and anyone supporting this would not and could not be a friend of Caesar. Caiaphas was not far from Tiberius Caesar. Word had it that he was linked closely to Lucius Sejanus, Caesar second or third in command.
Pilate was frustrated and appeared humiliated. He had a basin of water brought out and before the crowd he made a display of washing his hands. He said that he was washing his hands of the situation and that the blood of Jesus would be on the head of the Jews. I can still hear Caiaphas leading the people in saying, “His blood shall be on us and on our children!” Pilate asked if he was supposed to kill their King and Caiaphas cried out in a moment of emotional hysteria, “We have no King but Caesar!”

With this, it was over. The ruling was given and the Jews were allowed to carry out the execution of Jesus. Still, I had never spoken to the man, but I was convinced of his absolute innocence. I had never see such evil carried out as I saw that day in Jerusalem. My son had no concept of why his father was weeping. It was too much to take in. I headed back to the Inn.
With my family surrounding me, I sat with my head in my hands weeping for the man Jesus. My heart was weighed down with sorry as I tried to describe what had happed. Joanna stood silently listening. I felt as if I literally watched a group of wicked, corrupt men preside over the judgment of God and they found him guilty. I was emotionally drained and could not believe these things were happening.
Eventually, I decided I was going to follow this thing to the end. Joanna would have to watch the kids. It was going to be a bloodbath. I stepped out into the street and turned toward the temple. The crowds were coming and going as the Passover festivities had not stopped. Everything was moving ahead as normal and most people were unaware that anything had happened. It was a surreal moment for me. Was I in a fog? It was not even nine o’clock in the morning.
They had taken Jesus to be scourged. This meant the Roman soldiers were going to beat Jesus. When the soldiers began this process they would often get carried away. The scourging was in a public place as they wanted to make an example of the criminal. If you wished to watch, you could, but it was not required. Some of the Jewish officials were there. Caiaphas made a showing. It was not a pleasant thing to watch and most certainly not for the faint of heart.

The Roman soldiers were ruthless. They were not taught to show mercy and they did not. I looked in and saw the bloodied mass that once was the body of Jesus. I heard as he fought for breath and saw how his body shook with pain. I stepped back out quickly and leaned down with my hands on my knees. Eventually, I sat on my heels with my back to a stone wall. There were others there as well. We were helpless to do anything.
Finally, it sounded as if the beating stopped. We heard a rusty voice bark out orders to escort him and two others down to Golgotha. This place was about a quarter of a mile down the road. Golgotha was the city dung heap. With the order having been given, the soldiers began moving instantly. Two grabbed Jesus and forced him to his feel. The cross-bar was then placed on his shoulders and tied down like a pack on a mule. The soldiers cursed at the mess they had been given.

Suddenly, the doors flew open and there stood Jesus. Skin ripped and hanging loose on his back, his head had been crowned with some kind of thorns and his eyes were beaten shut. His beard had been pulled out in places. His jaw was hanging agape and saliva was dripping down his bloody chin. His tongue was swollen. There he stood. The soldiers were walking about and gathering up their things. Some laughing, some eating and others just standing, wiping their hands as if they were in a workshop. One guard yelled out the order to move and they pushed him. He fell to the ground unable to break his fall. His arms were strapped to the cross-bar. I winced in pain. Jesus said nothing. Again, they forced him up. Again, a crack with the whip and he took a few steps and stumbled. It did not appear that he was going to survive the walk to Golgotha. He would die long before he arrived. He could not make it, not in his condition. None of this mattered. Another whip flew. He began to move.
In all of this, I never heard him cry out. His silence was remarkable. It turned my mind back to the scrolls I had read in Cyrene to the words if Isaiah, “Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, and like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, so He did not open His mouth.” Tears were blurring my vision as I looked on.

He made it outside the building and started towards the Sheep Gate. Again, he stumbled. The guard cursed him and stuck him again and again. “Move man! Move!” he cried. Why obey now, I thought. He was going to his death. Why rush things. He was dying. He actually looked dead. I looked on in amazement.I was suddenly taken by my shoulder, as I mentioned earlier in this recounting. I looked over and it was the guard that had been pushing Jesus. I was commanded to take the cross-bar. Some have asked if I was scared. Yes. I was terrified. The soldiers had untied the cross-bar from the back of Jesus and were waiting for me. I leaned in and the wooden bar was placed across my shoulders. It was heavier than I had imagined. Jesus fought to stand and putting his hands on mine, he tried to help me. He used the cross-bar for balance as we walked.
I looked at him. There were so many questions I wanted to ask, things I wanted to know and now, it was too late. With my head pushed down due to the weight of the cross-bar, I briefly turned to look at him. My lips quivered I searched his swollen and bloody eyes. He fought for breathe while he returned my gaze. It was just a moment but I tell you, it was like he knew me. He nodded as if to say yes and attempted to smile. I fought to stay silent and began to tremble. I began to weep. I knew then as surely as I know now, that this man…I knew this man was indeed the Messiah. I could say nothing. The questions would wait. I had my answer.

He tried to take some of the weight of the cross-bar but I would not allow it. I stood up higher in an effort to free him from the strain. He stumbled and lay there. He could not breathe. He fought for all he was worth simply to inhale. It was horrible. Horrible. The soldiers had done their job well. He propped himself up on one arm and was struggling for air. His head was down and blood poured from his body. The guards came and lifted him to his feet. At the command of the guard, I began to move faster. Upon my arrival, I threw the cross bar down and looked behind me. Eventually, Jesus, or what was left of him, arrived.
Moving in unison, several soldiers quickly nailed him to the cross-bar and raised him up. The soldiers laughed and moved about with ease as if this was nothing special. This was all in a day’s work. Showing some boredom, they even began to cast lots for the clothing these men (there were three) had been wearing.

For the first time, Jesus spoke, “Father. Oh, Father. Forgive them, forgive them, Father. They do not know what they are doing.” He was weeping. I agreed shaking my head. These men did not know what they were doing. If they had known, they would NOT have killed Jesus. When Jesus said this, and he said is several times, the head Centurion, who had been asked to help hold Jesus down as they nailed him to the cross-bar, stood still. He looked up and listened. He began looking around as if to see if he had been noticed. He too, like me, was caught by the gaze of Jesus. He did not see me, but I saw him. He was wanting to hear more of what was being said.

The sky grew black and Jesus raised his voice and shouted, “It is finished!” With this, his eyes rolled and his head fell limp. He was dead. He was gone. I glanced around and the place was milling around. Some were aware of what had just happened, others kept crowding into this dung heap to see the sign that said, “King of the Jews”. I had not noticed this until then. I read it aloud and looked around. There was Caiaphas. I hope this sign made him lose sleep. I smiled at the thought. Finally, the truth was told for all the world to see. My time in Jerusalem was a bitter sweet entrance for me into the Kingdom of God. I met my Lord and Savior that day. I saw Him and in that moment, I committed myself to follow him and to know him. I hold no regrets. It has not been an easy transition. At home, some of my people have understood buy most have not
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It has been five years now. You know as well as I do that many things have happened since that day. Christ arose. Rome could not suppress that news nor could Caiaphas and his wicked group of religious men. They tried, they did indeed but you can push the truth down for so long and then it will surface. Christ is alive, my friend
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Caiaphas and Pilate are history. Both have been removed from office.I hear Caiaphas is still seeking to bring harm to the Christians. The Jews they sought to control became fed up with their arrogance and obvious friendship. As I said, truth eventually surfaces. Both Caiaphas and Pilate were exposed in their financial corruption. The financial favors being practiced were done so without Rome’s knowledge. Temple treasury was like a personal savings account to both of them. This all coincided with the death of Lucius Sejanus. He was found guilty of treason. Even Tiberius Caesar is gone. Gaius is the new Caesar. But Jesus lives. They know all about Him here in Cyrene.

I still have my business. Rufus and Alexander are both tremendous help. However, a great deal of my time is spent teaching in the homes of my friends about Jesus, the Christ – The Messiah. I have met several of His disciples and had them speak with the believers here. I have been invited to participate in Jerusalem, and do so, when I can.

A man named Paul, who was once violently opposed the cause of Jesus, has asked if I would be interested in assisting in carrying the Good News to various places. The work here in Libya is growing steadily and the Good News is being told in many different quarters. I assured Paul that my hands were full. Perhaps, in a few years, Rufus could help.

I close with this one, simple message, my friend. Jesus is alive. He is my salvation and my hope. He died that I might live. I don’t know what more I can say.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Thank you.

People Who Were There
Interview Four

Petros
Apostle

I thank you for the opportunity to speak about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is such a privilege and honor to even speak the name of Him who came from God. Indeed, you were correct, I have much and many things I could say, but I must be limited in my thoughts so as to say what is important here. To speak of all my experience would demand the rest of my days and there is not enough parchment and too few scribes for such a task.
I was not raised to be a studied man. My brother Andrew and I were simple fishermen by trade. My Papa, Jonas, taught us all he knew regarding this business and he taught us well. He was a good man. He loved us and loved my mother. They cherished us and treated us with respect as men.
At a young age, Papa took me and Andrew to the waters of the Sea of Galilee. I remember my brother crying as we pulled in our nets and his hands were aching from the long day of work. For me, it was exhilarating. The smell of the water and the sun upon my face was more than enough to convince me that forever I would be fishing in these waters. The three of us, we men were facing the waves together. For a young man, this was very satisfying. The mast, the sail, the oars and the nets…this was furniture found in my classroom. Fishing was my education. I learned many, many things. You may laugh, but my dear friend, fish are intelligent. To catch them, you have to understand them, their habits, the weather and the water. Andrew and I learned all my Papa had to teach. Eventually he and I both grew into strong men.
My Papa was a man who feared God and taught us to fear Him as well. By the time I had twelve years, I was working daily in the boats with my father. I worked among the fishmongers in the marketplace along the streets of Bethsaida of Galilee. Bethsaida is located on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee and is not to be confused with Bethsaida of Julia, a Roman enclave twenty miles north. Two totally different places…the Bethsaida of my youth was a beautiful town. Filled with fishermen, it was always a busy place. Andrew and I watched many other men as they practiced their trade be it either catching or selling fish. There were always plenty of stories of the big one that got away and superstitions were very much alive. My brother and I would sit and listen to these tales late into the evening and then be too afraid to walk home. The men would smile at our fears as they escorted us back to papa. Eventually, we moved to a neighboring village called Capernaum which was very close by.
I even became a good cook and developed quite well in my ability. My specialty? Fish. There was nothing about this trade I did not know and did not love. For me, it was not work. It was life and I reveled in every moment.
I apologize now in advance for normally, I have a friend who helps me write when writing is needed. He has not been here for quite some time. His name is Marcus. He is a tremendous scribe and can paint wonderful pictures with words. He and I work closely together, but he has gone with Paul and Barnabas on a voyage. Perhaps he will return soon. He is young and very smart, but I think his youth is hurting him. He is much like I was at his age. He cannot sit still. I told him before he left that he was too young to travel so far from home. He and Barnabas were very close. So when he was invited to join their entourage, he responded with excitement. Ah, youth…it is true…it is wasted on the young! So, I write what I can. Perhaps he will return and write for me as well.

For now, I will take you quickly through how I meet my Lord Jesus.

I had my purchased a large fishing boat at that time. I had been fishing with Papa for nearly twenty years. He and I discussed our separating in order to grow our business and it was decided that I needed to do this. With a boat, I became responsible for working a crew of men and riding the waters daily from early morning until evening. It was my calling and fit me like a sandal fit a soldier. At twenty eight years, I was moving ahead.
It was during this time that I married my lovely wife, Miriam. Many things were moving rapidly in my life at that time. With a wife, I needed a home, so my brother and I were building a place. I was training my crew while continuing to help my father. I was cooking for men in the marketplace and enjoyed my friends. The responsibilities were many but I enjoyed every minute of it. Life was very active in those days. One evening, though, all that changed.
Andrew had gone down to Jerusalem several months prior on business. When he came back, he told me of a man named John who was baptizing in the waters of the Jordan River. The Jordan River was a dirty place, muddy and shallow. Andrew was traveling had come by the hearing of John. He listened, he told me, and it was as if God Himself was speaking to his mind. He felt his sins were many and his obedience to God was greatly lacking. On that day, he repented of his sins and was baptized for the remission of his sins. He was taken with John.
He continued to go back as often as time would permit to listen to the rambling of this wild man. I was not against John; I just did not like the idea that he was distracting my brother in such a way so as to harm my business. Andrew was an asset to me and here he was sitting around listening to some man in a river? I had men needing leadership and supervision. I tell you I love my brother to death. He is a fine man. But in those days, I was becoming frustrated. As I told you, I too listened John. What he said was good and hearty. He had no fear to speak the truth. Centurions and men from the Sanhedrin came to hear the man speak. People from all over flocked to hear the man. Many said that I was a disciple, but I would not embrace that claim. I listened, but I had a job and a business. Andrew, he followed.
One day, Andrew came running up to me after having been gone all day following this John. He was running with an anxious look on his face, one of delight as well as one of surprise. He called me aside and asked me to walk with him for a while. I glanced around at the men and shrugged my shoulders as if to say, “Andrew, some of us have work to do. I have no time for this.” He was insistent. I had my lead man take over and off we went, walking into the wilderness.
Andrew asked me if I remembered how Papa taught us about the Messiah that was to come to Israel. Naturally, I told him I did. I remembered it quite well. Andrew began to explain what all John had said, but he was nearly breathless. I calmed him down as we sat on a rock along the way. What he told me then was enough to take my breath away. I know Andrew, you see. I know when he plays and I know when he is serious. At that moment, he was quite serious. I sat silently after hearing what he had to say. Andrew looked at me as if I had to speak. I had to respond. I asked if he was sure. He restated how John took him into the Jordan and said that he needed to be baptized by Him and that he was not fit to tie his sandals.
“Why would he want you to be baptized?” I asked.
“No, Simon, no. John said that he was not worthy to baptize this man. This man should baptize him.” Andrew was animated now.
Andrew had been a follower of John the Baptizer for some time now. He had never seen anything like this. John told him that this was the Messiah, the Promised One, and the Christ. Also, he told him that instead of following and hanging around him in the Jordan, Andrew should follow Jesus. I agreed and to be quite clear, I was shocked. Andrew assured me that his name was Jesus. I asked where we could find this Jesus and we agreed to set out first thing in the morning to speak with him.
Now, I must say that I was a bit skeptical. Papa used to tell us how the Messiah was going to come and set us free. I thought it a bit odd for this One to come and be baptized in the muddy waters of the Jordan. I mean, was He not supposed to come in power and set up a kingdom? Something sounded right but suspiciously planted. It could be a plot of the Sanhedrin to be done with John. They did not like him at all. I was prepared to find out.
It was difficult finding sleep that night. Work filled my thoughts but the idea of the Messiah being here was causing me to toss and turn. The Messiah. Imagine this. Christ, the Promised One. It was difficult to believe. I could not sleep.
The sun rose slowly. Before it had fully risen, I was standing over Andrew and pushing him with my foot. “Let’s get moving” I tell him. He jumped up and off we went, down to the Jordan. Naturally, as we walked, we discussed all that Andrew was learning and he asked me about work. It was a good time to spend with one another.
Eventually, we arrived at the Jordan and met Jesus. I recognized him immediately. Not that I had ever seen the man before, but his standing was different. His presence was different. Andrew had no need to point him out. I wanted to cry when I saw him. There was not much left to say. Andrew was right. John the Baptizer was right. This was the Messiah. No question.
Before any words of introduction were said, Jesus looked me over with a smile on his face. Not a joking smile, but a smile that seemed to say that He had been expecting me. He put His hand on my shoulder. This was no girly-man hand either. He had scars and muscles like those of a carpenter. He grabbed my shoulder and greeted me.
“So, you are Simon? Andrew’s brother. He speaks highly of you, Simon.” He continued smiling. I looked over at Andrew and nodded. I was smiling now. Come to think of it, we were all smiling. It was like a family meeting for the first time. Jesus looked over at me and said, “O.K., you are Simon the son of Jonas. From here on out, you will be called Cephas.” And he nodded at me, still smiling. It made me think for a minute. Cephas means ‘rock’ or ‘pebble’, like a stone. There was no mistaking that this Jesus possessed qualities that I had never seen in any man. I was committed to learning from Him from that moment. He made no demands of me or spoke of any expectations that day. He simple called me the man of stone, Cephas.
I liked the name.
We spent the remainder of the day with Jesus. Andrew and I would exchange notes later as we walked home, but I remember spending those first hours there with Him. I was excited. I will say this, I was impressed with John. He was a tough man who feared no man. His message was clear. But this Jesus, He was different. He was grace in the form of a body. I cannot get words for how to say this. Seeing His face, looking into His eyes and hearing Him speak. Indeed, the Messiah has come. This meant God was standing in front of me. My mind was spinning and my soul was stirred.
I writing from where I am today, I see how young and inexperienced I was just so few years ago. I saw Jesus and listened. It took me a sometime to understand. In the back of my head I wondered often at night, how He would set up His kingdom. Would I be ready and man enough for the task? Then, as I listened, though I was drawn by my passion to know more, I would need to spend time thinking about what I was hearing. Today, I can see where I was so wrong in thinking these thoughts.
Jesus came to establish His kingdom in the hearts of His people. His kingdom was not for this world. John and James, I think they got this early on, so did Nathan. Me, I was slow to learn and so caught in my emotions. But this one thing I can say. Jesus had my devotion. He is the Lord, you know. Now as well as then. Then, I knew this was true, but was learning. Today, I know my Savior lives. I would agree with my brother, Thomas in saying, “My Lord and my God.” This knowledge comes after many trials and much tribulation. When my mind thinks back to that day, I weep more than I realize I do. Oh, what did these men do? Oh, what did my Father in heaven do to show me He loves me? These tears…I am sorry.
That was when I met Jesus for the first time. That was when my life changed. My life changed. Business took a back seat. Sure, I had things to tend to but it paled in comparison to this new venture with Christ. My mind was racing and my heart was so encouraged. It was not a cause I was caught up in…it was a Person. Christ was the cause, you might say. I wanted my friends to come and I spoke to several but they were mostly interested in their fishing. Me, I wanted people to know what I knew now. One man who stood out was Philip.
Philip was a good man from Bethsaida and he was constantly studying the scrolls in the synagogue. He had heard men talking about John meeting the Messiah and naturally began to mull over the possibilities of this being true. When I saw him that evening, he was preparing to come and see Andrew in order to ask him about John’s encounter.
I assured Philip that I had met this Jesus and that He was the Messiah. He could go to the Jordan and speak with John if he wished, but I declared to him that John would tell him the same. Andrew came in while we were discussing these things and Philip was taken in by the conversation.
The next day, Jesus came to Bethsaida and Andrew and I introduced Him to Philip. They spoke for a while and again, we were all smiling. You could not help but smile around Jesus. Not some silly smile, but a smile of joy and contentment. So, there we stood, talking in the street, smiling and nodding our heads. Philip was in his element. He was speaking the things of God, which he loved to do. Jesus was schooling him right then and there. Then, he told Philip to follow him. We all knew what that meant. Follow me like Andrew followed John.
Things were ramping up and moving fast. Jesus was now getting a group of guys that were solid and serious. One day we were working and throwing our nets out when Jesus walks by and calls us to be ‘fishers of men’. I was taken with this. I would no longer just catch fish. I did not understand what all this meant, but it was something new. That was the day we told Papa that we were going to be going with Jesus and that fishing would be a secondary thing. Papa was not the happiest man in the world until he met Jesus for himself. This being done, his entire attitude changed dramatically. He knew that we would be fine.
As we went along, Jesus stopped and looked over to Zebedee and Salome’s boat. Zebedee was one of the best in the business and had done well. Everybody respected both he and his wife. They worshipped God in the synagogue and Zebedee often read from the scrolls. I was thinking that to get Zebedee would be a major step. But I was wrong…He was looking at James and John, Zebedee’s two sons.
There was a brief discussion and an introduction was made. Again, smiles were on every face and greetings went back and forth. Zebedee asked me why I was not casting nets. I smiled. Really, I did not know what else to do. It may have been a dumb smile, so I just nodded. Jesus began to speak to Zebedee and he instantly began to listen.
James and John stopped what they were doing to listen as well. Smiling and nodding, they looked at one another and we all knew then what was going to happen. James and John left the nets and began following along with the group. Zebedee was in complete agreement. He agreed to tell Salome. It was fantastic and amazing. Good men of solid and strong character. We had great fellowship. The joy of those days is indescribable.
One of the encouraging thoughts I had during those first days was how Abram went through a name change; Abram to Abraham. Then there was Jacob who became Israel. Now, there was me, Simon, who became Cephas, or “the Rock”. I was so young in my way of thinking. In the back of my head was the coming Kingdom when Jesus would be Ruler. I would be there as the Rock, keeper of the throne. Little did I know that it was my head that was hard as a rock. I found that as emotional as I was, I was far from being a rock. Again, I was young and filled with excitement. Though our journey only lasted three short years, I had such a long, long way to go. Now I can see this…then I could not.
As we continued our journey, we had a few more join our ranks. Leaving Galilee, we had Philip, James, John, Andrew and myself. Only us five and of course, Jesus was leading us. As we continued, we gained Nathanael and Bartholomew, both from Cana. Nathaniel was very intelligent and loved to study and a good friend of Philip. Philip had run ahead of us as we approached Cana, shouting back to Jesus that he had a friend he wanted us to meet. When we reached Cana, Philip caught up with us with two men in his company, Nathanael and Bartholomew, but who seemed to be good men.
Naturally, smiles were everywhere as we each introduced ourselves. Jesus greeted Nathanael and stood back as the others greeted him as well. I overheard Nathanael speaking with Philip. Assurances were given to Nathanael that this was indeed the Jesus he mentioned earlier, Jesus of Nazareth, son of that carpenter down there…the one that married Mary. Joseph, I believe was his name. Nathanael looked a bit taken and asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth. I had never considered this.
Nazareth was a small town in north western Israel, the region we knew as Galilee. It was close to Cana and thus Nathanael knew the town well. Now, when I speak of Nazareth as being small, I mean it had maybe four to five hundred people living there. These people were poor and were suspected to be involved some pleasantries. If you were going to move your family, it would not be to Nazareth, not by choice. So, when Nathanael hears that the Messiah has come from Nazareth, naturally, he is skeptical. Me? I had never considered this. But Jesus, ha! He doubtlessly heard Nathanael but never lost his smile.
“Nathanael,’ he said, ‘behold, you are an Israelite with no guile.”
Nathanael was not drawn in immediately and asked how He knew who he was and what he was like. Jesus answered without a moment’s hesitation, “Listen, before Philip came and got you, when you were alone under the fig tree…I saw you.” Nathanael’s face lit up and he looked around at all of us then back to Jesus. He said, “Teacher, you are the Son of God. Yeah! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus put his arm around him and off they went, walking through the land there, talking and speaking about heaven. Later I found out that Nathanael had been praying, silently, that God would watch over him and let him know that He was watching…while he was sitting under the fig tree.
Nathanael’s friend was Bartholomew and it was not long until he was there and we were all sitting down, eating a meal and discussing what was taking place. Our little group was growing fast. James, John, Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, Bartholomew and myself. All wanting to learn and willing to give up everything for the opportunity. We were learning not just intellectual things, but the things and ways of God. Every day was a new adventure.
Now, to keep things moving, you see how I met my Lord Jesus. I began to learn and to love Him and all that for which he stood. He was my master. There was no one else that had the words of life. There was no were else to go. The Sanhedrin was filled with corruption. Everybody knew that. We were forced to participate simply because those bandits controlled the Temple. Caiaphas and his group of thugs were no beloved bearers of good news. No, they wanted to hear the money tumbling into their coffers. We all knew it and were opposed to it.
With Christ, we learned the truth. The more we learned, the more we longed to know. We spent most of our time studying and learning. The rest of the time we were on the boat, casting nets, catching fish and earning a living. It was the life I never dreamed I would live. I was being mentored by God in flesh, taught daily in His ways. Then, I was able to get out on the water and feel the spray in my face and the sun on my back. My wife was delighted, Andrew was thrilled and our business prospered and my passion for the Lord was growing stronger every day.
We learned at His feet, walked with him the way and saw Him perform miracles upon miracles. When He spoke, it was with such power that no one could resist Him. Only a foolish man would attempt to debate Him regarding the words of Scriptures. He wrote them! Yet, almost on a daily basis, the Pharisees would have their agents come and quiz the Lord on different aspects of the Holy writ. They would leave embarrassed and with harder hearts than when they arrived. Jesus did not play games with the boys and told them straight up the way things really were supposed to be. They would resort to personal attacks.
At one point they began to say that He was of Satan and that He was a bastard child. His rebuke was sharp and pointed. The fight was heating up and the pace was quickening. Things were moving fast. We did not realize it, but we were in the last few weeks of His time on earth. He was telling us plainly what was about to happen, but none of us realized what He was saying.
Then the Lord had us all meet one evening in the place we called “The Upper Room”. There we all sat for a meal that took on a rather somber mood. All were there as Jesus began to speak.
The odd thing was that He stood up and walked off to the side and removed his robe and wrapped himself in a towel, like a servant would do. I looked over to Andrew and he just shrugged, as if he had no idea what was happening. John and James were questioning one another. We were all taken by surprise here.
Then Jesus took up a water bowl and began to stoop down and wash feet. He would wash their feet and remove all the dirt and grime from the day and to my amazement, they let him do this. Nobody said a word. When he came to me, I pulled back. No way was the King of Glory, the Son of God going to wash my feet. He was above this. This was so far beneath His dignity; I just could not allow it. Looking back, I was so wrong. Who was I to tell the Lord what to do? I was blessed with generous amounts of ignorance.
Jesus looked up to me and said quite plainly, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have not part of me.” He was shaking his head with a tight smile. Something was going on. There was something in the air, a tension of some sort.
Jesus stood up and walked back to His seat. Without sitting down, He began to speak. He told us that if He being who He is, washed our feet, what should we do? We should take the low road with our fellow man. We can lord over whoever we wish but what good will that do? He was trying to teach us something and I was trying for all I was worth to listen and learn. He said that we were to do as He did. Me, I took that to mean that we were to be humble and willing to serve one another. It was a simple lesson but so powerful that it brought tears to my eyes. Then again, it did not take much to bring tears to these eyes of mine.
Jesus then started to act a bit troubled. I had never seen Him act in such a way. Never. He became somber and said that one of us, somebody in our group, was going to betray Him. Now, me personally, if I had known who it was, I would have taken him out to the Sea and that problem…no, I suppose that is big talk coming from a little man. I don’t know what I would have done. Still, I could not imagine any one of us betraying Jesus. I knew these men. I lived and worked with them daily for the past number of years. Again, I was correcting Jesus in my mind. Nah, none of these will betray Him. I know them. They wouldn’t do it.
I leaned over and got John’s attention. He looked over and I whispered and motioned to him to ask Jesus who it was that would betray Him. I then whisked my hand towards him. “Do it!” I moved my lips. John turned and said nothing. I was about to jump when finally, he leans in and asked Jesus who it would be.
Jesus said, “I’ll dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the one.” So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. Looking back, one always has perfect understanding, you know. At that moment, none of us understood what had happened. Judas was out bookkeeper. He was a good man that we all trusted. Later, of course, we discovered that he was actually a thief. Me, I have no need for a thief to be around me. Can’t stand them. At that moment, we watched Judas take the bread and swallow it down his sorry little throat. He wiped his mouth and sat back all satisfied. We were dumb as dolts. Then Jesus said, “What you are going to do, go on and do it.” With that, Judas stood up and left the room and he looked sick, angry, sad, confused…you name it. He looked horrible. I thought he had some bad fish and was leaving to take care of the matter. Again, I was wrong.
As soon as the door was closed, Jesus began to talk silly talk. To me, at that time, it was silly. I mean, His kingdom was about to come and be set up. If he was dead or gone, that would not be something to consider. So, with all this talk about going away and being received into glory. I was becoming confused. Then He said he was going away and we could not go. I was growing more and more frustrated. I asked where He was going, wondering why we could not go. It was not making sense to me. He said I could not go now but I would follow Him later. Again, I could not understand all of this. I blurted out that I was ready to die for him. I had left my family, my business, my men – everything. I truly was ready to die for Him…I thought.
Jesus had his elbows on the table and was breaking some break from the loaf and listening to my ranting’s. He swung an arm over the back of his chair and nodded his head and swallowed. He then said something that shook my entire being, one reason because of what He said and two, because of the assurance with which He said it.
Petros, my friend. Oh, I love you, Petros. Would you really give your life for me?” He said. Then He paused and looked directly into my eyes, not in an angry way, mind you, but in a plain way, you could say. Then He said, “ You know, tonight, this very night, Petros, you will deny that you even know me three times.”. He held my view. Inside I was fuming. I was hurt that He would think this way of me. My life I had given. Inside, I knew that what I said was true. I would die. I was not afraid of any Roman Soldier or Jewish male! I would not fall back one foot from a challenge.
The night drew to a close. Thomas asked where He was going along with some other questions and discussion carried on a bit. It was a somber moment, I tell you. It was a different kind of moment. I shook my head as we headed out. It was late and we were heading to His favorite spot out in the Kidron Valley, a small grove of olive trees in a garden spot called Gethsemane.
I am amused with the questions I often receive regarding the twelve of us. Many think that we traveled as a group, twelve men walking along in a large group with Jesus in the center teaching. Can you see this happening with traffic and all? It was not this way at all. We would sit often to the side, under trees and in various places.
Also, many were under the impression that I had left my wife and children in order to follow Jesus, my Lord. Far from it. Often, they would accompany me and help prepare meals for the group. We spent a great deal more time together following Christ than we ever did when I was finding my living on the sea. Many of us had wives and some even had friends who followed. Many learned from Jesus. Indeed, there were twelve of us initially. Of course, you already are aware that Judas Iscariot left our ranks, but he was soon replaced with Matthias. But twelve us were seldom found. Our ranks would swell sometimes to twenty five or thirty. Family and friends. We had a fellowship of people who followed Christ.
Heading to the Gathesmenie, we had a good number. When we arrive there, we began to set up and find our places and some began to rest and speak with their friends. We did this many nights.
Jesus came and got James, John and I together and was acting out of sorts. He was not fretting or complaining, do not misunderstand me. Nothing of the sort. He was heavy with something. We could not know. He pulled us aside and asked us to pray with Him for a while. Personally, this was a privilege and an honor. James and John felt the same way. So we strolled deep into the garden and sat in a circle to pray. Jesus, well, He moved down from us. We could see Him but we could not hear Him.
John prayed and then James and then I prayed. I would imagine that we were all spent from the long day. After just a few minutes, our words were gone and out tongues grew thick with fatigue. James and John both laughed at me, saying that ideed something was wrong if I was growing quiet. I smiled. Friends. I slapped them both on the knee and had a hardy laugh. I leaned back and sat on my elbow. Things were getting still.
I looked over and it seemed as if Jesus was having a time in prayer. His arms were up and He stood. He stopped and raised his hands one more. Again, we could hear nothing, but He was animated, that is for sure. We prayed once more and then we began to doze off. I have no idea how long we had been asleep when Jesus woke me up by shaking my sholder. My eyes were rolled back in my head and I tried to respond but was so tired. My arms felt like dead weight and fatigue simply over came me. Jesus was telling us to get up and pray. “Rise and pray” he said, ‘lest you fall into temptation.”. He was distressed more than I had ever, ever seen him. His face was covered with rivulets of blood. His hair was drenched with sweat. He seemed to be in incurable agony. What could we do to help him? I was at a complete loss. With James and John, I attempted to pray once more and again, we fell into what seemed to be an unavoidable sleep. We were out of it. I cannot explain why on this evening of all evenings we were overcome with such an intense fatigue.
Sometime while we were sleeping, Judas Iscariot showed up. I now realized what Jesus had done when he gave him the bread. Judas was betraying Jesus. What did he gain from such an act. His name will be forever remembered as the one who betraying the Son of God. There was a great number of soldiers with him as well. Some Roman soldiers and some of the temple guard and of course, Caiaphas was leading the pack. If ever there was an evil man, it was Caiaphas. Judas walked up to Jesus and gave him the kiss of friendship. For a moment we thought things were going to be fine but when the guard reached out to take Jesus into custody I knew it was time to stand.
I had a sword and felt that I could at least offer a defense. I took up arms while the rest ran. The wives took off and the others ran fast to hide. Jesus was left alone. Well, not completely. I was there. I raised my sword and swung as hard as I could. I got a piece of Malcus’ ear. I was aiming for the center of his head, but he moved. All I got was his ear. I knew then I was a dead man. I was just waiting for the fatal blow when Jesus told me to put the sword down. “You live by this, Petros, you will die by this. Put it down.” He then reached down and picked up the ear I had loped off and reattached it in its proper place. Then, they tied Jesus up and hauled him back to Jerusalem. This was a two mile journey and you would have thought that they were marching into a huge battle. I followed at a distance.
I will tell you right now, I was scared. I was more than scared. I was terrified. I was isolated, alone and cold. My wife had departed with John. The crowd never noticed me as I slipped in amongst them. What were they going to do with Jesus? Why had Jesus not told us of what was to happen. Had He not known how serious this was going to become? All of our lives were threatened. We were all in danger. I remember thinking of how I loved fishing and the sun on my skin and the sea breeze in my hair. Had I made a rash decision in following Jesus? Was I marked as well to be killed or imprisoned?
With these thoughts filling my mind, I walked along with the crowd. I did not say anything, not wanting to be discovered as being among them. My heart was beating and my hair was soaked with sweat. The crowd pushed along and the soldiers were mistreating Jesus and dragging him. His hands were bound with leather and a rope was tied to him. They pulled him as soldiers behind him pushed. Caiaphas jeered and scoffed. It appeared as if the entire Sanhedrin was following. The proud Jewish leaders and scribes who were constantly frustrated as they tried to belittle Jesus followed like a group of victorious thugs. These were the leaders of Israel. These were the sorriest men I had seen and they stood in the highest positions in Israel. The days of David were long, long gone. This is how far we had fallen. A broken people be led by a group of wretched men in white garments covering black hearts.
They had Jesus. They had my Lord. Dear God…dear God. I was in a panic.
Another issue that at that time was causing my mind to race. What was I doing wrong? What was I doing that was somehow earning a rebuke and a moment of instruction from Jesus. There was not a question in my soul regarding my commitment to Jesus. I was ready to give my life for him. I swung my sword, did I not? I stood when the others ran. Still, there was this nagging doubt that was following me. It was like a black dog that shadowed me everywhere I went. I was wrong.
As I look back, these were key issues that troubled me. Now, things have changed. My understanding has been enlightened. The Comforter has come. I was so wrong. I say this often, I know. It is not with self-condemnation that I speak. It is with a sense of self-realization that I say these things.
I would often say things to correct the Lord. Even in those last moments before Gethsemane, Jesus told me that I would deny Him three times right after I had told him that I would die for Him. To be quiet honest, I was hurt by His correction, but He was right always. John looked at me when Jesus said this. I had to constantly go back in my head and heart and tell myself that this was God, not some mere man. I was correcting God? Me? How careless and thoughtless. Three times he said I would deny Him. Three times I denied him.
He wanted us to feed thousands of men and women and children when all we had was seven loaves of bread. I was challenged. I suppose I was tire and frustrated. But what about Jesus. Did He not get tired? People were constantly pushing on Him and crying to him. We did what we could do, but the people never stopped coming. You know, not once, not once did I ever see Him frustrated. He loved the people. They knew it…and we disciples knew it. The food and feeding this many, I was frustrated but He was concerned. He was able to do it.
I had a different idea of what Jesus was sent here to do. I had a fixed idea about how His kingdom was going to operate. So, my thinking led my mind and my mind led my body. I was wrong. Ah, again, these tears…
I walked in the crowd trying to act as if I was one of them. It was dark and with my hood up, I walked unnoticed. The pace was brisk and these soldiers were moving fast. Caiaphas barked out that we must go to see his father, Annas.
I was surprised that we would go before Annas. What did he have to do with anything? He had left any position in Israel years earlier. Still, though, he held sway over the minds and ears of his corrupt children. Caiaphas had yet to break free from the wicked chains of his father-in-law, Annas.
The crowd beat a path to the house of Caiaphas. He, Caiaphas, preferred to call this place a palace. It was a large place but nowhere nearly as nice as the Praetorium that housed Pilate, the Roman Governor. Still, it accommodated a large number.
When we arrived, I saw John in the crowd. I was surprised and pleased. I caught him with him and we walked together. Neither of us said a word as we walked. John’s eyes were reddened by tears and he looked terrible. He was far more sensitive a man than I was, so I knew instinctively that this was killing him. When we reached Caiaphas’s place, John knew the man. I was unaware of this and a bit surprised.
Personally, I had no desire to enter into this place and waited around the door. John went in without any hesitation. He spoke with somebody who I did not recognize. He came over and took me by the arm and led me in to the hearings. We sat around a fire and were warming ourselves as we waited.
Listening to the arguments being made, John and I looked at each other. These leaders were nothing more than a group of liars. My blood began to boil and I was angry. John’s face was lined with tear tracks. I was shaking.
As we sat there, we were both filled with fear. We could have easily been taken into custody and put on trial and we both knew it. Some lady that was sitting around the fire heard us speaking and as we sat there, she got up and walked closer, looking directly at me. She pointed her finger at me and told the others that I was one of the ones following Jesus. She looked so smug as if she had made a major discovery. I laughed and waved her off, assuring her that I did not know what she was talking about. I denied that I knew Jesus. John turned to look at me. His stare lasted a good while. I felt bad but held my hands up as if to say, “What else was I to do?” John shook his head.
I continued to sit and tried to listen. Then, I stood up to move a bit closer. The crowd was larger that I could have imagined. Who all would get up and be wandering about at this time of the morning? I stood by another fire and leaned in. Another woman looked over at me and said rather loudly, “This fellow is one of them. He is one of them.” Again, my denials were quick in coming. I was nervous and wanted to make a quick exit, but I knew if I withdrew now it would only solidify their accusations. Sweat began to pour down my back. I lost sight of John and looked to Jesus, whose back was towards me.
The trial only lasted about an hour or so, but getting the people situation and all the fine leaders coming in all took some time. So, we had been there a while and then a group o men came up and asked, no, they actually stated it like it was a fact, that I was indeed one of the followers of this Jesus that was standing trial. I blew up. I was afraid and knew that if I was proven to be a follower, that I could suffer the same fate. I began to cuss like the fisherman I was. I spit out my denials and insisted that I was not one of His followers. “Why are you making such accusations?” I remember saying. “Leave me be!” I insisted.
It was at just this moment that Jesus turned. His face was swollen and his eye was nearly closed due to the beating they were administering. He turned and looked at me. He did not look in my direction. He looked at me. I froze. Chills went down my back and I could not move. He looked at me. When he did this, I remembered what He had told me just a few hours earlier. I would deny Him three times. My Lord and my God…I denied Him in his most horrible moment. I claimed I had no knowledge of Him. My feet were fixed to the ground. I grabbed my robe and began to move to the door as quickly as I could. Tears were burning my eyes. My heart was devastated. I was a hypocrite. I was a liar. John heard me and shook his head. I could not breath. My world was literally caving in all around me. I could not see. I pushed hard for the door. I had to get outside, away from the crowd. If had to find a hole somewhere that I could crawl up in a die.
Once outside, I ran as far as I could. I was running for the walls of the city. Jerusalem. The City of God. I did not belong here. I could not stay here. I screamed out in absolute agony. I wept like a baby. Nothing could staunch the flow of hot salty tears. I denied my Lord in His most dire moment. I turned my back on everything He stood for because I was scared that I would have to suffer as well. I did not want to suffer. I did not want to die. I loved my life.
For hours, my friend, my life hung in the balance. I followed afar as the drug Jesus over to the Praetorium. This was the headquarters of the Roman governor, Pilate. This meant that they were taking Jesus to be tried before Rome. What had we done to offend Rome? I thought. But Caiaphas, he was an evil man with evil thoughts and intentions. He had a plan devised. Also, rumor had it that he had some financial arrangements with Pilate. Money has a way of making enemies become accommodating friends.
John entered into the Praetorium and stood in the courtyard. Me, like a coward and one who was totally unworthy, I stood outside. I was broken. I was broken with no hopes of mending.
People were everywhere. Hundreds of people were milling around and the Scribes and Priest were all gathered up front behind their leader, Caiaphas. It was early in the morning, long before Pilate would normally have awakened. The noise was clamorous and the Roman guards were at battle ready status. You could see their faces were asking for a reason to run into the crowd. Pilate would be in no mood for this. I believe this was the intent behind this early morning gathering. Caiaphas was no fool and he was playing every angle. He was assuredly an unrighteous devil. I wept. Bitterly. I could not bring a halt to the anguish I felt. What had I done.
Not being privy to what was being said, I watched still move activity as they drug him like an animal over to Herod’s palace. Herod was an infidel and we all knew this. He knew he had power but his authority held sway in other area, not in Galilee. Pilate knew this as did Caiaphas. Word had it that Herod found nothing worthy of death. He sent him back to Pilate.
I wept all the more.
Finally, the sun was rising and Pilate was making a decision. He gave into the desires of Caiaphas as evidenced by the cheers of the crowd. I was told that he washed his hands of he matter and threw it into the hands of Caiaphas. The poor man, thinking he could wash himself of his personal responsibilities before God. His guilt will follow him to the judgment. He will not be held guiltless of this horrible sin. I witnessed the soldiers, burly and robust men, anxiously move for what they were about to do.
As I sat in the shadows, hidden from the view of the people, I wept uncontrollably. Thought race through my mind and I was able to recall clearly that Jesus told of several times just recently that he was going to be taken and crucified. We all heard it but I could not imagine that he was talking about it all happening so quickly. That soon.
The soldiers took Jesus and beat him. They were like ravenous dogs, tearing the skin away, showing no mercy. Some of the crowd went to watch. Caiaphas was one of them. The evil embodied is this man was hard to imagine. I remained in the shadows.
I spotted Matthew. He too, was walking with his hood down. Eventually, I saw Bartholomew and Nathan. John followed the crown and behind him, I saw James. We were all walking in fear. Except for John. John stayed the course all the way through. I was so filled with shame I could not hold my head up.
They finally opened the doors that headed to the Sheep Gate. There He stood. There He STOOD. I weep now as my memory recalls Him standing there. I cannot imagine how He stood. He was bloodied and beaten. I could not recognize Him. His head was up and He looked around. Turning His head, I knew he saw me yet again. I could not be sure, but I believe that He did. I wanted to run to his side and defend Him but it was too late. How He had the strength to stand amazed me.
The soldiers came and placed this long wooden block across his shoulders. He fell to his knees and cried out. The pain had to be incredible. They tied his wrist to the wood and forced him to his feet once more. He was beaten so badly that blood had covered his entire body. Not a soldier would touch him as they whipped him to his feet. They cried, “Stand up! Stand, King, Stand!” and lashed Him. He struggled to his feet.
He began dragging Himself towards the dump, Golgotha. The stench in the air was horrible. Thousands of sheep were being taken to the temple for sacrifice. People were stopping to look the criminal. Women were crying. People from all over were in Jerusalem.
He fell once more. His face skinned the road. He could not find his feet. He could not stand. My Lord could not stand. Oh, dear God, this is horrible. Dear God, help Your Son! Dear God, I pray. I could do nothing but cry for my Jesus.
The soldier grabbed a young man and told him to carry the cross for Jesus. The man was shocked. He looked at Jesus with a face of compassion. For a moment, they looked into one another’s eyes. Jesus nodded is head in a familiar fashion. A smile, I saw a smile. In the midst of such torment, He smiled at this man. The man stood and walked quickly. Jesus stayed on his knees for a moment. This called for a lash of the whip and cursing.
After what seemed like hours, the crowd arrived at Golgotha. The center post was already in place and the crowd swelled. Soldiers were marching around the area, all ready to do battle. The Centurion named Ignatius was overseeing the entire operation. He was not a gentle soul. He had a scowl on his face. Caiaphas was marching around as if he was supervising the scene. Pilate was there as well. It was an awful moment.
I felt as if my heart was literally tearing. There was nothing I could do. At that time, five years ago, during that particular day, I was washed up. I had denied even knowing the Lord Jesus. I was finished. I was walking away when I hear Jesus cry out, “Father, forgive them…” and I fell against a building. Here Chris hung on a Roman cross. I had denied him and all the others took off running. We were nothing but a band of religious cowards. We offered nothing but a nice following. Me, I was a fisherman. Who was I fooling? But hearing Him cry for forgiveness for others. That gave me a hope, hope that I thought was gone. Jesus was my only hope.
John stayed with Mary, the mother of Jesus. I left. I had to go. I could bear no more. It took me a while to recover. I met up with the others. Judas Iscariot had committed the last possible sin. So, his office was open and we voted Matthias to fill it.
I met Jesus once more on the shores of the Sea. He had made breakfast and He sat, leaning back on His elbows. He nodded in His familiar manner and smiled. He knew me. He knew fully of my failure. I could not hold my head up before Him. “Petros?” He called my name.

I knew then that all would be fine.

Who: Joseph Caiaphas
Profession: High Priest
Age: 65

I have had initial thoughts regarding this interview, as you well know. I never was, nor will I ever be supportive of the band of brigands that roamed the countryside of Israel that you so blithely refer to as the “disciples” or ‘apostles’. These men were nothing more than vagabonds in search of fame and fortune. The leader, this Jesus, turned out to be much less than He claimed to be. He showed no political genius, not true ‘connection’ with the masses and most certainly no ‘supernatural’ connection with God, as He loved to claim. He died easily enough, perhaps embraced sympathetically by a few, but buried in ignominy and isolation. He is gone. My problem now exists in the silencing of his fanatical followers. Fire burns quickly in dry grass and this ‘Jesus’ fire is crawling along. If not properly contained, it can burst into a flame. I will not allow that.

My father-in-law, Annas, and I were cohorts, it is true. He was an astoundingly smart man and afraid of no man. My respect for him comes with no apologies. He was my mentor, I will grant you that, but while many feel that I was his footstool, they are wrong. My appointment came through Tiberius Caesar, not from Annas, the deposed High Priest. So, while I do own his respect, I am not beholden to him for my ultimate success. Eighteen years I held office. Eighteen years, mind you. This was not by accident. Still, this is politics, no matter how you look at it.

Indeed, there was the religious aspect of the job. The title “High Priest” has a religious notion, don’t you see. But, religion, particularly in the Jewish mind, is political. It is all consuming in daily Jewish life. If you control the religious notions of a people, you, in essence, control the people. Control the mind, control the motion. It is an easy concept to grasp.

My background is easily followed. My name is Caiaphas. The name means “Searcher” or “One who Searches”. I feel that I have always been one who searches for truth and what is right. This is the main characteristic, I believe, that describes me, a searcher of truth. I believe Valerius Gratis recognized this trait, apparently seeing it as a sterling quality that he desired in leadership, for it was Gratis that recognized my innate abilities to lead and recommended me and my services to Tiberius Caesar.

Now, I worked closely with Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Israel. Normally, he operated out of Caesarea. He was not one who wanted to dirty himself too much with the Jewish problems. His intentions were thoroughly toward Rome, and there was little doubt as to his commitment.

With some contacts I held in Rome, particularly with Lucius Sejanus, the Chief Administrator of the entire Roman Empire, standing right behind Tiberius Caesar as second in command, I was able to sit down and map out a future, one that would make Pilate, Sejanus, Gratis and myself very comfortable for the years to come. Annas, my father-in-law, was not able to do this. True, he was appointed by Rome, through Quirinius, the Roman Legat prior to Gratus, but he did not know how to play the game of thrones and was far too stubborn to rule effectively as Rome required. He did not know how to bend and how to stand in the political realm. He as a brilliant man, granted, but in politics he was greatly lacking.
You see, a small bit of political savvy brought Pilate to a sensible position of understanding. Sejanus was satisfied as well. You must understand, a great deal of gold made its way through the Temple on almost a daily basis. Managing the flow of currency helped me manage the rulers and I was amazed that it did not take that much to win the sympathies of most.
Managing the whims and attitudes of the people was an entirely different matter. By nature, the Jews are a conservative people. With religion ruling the thoughts, they are very strict morally. Me, I am not. I have a moral code, but not based on a combination of do this and do not do that rules.

We have parallel lines of thinking within the Jewish religion. The Sadducee view and the Pharisaical view. The Pharisees still walk the streets and hold several offices. They are considered the conservative side of Judaism. In my mind, they are a sad lot, bound by so many rules. If you watch, though, you will notice that they push these rules upon the people to whom they minister, but you will rarely see them practicing these things themselves. They call themselves Pharisees. The rest of us call them hypocrites. They have a rule for every possible thing you can think of. How to wash your hands, how to cook and when to cook. How to wear this or that garment and when to wear it. When to eat and so on. These people are fanatical about their rules and their code of conduct.
We Sadducees are a bit more relaxed. First, most of us were educated and well-learned. Schooled in Greek philosophy, we held strongly to free will and we accepted the law as it was written rather than having a multitude of addendums. We did not push so hard on so many issues. Indeed there are areas in which we agree, but mostly, we keep our distances from one another. Personally, it is my belief that the Pharisaical position is far too restrictive.

The Pharisees love to speak about the resurrection. They truly, honestly believe that men and women alike will one day rise from the dead. This is the most ridiculous thought I can imagine. It is my firm belief that this doctrine caused a great deal of problems and I would site the ‘Jesus’ sect as one prime example. Their claims exist only because the door was opened with Pharisaical view regarding the resurrection. I have had many discussions with them regarding this particular matter. People began abandoning Judaism in greater numbers at that time. This trend is continuing even in our day. The masses seem to be following the teachings of this Jesus. Temple profits began to plummet. The glory days were gone. I saw the end coming perhaps a year in advance. How? I saw the financial books on a daily basis.

Now, my ministry had been strong and very well established long before the arrival of this Jesus group. I was chosen for my position in 18 A.D.. So, by the year 30 A.D., I had been in office for 12 years. In Roman times, this was an extended period of time. I held the people in place and kept them quiet for Roman for quite a long period.
Some describe me as being an aristocrat or an elitist. Others tend to accuse me of being a collaborator who is taken up with greed and bribery. It has been said that I have little, if any, true religious sentiments. One, to his own regret, said that I was a forthright representation of how low humanity could sink. I have heard it all. Still, these ill spoken words did not serve to diminish the fact that I am of the Priestly line, traceable back to Aaron, brother of Moses. I have an exalted family history and my family has been one of the most established in Israel for nearly one century. This is not arrogance, this is fact. I believe history will be kind to me. People will study me in future days and learn. The truth will come out.

Usually this is simply the lower class speaking out of utter frustration. The poor and uneducated generally have names assigned to their superiors, names that reflect jealousy and disdain for any and all authority. We, you see, are blamed for any and all failures. Rome was here and comfortable only because I allowed them to be here. I was a figure-head, a leader and one in authority. Regardless, I bore the names with pride. It showed that I was recognized, revered and respected.
I do believe that the majority of the people, if I were to be properly understood, would see clearly that I was simply protecting their interest. I mean, let us consider the historical situation here. At a fixed moment in time a poor simple man, regardless of his lineage, steps onto the stage of Jewish history with a simple message. It is simple because the people he is speaking to are simpletons. They were poor, unschooled, and sinners. This type of simple minded individuals easily accepted with wide-eyes, the myths and stories they were told, as truth.
This Jesus comes to these downtrodden people who are caught under the mighty weight of a far superior oppressor and begins to instill a message of hope. Through this, he gains their hearts and trust. Through this, it was obvious that he was leading the masses towards rebellion. He had for his goal the restoration of Israel. He had for his goal the reestablishment of the crown in Israel. He was pushing for a throne. It was obvious, knowing what I knew regarding his lineage. My job and I believe I performed it well, was to protect these ignorant simpletons from their own weakness and serve as a go-between with Rome. This ‘Son of David’ was not about to disrupt what we had taken years to establish.

Should this Jesus had succeeded, Israel would have eventually been provoked to rise up in rebellion. It would have been the end of our nation. This was seen so clearly when Herod the Great died. The people thought it was time to throw off Roman rule. Varus, the Syrian Legate, walked through Galilee destroying everything he touched. It was ‘scorched earth’. The entire region became nothing more than fire and blood. What Rome did in those days was destroy everything, wipe it all out. The people, the buildings and the society as a whole – all of it and then declare peace has been established.
Rome’s power was immeasurable. Rome’s presence was everywhere and Rome’s desire was to rule the world. She would not hesitate to crush anyone who stood in her way. Through skillful cunning and uncommon boldness, I managed to establish solid political relationships that endured the test and trials of time I established a sense of good-faith. Yes, I may have lined a pocket or two of those most influential in our welfare. That is politics. I tried to explain to Annas, that is part of the game.

In spite of all that I have done, this crowd of miscreants, these Christians, seemed most content both then and now in doing nothing more than maligning my good name. They ignore my body of work and my personal sacrifice. While it has been several years now, my position has not and will not change. That peasant, Jesus, causes serious internal problems and possible political unrest. It was I who stated that it is better to sacrifice the life of one rather than allow the wholesale slaughter of an entire nation. For the good of all, not just the protection of one man, I ruled and I ruled well. For this, these loving Christians wanted my head to be removed from my body. Even today, they continue to berate me. They seem to hold onto a hatred of me. Well, one thing I have learned is that holding onto hatred is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die as the result. It does nothing. Hate me if you will. I will continue to do my job.

I did not travel much outside of my sphere of influence. There was no need to waste time or effort in doing so. I was focused primarily on the Temple, Jerusalem as a whole, and the people that these two areas affected. We had sacrifices and ceremonies and such to oversee. I had scribes and elders that constantly needed guidance in one thing or another.

The first time I heard of this Jesus, I believe I had been in office for perhaps a few months. My scribes came running to me to tell me of a child that had been explaining a multitude of things to them, things they had studied for years. This child seemed to have a solid handle on the theology of Judaism. This absolutely amazed these scribes to the point of distraction. They informed me that his parents came in and rushed him off. They heard him declare that he had to be about his father’s business. We all found that to be a bit odd. Still, my scribes were enchanted by this boy.

Me? I was troubled. How could this boy have had such an acute doctrinal knowledge? He was from Nazareth, for goodness sake. He was a child. Nazareth produces nothing but problematic people. It was a home for thieves and shysters. It was not a center of learning. There were no schools there. Nothing good comes out of Nazareth. Yet, this boy was found sitting in the Temple giving my scribes lessons in the Torah? Either I had some serious dullards as scribes or this boy was exceptional.

I elected to study the boy. To do this, I needed all the information I could gather. Where was he born, who was his family, his mother and father, grandfather and so on. What training had he received and who taught him? I needed to know all that I could so I sent my people out to retrieve this information and get it back to me as soon as possible. First, I had to determine his lineage. Who was his father and who was his mother? Then we would begin to ask questions. It would not take too long to have all we needed to know regarding our brilliant savant. If you ask the right questions, you always tend to get the right answers. So, we began asking around regarding to whom this boy belonged.

We discovered that this small family was located in Nazareth and Joseph was his father. As a profession, he was carpenter. I sent an entourage to Nazareth and into Galilee to find out all they could. It did not take a great deal of time before I had scrolls of information regarding Joseph, Mary and Jesus. I would be well aware of who I would be dealing with in the years to come.
We discovered that Mary came from solid ancestry that was easily traceable back to King David. My men, after several months of search and confirmation, traced her pedigree back to Abraham. They wished to continue but it was obvious that this could have easily have become a hobby. I had other issues that needed to be tended to.

Joseph’s stock extended all the way back to Adam. Joseph was considered a good man, but that had no bearing on our considerations. Israel had many “good” men. Was he politically connected or part of some subversive element? This was proven to be a dead end. He was not politically involved in anything. Was he wealthy? No, poor and average. He proved to be no threat at all.All these things were verified, proven and confirmed. These records, per my insistence, were all placed in the Archive Building for future examinations should something arise, which I strongly suspected would.

What I discovered was this: King Herod best keep his eyes opened. I was told that around ten to fifteen years prior to this, a band of wise men came from other lands looking for a baby that was born to be “King”. Herod the Great was king during that time and history reveals that he went a bit insane when he thought his throne was being threatened by a child. However, Herod the Great was dead and his throne was occupied by Herod Antipas, his son. He was appointed by Caesar Augustus in 4 A.D. and followed in all the drama that followed the Herodian family line. He and I were political allies but socially, we were poles apart. He had been in his position for nearly fifteen years when I did my study. I was not about to impart any of the information I had gathered primarily out of fear that he could possibly murder the male population of Galilee. I would not put it past this man.

What I discovered was this. Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, was the true King of Israel. This was not a light thing to consider. There were qualifying tests that had to be considered. We searched for any inference of Jehoiachin, any mentioning at all. This would have instantly disqualified him. Other considerations were given and after two intense years of research, two things were definitively proven.
First, it was clearly seen that Jesus was the rightful Kind of Israel. This was beyond question. However, with Rome holding power, this held little impact. Still, it was a startling discovery that held a deep spot in my thinking.

Second, which held out great concern, was that Jesus was the Messiah. He was the promised Messiah from history. With this knowledge, I realized that within a few years, certain political facts might change. The Messiah, we all knew, was going to come and establish his kingdom. It was also foretold that he would bring Israel back to its promised glory.
This was troubling. Sejanus, Pilate and I had a very solid pattern established, a routine if you will. Now, at that point, I was young and just getting the means and methods of the cash flow established. Yet, it was plain to see that the stream of income could easily expand and with some minor adjustments, the income could be augmented in quite a large way.
I monitored this Jesus, sending my people out periodically to keep me informed.

Now, I was not then and am not now one who believes the myths and stories we find in the scrolls. These are fantastic stories that tell of a mythical god that exceeded the Greek and Roman gods. What they tried to embody in a variety of personalities, the Jewish religion placed all in one. They called him Jehovah. I supported the faith and encouraged it. It gave a great deal of people a solid base for life.
The sacrificial system was a tremendous means of control and financial wealth. Guilt will drive a man to do almost anything. The idea behind the sacrifice was that the guilt would be covered, not once and for all, but annually. This meant that each year, thousands upon thousands would flock to Jerusalem for the Passover, purchase a sacrifice of some kind and offer this up in the temple. With a few tweaks and some refining, this became one of the most successful financial operations within the Roman Empire.

We began to charge the people fees for actions. We began to sell the people animals for their sacrifices. The priests had small fees, but we played it out as if the people, out of the goodness of their hearts, needed to help. The priests, if they were under my wing, did quite well, mind you. It was all working like charm. Then this Jesus raised his head.
I knew he was coming. I knew the day would arrive. That thirteen year old boy was eventually going to become a man. He wasted no time once he arrived. I knew that I was going to have to stop him, but I could not kill him in the streets. The people would riot. Rome would not involve herself in the internal affairs and murder was against the law.
I had to devise a plan, one that would bring Rome into the picture by giving her blessing and instruction in this matter. Then I had to get the public behind the project so as to have the political support needed to continue in office. Make the wrong move and everything could be over in a moment.

From what news I was gathering, Jesus was preaching and teaching and this was causing quite a stir among the people. Then he began healing people from diverse sicknesses and such. This cased his notoriety to grow very quickly. A couple of times, rumor has it that he fed four to five thousand people when there was little to no food available. His reputation began to grow and grow quickly. So did his opposition.
We sent out our people to follow him and bring in any and all reports of new activity. I cannot deny that Jesus was an intelligent man. He never grew upset during challenging conversations and never seemed to be caught off guard. I had some of my top men confront him regarding tax issues. If we could turn him on this issue, we could use the information effectively to turn Rome against him. He smoothly dealt this this matter and walked away. From that point on, it was obvious that there was no need to continue any conversations with the man. The only way to confront this was with a sword.
Surely there was a way to catch him legally and make this an open display. I believed it could be done if things were done properly. Pilate could be persuded to side with us in this matter. Herod would not care which way this went. He would not be involved. So, we would have to watch and wait, bide our time. Something would happen.

There were twelve main students that followed closely. We knew them all. Andrew, Petros, James, John, Bartholomew, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Simon, Judas Iscarot, James BarAlphaeus and Judas BarJames.
We monitored them all. My men gave me reports on all the men. I would alternate assignments so that each man would monitor a different student each week. My goal was to find a weakness. One of the men had to be disgruntled and frustrated in their commitment to the cause. To have twelve men with life commitments would be highly unusual. So, we kept watch.
Each week, the cumulative report would come to me sighting one man, one man in particular who would be most likely to defect. This took the better part of two and one half years to confirm. Each man would watch and report back for a week’s time. I enrolled more men so as not to make a mistake. These men were not told of any particular man to watch or any particular tendencies to look for. The others were under strict orders not to speak a word of their findings. This had to be an objective finding with no bias given.

Again, with new men scouting and taking notes, the same man was sited again. We would not approach him. I decided that due to the behavior he was exhibiting, he would approach us. In discussions with the others, this action was agreed upon. It would be a delightful and satisfying remedy to a seething problem. How to deal with Jesus. He would be betrayed by his own man. This would show a crumbling in the ranks, instill a distrust amongst the twelve and perhaps break up the core group. So we waited.

The waiting was causing me to become anxious. When I get anxious, I become agitated and angry. Over the next few weeks, I was angry. Then, just as the Passover week was entering its final hours, we had a knock on the door. To our delight, we were correct in our assumptions. Judas Iscariot stood before us.

Now, our council was made up of learned men, wise in the law and highly schooled. All were wealthy and of the aristocracy. An illustrious and fine group of men. Before us stood a peasant of a man. A simpleton. A traitor. The findings of my men suggested that he was pilfering the money from the money bag of the followers of Jesus. You see, he was considered their treasurer and controlled the purse. Money impressed this simple minded man. Gold guided his thinking.

It was the moment our council had been anticipating. It did not pass quickly as we had numerous questions to which we sought answers. Was Jesus a demented man with a drifting mind? We were assured that he was not and that he had complete control of his thinking. Was he seeking to establish a new Israel? No answer was arrived at with this question being presented. Judas seemed to be unclear in his understanding as to what Jesus was wanting to do.

He explained that he felt that Jesus was moving in the totally wrong direction. He kept speaking of things on a spiritual nature. It was his opinion that Jesus had no interest whatsoever in any political positions. He had no desire to be king. His idea of Messiah did not come close to what we all understood the Messiah’s role to be.

Judas said that he was seeking to win the hearts of men and women for heaven, but he never could understand all the jargon that was being used. He kept speaking in parables and such. It made no sense. He was constantly wasting money. Just recently, some apparently reformed harlot had come into a dinner and was weeping. She had an alabaster box of ointment that was worth a large sum of money. She broke it open and poured it on the feet of Jesus as he sat at the table. Jesus did not rebuke her or condemn her in any way for such a waste.

We laughed and shook our heads for we knew what his real concern was. That money that was represented by that expensive alabaster box should have gone into the purse and the purse was found placed securely in his pocket. Judas Iscariot was a thief. Hiding under the mask of his religious leanings, this man was rotten to the core. Each of my men had discovered this early on, watching him misuse the funds repeatedly. He was a thief. He was not to be trusted and was interested primarily in his own well being.

When asked what he had come for, he agreed that something had to be done to stop Jesus from deceiving and misleading the people. We all agreed on that point. We bantered about with some ideas but let them stand as mere ideas. We had no intention to direct him to where we wanted to go. He had to go there on his own. He had to tell us what he wanted to do. We asked what could be done or what should be done and how could this be done?

Judas had a cunning heart and shrewd as well. It was obvious that he had been considering this matter for quite a while. Traitors usually have thoughts and opinions long before they are voiced. In many instances, these feeling are never stated verbally. Still, the attitude is there, an attitude of dissent and revolution. Judas had reached his boiling point. He could hold his tongue no longer. He began to describe how he would do what he could to make things legal. To attack in an unwarranted fashion would only serve to incite a riot. Too many people were in town, it was the Passover and people from all over the world were focusing their attention on Jerusalem for the next ten days.

Someone suggested that we wait until after the festivals and such were concluded. This almost caused a riot in chambers! No, we had not time to wait. We had to strike while the iron was hot and at this moment, it was red hot. Judas was prepared to lead us down the road for which we had been searching. He was with us in understanding and desire. Make it legal. Let Rome declare him guilty and set the sentence. It would leave Israel to be blameless. You ignore this moment, allow him to sleep on things, and he may well back down. No, you secure the matter and fix the decisions now. There would be no waiting.

We asked Judas how he could assist us and he suggested that he lead us to him. “I can give him a kiss of friendship and the one I kiss will be Jesus” he stated in a serious tone.
Again, scattered laughter spread across the room. We all knew who Jesus was and what he looked like, but we humored the man. He looked a bit offended by the laughter and felt as if we were mocking him. We were not mocking, I assure you, but we were amazed that this simpleton did not a have a great deal of understanding.
He stood as if prepared to go. He then stated that his fee would be one hundred shekels of silver. This caused us to stop. The room grew silent. We declined his proposition immediately. We did this knowing that Judas was a shrewd man. He knew how to bargain. He was not about to leave the Temple grounds without having secured a definite sum of money. This was what he was after, money.

One hundred shekels represented about four years of income for some people. We had been prepared to offer the man fifty shekels should the matter arise. One hundred shekels was out of the question. Judas hung his head and turned. He was about to depart when one of our men suggested we enter into negotiations. We all agreed and Judas did as well.

We started low in our offerings, siting that Jesus was of little value. Judas needed to see that a great deal of his personal gratification and satisfaction should come from serving his nation. His name recognition alone would generate large sums of money in the days to come. He was looking at the small picture. He needed to look down the road, so to speak.
He was not convinced of this and we went back and forth before arriving at thirty shekels. He seemed to stop there. I cannot say why. He just seemed satisfied. We were willing to continue, as I said, up to fifty shekels. He stopped, seemed satisfied and was nervous as a cat. He dropped the silver into his purse, turned and walked briskly out into the night.

We made arrangements to have the temple guard escort Judas Iscariot out to the Garden in the Kidron valley. I asked Pilate for some soldiers as well. Knowing that in order to create excitement, we needed as many bodies as we could get to fill out a crowd, so we recruited a large number of the local population to accompany us. I was going to be involved in this march as well. Though I seldom left the Temple and rarely Jerusalem proper, I wanted to see the look of surprise on the face of Jesus. I was giddy with anticipation.

It was a short two mile walk to Gethsemane. Judas was somewhat of a reluctant hero. He did not seem to have a true desire to be involved, but this had little to do with things. The agreement had been made and the matter was settled. If he was having sentimental thoughts and feeling remorse, that was something which Judas Iscariot would work out at a later date. Nobody forced anything on him. May I remind you that it was Judas Iscariot who came knocking at our door. There was no coercion. It seemed as if the gods were unfolding their plan. Everything was fitting together perfectly. We were on the right path.

Arriving at the garden under the cloak of darkness allowed us to see the light of many torches moving in various directions in haste. I laughed as I thought how roaches run with caught in the light. We had them now. We had them all, if I wished, but I actually only wanted the one. Kill the head and the body dies. I wanted Jesus. I came to see that Jesus was arrested. No more smart answers, no more biting remarks. No more interruptions of the status quo. Kill the head and the problems would die away. Peace would be restored. I was excited. Watching the torches as they fled into the surrounding hills was a thing of delight and very, very satisfying.

We came to an opening and there stood several men and women. They seemed absolutely stunned to see us there. I achieved what I hoped for, total surprise. Now, I wanted to see his face. I had to see his face.

Jesus stepped to the front. His hair was filled with sweat and his collar seemed bloodied. In spite of these two features, his face was absolutely untroubled. He had a smile for Judas and held out his hands as if to embrace the man. Judas stepped forward and gave a friendship embrace and kissed Jesus. Jesus called him friend. Was he oblivious to what was transpiring? We had our indicating kiss. It was time to take the man.

Actually, Jesus seemed to know exactly what was going on. Somebody had to have gone before us and informed him. He knew. He knew exactly what was transpiring. This infuriated me to the core of my being. The look on his face was the one thing that I was lustily anticipating. It was not what I expected.
One troubling thing that we all had to deal with was the power with which Jesus spoke. It was not as if the message was all powerful. He simply spoke and you knew that this was a voice of authority. This was strikingly astounding. When we approached and had the Temple Guard and the cohort of Roman soldiers standing in his face, the Centurion in charge stated that they were looking for Jesus. He said, “I am He” in such a way that caused all the soldiers to stumble backwards and fall to the ground. Quickly, they scrambled to their feet, but the impression was made. You may find this to be ridiculous, but I thought that this was the strength of the Messiah speaking; some explanation had to explain this phenomena.

This was the beginning of the end of this small sect. At last this would come to a close. A few weeks of rumor and gossip and the issue would fade away into lore. Jesus and his adventures would soon be forgotten and things would settle down and things would once again be restored. Perhaps small stories would remain, but this was to be expected.

In the wee small hours of the morning we walked along pulling Jesus behind us. He kept the pace and remained silent. The crowd was a big one and it was fairly well managed. Everything was moving right along.

Annas requested that we bring him by so he could make a personal assessment of the man. Under my direction, the guards led the crowd to the house of Annas. We entered and stayed for about an hour.

I noticed that several of the twelve had somehow managed to enter into the area, but that was not something to be concerned with at this moment. Let them watch. It would be discouraging and painful for them. Realizing that your leader was nothing but a weak and lowly fraud is never a pleasant thing. I watched them as closely as I could. However, something did happen that was worth taking note of.

There was this burly bearded man they called Petros that followed Jesus. He was noted as one of the leaders of the sect. He was there standing in the crowd. The look on his face indicated total defeat. Then, I noticed a young lady, a simpleton, approach him. An argument ensued. He was waving his hands when I heard him declare that he was not with Jesus. He left the little maiden and moved to another spot. The girl just shook her head. We all knew who this man was. Did I not say, “Kill the head and the body dies”? The effect of the arrest was taking its toll. I was deeply satisfied. Two more times this occurred during the meeting at Annas’ place. The result was this man running from the building, absolutely demoralized. With Jesus in our grip, I counted three down, ten more to go.

With the crowd seated and the council present, I began to question Jesus. I asked him direct questions, knowing that he would indict himself with his own words.
I asked him to tell us about his followers and to explain his teaching. Simple questions, easy to address and easily understood. I was primarily doing this for the crowd so they could understand.

Jesus did not hesitate. He said he had always spoken openly to everybody. He claimed to having always taught in the synagogues and in the Temple area. He stated that he never said anything in secret. Then he asked why I would question him. “Ask the people who heard my teaching. They know what I said” he said in conclusion. At that moment, the moment of his conclusion, one of the Temple guards hit him rather hard across the face. Jesus staggered back a step as the Guard asked what gave him the right to speak to the High Priest in such a disrespectful manner.

Jesus looked at the guard, who, in my opinion, had disrupted the meeting, and asked if he had said something wrong. The guard had nothing to say. Jesus continued and asked the guard to tell the crowd what he had said that was wrong. He then asked if he had spoken the truth, why did he hit him.

He was right in saying what he said. I looked at Annas who was quick to see that Jesus was no simpleton. In just an instant he had turned the crowd to his side. He knew that we could not be identified as the aggressor here. The guard had overstepped his authority and all civil boundaries. He would be addressed at another time. Annas leaned over and signaled for me to hear him. I bent down to listen.

I was told to get this man out of his house immediately. Take this situation somewhere else. Get it away from him. Take him over to Pilate. Let Pilate do what he can do to this man.

I was infuriated. Annas knew what I wanted with Jesus. I wanted to see this man dealt with in a permanent fashion. I wanted him dead but my hands were tied. Annas saw a political quagmire. This man had done nothing worthy of death. That was easy to determine. I was needing help and Annas, I was hoping with be my strongest ally. I was mistaken.
I wasted no time in getting Jesus rushed over to the Praetorium to meet with Pilate. I knew that Pilate would not be a happy participant. It was early and he was not one who liked to get involved in internal affairs. He did not like dealing with the Jewish issues. We were a particular people and did things in a particular way. Rome allowed it but did not appreciate it. Pilate did not try to hide the fact that he held us all in contempt. Still, the fact was that he did enjoy the gold he received from my hand. This seemed to make things more palatable.

I sent word ahead informing the Romans that I was coming with a prisoner that needed to be adjudicated in a speedy fashion. The Passover was upon us and we had to move quickly. Pilate was ready.

The crowds were not prepared to enter into the house of Pilate. They were Jews, remember. This was the Passover. Entering into his house would defile them and make them unclean. This meant that they would not be allowed to partake of the Passover meal. They were not going to violate this under any circumstance. Pilate would have to come outside if he wanted to stand before the people.

He came out and stood on the portico. It was dark and the crowd was large. “O.K., Caiaphas. What has he done wrong? Why do I need to be involved?” It was quite obvious that Pilate was upset. He could have stopped this entire process had he wished to do so. He looked at me and I tried to communicate to him that the gold could easily be redirected. Sajanus and Gratus would love to see an financial increase in our giving. I think Pilate understood this. I could not help but smile.

Pilate told me to take this man and judge him by our laws. “You are Jewish, Caiaphas. You deal with the man according to your laws.”

I offered my explanation, revealing our intention. Pilate was no fool. He easily saw that this was a vendetta. He saw my desires. I assured him that we had no laws that allowed him to be put to death. Rome had the power to do this, not Israel.

He agreed to question Jesus and make a ruling. After a short discussion, Pilate said that he could see no reason to sentence this man to death, or to jail for that matter. My heart raced within me. I was in a sweat and literally was trembling. Pilate was not playing along. He was not helping the cause at all. He was mocking the Jews and laughing at me. I had to fight to remain calm. I asked him what alternative we may have in this matter and he suggested that we take Jesus over to see Herod.

Herod had jurisdiction established by Rome but he was a lazy, boisterous man that had no respect for any law. He was a glutton and a wine bibber. A drunkard, to be harsh and direct. His only claim to fame was that his father had accomplished a great deal during his time in office. It was Herod Antipas who managed to take the head of John the Baptist. He did this to pacify the request of his lustful and corrupt daughter, Salome. You see, Herod divorced his wife Phasaelis in order to marry the wife of his brother, Herod Philip.

To explain how nothing really mattered to Herod, his divorce from Phasaelis, who was the daughter of King Aretas, a strong political man himself, caused a great deal of anger to develop. Also, when he took Herodias as his wife, the Jewish people shut him off and held no esteem for this man. He was a political idiot and a self-centered embarrassment. He sat as Tetriarch of Galilee that is a fact. However, one must note that he sat alone. He had lost the people he was sent to rule and he had no political support and no allies.
John was a religious man who feared only God. He did not hesitate to rebuke Herod for this preposterous display of infidelity. Phasaelis was replaced by Herodias and she was an evil woman herself. Word has it that she was the one calling for John’s head. I tend to hold to this mainly due to the fact that I believe the daughter was too young to think of such a request.
I consulted very little with this man and had no interest in him participating in this trial. None the less, to mollify Pilate, we ushered Jesus over to Herod Antipater. My plans were being tried. I was more than anxious.

When we arrived, it was obvious that Herod wanted nothing but a performance. He had heard about Jesus and his miracles. He demanded a miracle but Jesus did not respond. He asked many questions but Jesus would not respond to this man. Herod was surrounded by priest and lawyers and they began shouting at Jesus for his lack of response. I was delighted.
Herod saw quickly that nothing was to be gained here so he resorted to mockery and scorn. They put kingly garments on Jesus and laughed. Jesus said not one word and this irked Herod. I was surprised at his decision to send Jesus back over to Pilate, but that is exactly what he did. So, back to the Praetorium we went. This was becoming taxing, to say the least. We would stop the comedy here.

We entered the Praetorium and stood waiting for Pilate. I had my men stir up the crowd and make a racket. They had to appear angry and troubled, like they were demanding an answer. I knew this could cause serious problems should it be pushed too far, so I stood in the forefront of the people in order to speak to Pilate and to look into his eyes.

Pilate came out and appeared to be exasperated with the ordeal. I had to get his approval or the entire operation would be a colossal waste of time and effort. Now was the time and Pilate was the man.
As he came out, the sun was beginning to break through. Morning light was coming. We had to get things moving. He took Jesus in for questioning. I have no idea what questions were asked, but I do know that the process took far too long. Pilate was warming up to this Jesus. He came out and offered to provide Barabbas in lieu of Jesus. He was serious. Surely he knew what we wanted. Surely. He was playing but this was no game. I instructed the priests and elders to insist on Barabbas being released and thus they did.

Then he shouted, “What should I do with Jesus?” The crowd began to cry out, “Kill him! Hang him on a cross. Crucify him.” Pilate had a look of sadness on his face. He did not want to do this but he knew that trouble would come if he did not. Financial trouble. I am telling you, money and the lust for it will turn most hearts. Few men can withstand the power it possesses. Pilate, for some reason on other, played his part dramatically. I suppose he wanted to show to us all that he had no part in this decision. The fool. His part was the major role. Had he not released Jesus to us, we never would have seen him on the cross. Pilate could have washed his hands repeatedly until blisters arose. He is the one who made this possible.

Once he gave his permission, I nodded my head towards the Roman soldiers. They moved with haste. Time was closing in and we had to be done by Passover. So they took Jesus and began to prepare him for what lay in store. The crowd began to disperse and the elders and scribes patted one another on the backs. I proceeded to follow the soldiers. I wanted to see things as they evolved. At that moment Jesus was surrounded by soldiers and they began to beat him. Mercilessly. They had a cat of nine tails and sticks and another was sitting on a stool over at the table molding out a crown of thorns, huge thorns. They took this and placed it on his head. Blood appeared instantly. They lashed him and beat him with a rod. They stripped him of his clothing and continued to beat him. One soldier informed me that this is how they prepared prisoners for crucifixion. You break them emotionally, then bleed them. This makes them weak in body as well as spirit. It took however long it took. They were not pressed for time as I was. They were going about their work methodically. This was not their first time, that was obvious. The beating continued for a good while. Jesus began to cry out and to stumble. He was a bloody mess. His beard had been pulled out of his face. His scalp was a bloody bundle of hair. His eyes were swollen shut. His lips were swollen. His beating went beyond what I expected. It was horrible.

They swung the door open and tried to mount the crossbar that would hold him on his back. They tied his wrists to the post but he could not stand under the weight. One soldier grabbed a young man from the crowd and forced him to carry the cross. I would have been surprised if he managed to make it to Golgotha. The soldiers assured me that he would. They were more than confident. Women were crying and wailing. He walked slowly, falling numerous times. No one was allowed to help. He was on his own. I kept thinking back to him saying that he would tear the temple down and rebuild it in three days. Really? Surely the people would remember this and see the lies.

Finally, he arrived at the site and the soldiers went to work immediately. His hands were nailed into the wood as were his feet. This had to be the most gruesome act the Romans ever devised. It was pain from beginning to end. Excruciating pain. They lifted him up and had him mounted when a couple of Pilate’s men climbed a ladder with a sign signifiying who was being crucified. The sign read, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews” in big bold letters and in three languages. It was an absolute outrage. Pilate was slapping me in the face and showing me, I suppose, that he was the final authority. I made my way to his side and informed him that the sign should read, “He claimed to be the King of the Jews”. Pilate laughed at me and shook his head. He looked around and then looked up to the sign and assured me that what had been written would remain.

Pilate’s day would come. His time would run out. I longed for that moment. These Romans. Ruthless and wreckless.

Several odd things occurred that day. It became dark at midday and the Temple Curtain tore from the top to bottom. But the biggest thing that happened was that Jesus died. He was dead. I asked a solider to verify the fact and he assured me that Jesus was dead.

I won.

It has been five years. I have heard so many rumors and so many lies. The fact it that he is dead. Some claim that he was resurrected. I laugh. The twelve that remained somehow claimed the body. The fact is though, he is not here. He is dead. The problem that continues is one of the Pharisee’s making. This “resurrection” they pushed so hard had come back in force. Now we have a thing called a “church” to deal with.

The refuse to accept facts and live in a fantasy world. I have my work cut out and laying before me. I will see to is that these too are eliminated.

Name: Ignatius Ludovic
Profession: Roman Centurion
Age: 64

My name is Ignatius Ludovic.

I served as a Centurion in Roman Legion after having functioned as a Roman soldier, or Legionnaire, for over twenty years, beginning my service at the age of twenty-five. At the tender age of forty five, I was promoted to Centurion. I was recommended for the Praetorian Guard but after several months in Rome, under the leadership of Lucius Sejanus, I requested a return to be with my men. The life or a Praetorian Centurion was very comfortable. A Roman posting was like entering early into Elysium, but the life was very political and filled with extreme tension. My request was granted and I was promoted to Lead Centurion over the Judean Legion. It is I that held the arms of this man Jesus on the day of his crucifixion. I have been asked to speak of the events of that day as I recall them. While this occurred a few years back, it was near the end of my enlistment. I have been retired now only five years, thus memories are not so difficult to locate since they are not so far removed.
The day of which I have been requested to speak is a day one cannot easily forget, particularly if you were in the Legion at that time and stationed in Israel. Many things were happening as there was a tremendous amount of confusion and our garrison, which stood at over one-thousand battle trained men, was put on battle-ready status. There were eleven of us Centurions and we were each on edge. That is to say that we were prepared to eliminate any and all confusion should an uprising have occurred. We were a powerful group of men but our power as a unit had never been tried. Intrinsic power may intimidate some, but ultimately, it is meaningless until it is applied. We were excited by the thought that we may be able to show our power, not only to Jerusalem, but to the region.
So, I believe I can speak easily to that day. It was a day that could have easily been the last for the larger part of the male population in Jerusalem aged two years and older. We made no distinctions, played no games and wasted no time.

I had been in the Legion for nearly thirty-five years and was soon to request my retirement papers. I was to receive them with honors. My last five years were spent in Jerusalem. As a member of the Roman Legion, I was not a cultured man and make no such pretense. I was and remain a vulgar man, void of emotions and most certainly not a member of the softer side of society. I was violent and afraid only of Zeus – perhaps. My honor and allegiance was to Caesar alone. I had been trained for primarily for one thing, every day for a period of thirty-five years. It was my determination not to fail in my command. With over one thousand men under my direct command, I was prepared. I served my last days as Lead Centurion, as mentioned. Lucius Sejanus and Tiberius Caesar both gave me strict instructions to maintain the Judean population, particularly in Jerusalem. I served with distinction and upon my retirement was awarded the home I now enjoy.
As for my men, by design we showed companionship and bonding only amongst ourselves. Outside of our ranks, we had no friendship and heard no voices. We had our training, our weapons and our orders. That was all we required. If, during the course of battle, we suffered injury, we made our own repairs. If we were beyond repair, suffering mortal injury, we did not complain but prepared for Elysium.
In Jerusalem at that time, there were seven major gates, or porticos. Each was a major concern. As stated earlier, these gates were being flooded with herds of sheep and a constant influx of people coming literally from all over the world. Of these seven gates, I could not eliminate either of them from being a major concern. The Golden Gate was the focal point of many of the travelers. It was a sight to see with a great deal of Jewish history. It was said that the Shekinah Glory of the Jewish god appeared in this gate. So, it was considered a holy place.
On the east side was the Sheep Gate, it was crowded with sacrificial sheep being herded it for slaughter. To the south was Zion Gate. The Damascus Gate, which was to the northwest, was by far the most well-traveled gate. Strategically, my men and I considered this to be the main gate to the city. The Jaffa Gate led to Jaffa, a trade city and it was a constant source of traffic. Each gate had to be watched carefully and we had to make contingency plans concerning which gate to use in a given emergency. Our men studied this situation meticulously and were prepared, come what may.
Now, in sitting here considering what other things I should include, the reader needs to be aware of what battle meant to an active soldier. It meant fulfillment of a lifetime of training. War was a desired endeavor not a dreaded moment. Years of training would come into use. Practice that never seemed to be needed was soon to be called upon. Soldiering was a life of vulgarity and violence. Thus, battle and war was excitement and brought with it great anticipation. My men were anxious and actually hoping for some sort of provocation. Their swords were sharp and many were finding it difficult to sleep.
I was actually a bit excited myself. Old habits, I suppose. I had seen war and was not excited by what would come. Dead men bring no delights to battle hardened soldiers, just a since of a job completed and a waste of life. Rome was not about to be defeated. Me excitement was that I would be able to impress Rome. I would show them that I was the right man.
Finally, this Jesus was spotted in Jerusalem. He was riding a donkey…a colt. Thus, we have the impressive entrance of the Jewish king! The people were laying their garments in front of him as he rode along and others were paving the way with branches and leaves. Some were singing and many were dancing. It was as if the main character in a parade was arriving. I told my men to be on the ready and if anything remotely threatening occurred, they were instructed to step in immediately.

It was reported back that all went smoothly. No threat seemed imminent. For the most part, the Jewish people were a friendly lot and the last five years, though marked with some excitement, was considered by most to be an easy period of peace.

The food, well, it was particular. They had these dietary laws that, again, were put in place because of their religion. No pork, no sea food, like shrimp and such. It was very particular, but very much an accepted way of life among the Jews. Didn’t bother me none. We ate what we were given and made no complaints.
Still, there were those who opposed Rome and did not fancy the idea of us imposing our presence in the daily life of Jerusalem. In all my years with the Roman Legion, I never could understand why a people, regardless what people, once defeated, would not willingly submit. Rome was actually very good to those who fell in line with her rule. Look at Tarsus. Today, it is a favored city! Filled with commerce and business, it is considered an educational center and focal point of trade. It was forced into the Roman system, submitted and since, has flourished. These Jews could not learn submission. I could bring submission by the sword, but this was not up to me.

I never had a Jewish friend and to be quite honest, never wanted one. I was not there for friendship and if battle broke out, my sword was kept sharp so I could depend on it when needed. My fellow countrymen were not my enemies. We were there to simply keep the Jews from subversive activities and make sure that peace was maintained. Friendships only made the matter messy.

The Jewish people were perhaps the most sincerely and thoroughly religious people I had ever met during my extended enlistment in the military. I have traveled the Aegean Sea, been throughout Asia Minor, built aqueducts in Gaul and laid stones on the Appian Way. I collected scars and bruises as well as new mates along the way. From Africa, Asia, Gaul and so on, soldiers poured into our ranks. They all had some sort of religion…a god or a group of gods they worshipped. One man had a handful of sticks in his pocket and every night he would lay them out before the fire and bow low to the ground and pray to them. They came from his family god back home, which was an old tree they had carved into a statue of some sort. However, in the end, when swords were drawn and blood was to be shed, the only gods he truly held to were his weapons…spear, sword and shield.

The Jews went beyond this. Their entire society was governed by religious leaders of some sort and a god they called Jehovah. Their high priest and officials would walk by us in flowing robes followed by a certain entourage as if they were so pious and important. I would laugh at them, causing them to grow angry. Even in their arrogance, they had to obey Rome. They loved their importance and the way the people feared them, people that were weak and afraid and unable to defend themselves. But not me…
I had no fear of the white-washed sepulchers. They soaked the people for their money and required of them absolute adherence to the smallest of rules found in this silly religion of theirs while they themselves did as they pleased. Marcus Torillino, my fellow centurion, and I openly longed for that day when opportunity would be given to meet out Roman justice on these so-called men. We let them know of our desires as well.

They were frauds, powerless little men with inherited or appointed positions. They ruled a few people in a small, tiny, insignificant little place called Jerusalem. If you watched how they acted, you would think they instructed Caesar in how to rule Rome. I would take great delight in reading how they would describe these events. They are the ones who killed this Jesus, those self-righteous…! Ah, I best rest a moment and get my wits back. These things bring back the memories…
Those Jews could promote anger in the Roman soldier quicker than you realize. Let’s get back on point. Let me tell you about that day.
It was perhaps one of the strangest days I had ever lived through up to that point. It started a week or so earlier, building up within the city. Something was happening with the people. There was an excitement in the population and the intel that we were receiving was saying that this man Jesus was going to be established as the new king. From what we were hearing, he had followers from all over willing to come and throw in with him. It has us all on edge. Yet, it made no sense. None. We had a tight fist on information in and around Jerusalem. The irregular information we were receiving was coming from unheard of and unverifiable sources but I had my strong suspicions that it smelled of Sanhedrin stench.
Jerusalem, in spite of its worldwide fame, was not a sprawling metropolis. By no means could it be likened to Rome and her seven hills. There were not many men to be found in this city capable of fighting in a protracted battle. They were not trained and they were not disciplined. There were no warriors in the population. Weapons and munitions were limited. Physically, they chose to have long bears and long hair. In battle, this made no sense. They were given easily to emotion. They were weak.
Though I had never seen this Jesus outfit, the information I had accumulated over a fair period of time made the suggestion about this Jesus becoming a king seem absolutely ridiculous. I was told that the man was not much to look at in the first place. He was short, a little man by soldier standards, thin and very unassuming. There was nothing about him that would impress you regarding his fighting abilities. He had no commanding presence.

For example, if you ever had the opportunity to see Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, one of Rome’s greatest generals, you would understand. Agrippa commanded attention. People stopped and paid homage. They feared this man, knowing his power and his fearlessness. He radiated authority and power.
Jesus…according to my intelligence network, had no desire to become King over Israel as was not the leader of a well-fed, well-trained army. Best as I could tell, there was nothing in his methodology or in his teachings that would indicate that this was ever even a consideration. We checked his genealogy and it was determined that by linage, Jesus actually had a rightful and legal claim to the throne, but this had nothing to do with Rome and Israel’s present political position. Regardless of his legal birthrights, he did not seem to pushing in that direction at all.
I don’t know… I was forming an opinion that this Jesus was a philosopher of sorts. In Rome, when I was a kid, there were these road-side philosophers. They would stand in their robes on a busy corner in the city and begin to talk. Some would stop and listen but most would just keep walking. My buddies and I would throw rocks at them and run. This is the way I pictured Jesus. Admittedly, though, when I met him, I knew straightaway that I was wrong.

I had been receiving my information from reliable sources and the information did not contradict. Even my Roman sentries, veterans of many conflicts, spoke highly of this man. These soldiers knew men. They recognized the metal of a man in an instant. Of this Jesus, they offered nothing but praise and admiration.
Pilate’s own guards admitted after everything was done, that he impressed the Prefect, Pontius Pilate, so much that Pilate did what he could do to secure his release. They said he inspired hope and a genuine desire to know the Jewish god and that the god he presented was far, far different than the god these Jews around here promote. He spoke without fear and from pure conviction. It is actually hard to describe, but when Jesus spoke, his words were plain and easily understood. I am told that somehow the words he spoke resonated in the heart and mind. There was a power that accompanied his conversation. Pilate sat with the man at length and had serious discussion regarding life and death issues. He came away wanting to release him. However, politics got involved and Pilate was forced to back down.
Somehow the high-minded Jewish hypocrites from the vaunted Sanhedrin sent word that this Jesus was turning the Jewish people against Rome, that he was fomenting insurrection. It is very troubling to rethink these days knowing of these deadly lies. My contacts told me that the Jesus Jews had one, possible two swords amongst them and none had any idea as how to use it. I personally marched with the mightiest army the world had ever seen, among the toughest fighting men ever known. It is laughable to think that a small band of fishermen could defeat a legion of Roman soldiers…with one sword.
Still, we had to be on the alert. We did not take any threat lightly. The week prior to the finale day in question, we noticed an augmentation of excitement among the people. It was Passover week. In Jerusalem, this was a big deal. Animals were being herded into town through every gate, blocking the entrance for this vast Jewish uprising. Herdsmen were bringing sheep in for the sacrificial meal. Others brought in carts of birds and other animals. Men and women were coming in from ever part of the world. This was expected, but on top of this, word was that Jesus was coming and was going to have something to say.
During the span of several days, Jesus was quite active. According to our reports he stayed in Bethany for a couple of days before venturing into town. Then, on visiting the Temple, he over turned the trading tables of those selling things to the people and argued with the chief priest. The next day, he is on the move again. My report says that he began to mention his own death. This had us concerned, but not overly so. He was constantly hounded by these hypocrites out of the Sanhedrin, and more so since what had happened in the Temple. It was as if he kicked a nest of hornets…then, what assured us that no real threat was imminent was the fact that his men began to argue with one another as well as with Jesus regarding who was more important. This impressed us to the point of laughter.
Our laughter was silenced when we had an alarming report that one of their own men, one Judas Iscariot, was seen sneaking out to the Sanhedrin. What was transacted is unknown to us and we began to worry. Was this a political conspiracy or not? Things were moving fast and we were a bit concerned. My man noted that Iscariot left after an hour or so with what appeared to be bag of money. Something was at play.
Reports came in the next day that Jesus had a run in with the religious hypocrites and called them what they were, hypocrites and snakes. This made the think that Iscariot was on his own. If money was given to support the cause, why would Jesus be acting in such a way. The only reason was that the money was not divulged. Iscariot was up to no good.
However, I was intrigued with the Jesus character. I was beginning to admire this man. I was told that he was acting evenly, meaning that his emotions were in check. He was in control. He was not being muscled around and he was not about to be intimidated. He had my vote, but regardless, anything out of the ordinary and my men were to unleash the power of Rome.
Then, I get a shocking report. A cohort of men had been assigned to go secure this Jesus and bring him in for questioning. My men were being instructed to go arrest Jesus. I had to agree as the order was signed through Pilate’s office. So, a cohort was sent out the next night. Thus begins a series of three separate trials culminating with Pilate’s final declaration. The Jews seemed delighted and sent a contingency out with the cohort.

Suddenly, it was very clear to me. The Jews were having Jesus arrested and were seeking to have Rome deal with him. The complicity of this Iscariot worm is made very clear as he led this entire group out to where this Jesus group was staying.
They were out on a hillside, praying. Sounds like a terrifying group, does it not? This traitor guy kisses him and the Centurion in charge asked if he was Jesus. When he said, “I am he” something overwhelmed my men and they fell down backwards. Why this would happen is absolutely beyond explanation. Some heads should have rolled after this report was filed but I did what I could to cover for my men. My captain in charge said he had no idea what happened, but that no physical force was applied and no weapons were seen. It was as if an invisible hand pushed them down onto their backsides.
The Jews love drama and the hypocrites loved making a big impression so they requested for a Centurion and his men to arrest this man. At a minimum, a Centurion brings one hundred trained and armed soldiers. In this case, we allowed a cohort. That would suffice. The Jews had a contingency as well and this little weasel of a man named Judas Iscariot was leading the bunch.
I assure you this… it was the Jews who were painting an imaginary picture. The Centurion did simply what he was trained to do. All the Jewish officials, well, they wanted to be seen, and not by the general population, either. They wanted the cohort to see them and their fellows. Hypocrites. So, they had their man.
They drug him before, of all men, Annas. Annas had been high priest of Israel for a period of nearly sixteen years. He was removed from that position by Gratus, the Prefect of that time. Actually, his ouster came from higher up, thus, he was removed by the declaration of Rome. Yet, like most men who sit in an office too long, Annas had considerable power and many, many contacts. I mean, the man was appointed by Quirinius, the Leget of Rome. So, that says something about his political contacts. Also, he had five sons that were going to assist him in continuing his legacy. Caiaphas was actually High Priest the day Jesus was arrested and he alone should have been the one asking the questions. Instead, we see Annas posing questions and Jesus answering.
Caiaphas was a snake as well. It was he who actually moved forward with the prosecution of this Jesus. Mark my word, however. He did nothing without first getting the needed approval of his father. It was Caiaphas that argued that Jesus was blaspheming God and he acted so disturbed by this, even tore his robe in a fit of emotion. He could act, I assure you.
He shook his head defiantly and stated that the only remedy was death. Their money making methods were being overturned and this directly affected their political power. If this Jesus kept on, they would be exposed. Nothing troubled these sorry Jews more than the thought of being belittled and humiliated in the eyes of the people they were seeking to swindle. Caiaphas said repeatedly that it is better that one man die than everything be destroyed. That is what that snake had to say. So, they got their heads together and were out to see that this Jesus died and the threat to their personal empire be removed. There was one catch…and this is where I laugh. They could not legally have any man put to death. That was out of their jurisdiction. They knew that I was standing ready to move should anything outside of normal occur and this state of emergency was caused by their own insistence.

So, Caiaphas, wanting to do things properly in order to please Rome, sent Jesus over to Pilate and thus we see the good Governor getting personally involved. I am telling you, the Jewish religious circle at that time was totally corrupt. Annas, Herod, Caiaphas, Herod’s son. The entire lot of them were corrupt, power hungry and greedy as they come. They would sell out their countrymen if they thought this would please Rome, even quicker if they saw a profit in it. A sorrier lot you could not find…
Pilate was not a bad governor but was held by the shady political practices he had learned and practiced. He was the Prefect of Judea and answered directly to Lucius Sejanus in Rome. They had a mutual understanding that was financially based. He was my ultimate superior while I was in Jerusalem and aside from him, I answered only to Sejanus. I found my conversations with the Prefect to be professional, confident and direct. He wasted no time and covered all his points in a succinct manner. He was fully aware of my time spent in Rome and respected me for my commitment. I, personally, admired the man, all rumors aside. With respect to how he decided to handle this Jesus fellow, I have no comment. Mine was to obey and I had no personal or political positions regarding other matters.
Pilate was actually the fifth to hold his post as Procurator. Most stayed around for a few short periods, using this position as a post for advancement. Pilate remained in Jerusalem for ten years. He followed Valerius Gratus.

Gratus was not a distinguished leader and was considered by us soldiers to be a financially motivated individual. When this is the case, you get someone who is willing to do whatever it takes to line his pockets. Gratus and Annas, the Jewish Chief Priest, never hit it off and we all knew how this would end.
Gratus did what he could do to not only oust Annas from office, but to bring a sudden and abrupt end to his life. However, due to the fact that Annas had a particular appeal with the Jewish people, he managed to be removed from office while keeping his head connected to his neck and shoulders.
Gratus, once Annas was removed, went through several men before he felt he had one who would give him what he wanted. The man was Caiaphas, who happened to be the son-in-law of Annas. Funny how things work in the political world, isn’t it. Caiaphas managed to keep high political favor until the end of Pilate’s reign, or for nearly twenty years. There were reasons for this which I will explain momentarily.
It was Gratus that complained so loudly about that wild man in the wilderness who seemed to be converting all the soldiers a few years back. Fellow’s name was John and the information we received was that he was baptizing people in the Jordan River. It posed no threat to Roman interest so we ignored it for the most part, but it was aggravating Gratus a great deal. I heard that John eventually lost his head to Herod, due to his being located in the Galilean district. When John died, Gratus quit complaining.
Now, I want to interject an opinion here that I believe played a very real part in this entire Jesus thing. I am no longer in the service of Rome, but love my nation. The political situation here has seriously altered, so stating these matters is acceptable.

Valerius Gratus was appointed to the office of Prefect of Judea by Lucius Sejanus. If you knew Judea as I knew Judea, you would naturally ask why a man like Gratus would desire or prefer such an appointment. Granted, it could have meant advancement, but other avenues were available that would offer the same thing. Judea was not a place Roman dignitaries liked to spend time. Gratus spent nine years there. It made no sense. The longer he stayed, the stronger the rumors grew.
Finally, he was promoted in office and he left the Judean post. He rode back to Rome smiling and financially a great deal more comfortable than when he arrived. You think he learned to save his money during his sojourn here?

Sejanus was about as high as you could get on the Roman political ladder. The man was actually was the Chief Administrator of Roman Empire. He had high ranking connections throughout the Roman Empire and served as Perfect to Tiberius Caesar’s household troops that we called the Praetorian Guard. You do not get in this position easily and to hold this position, you had to have the absolute trust of Tiberius Caesar himself.

Now, what I can gather, based on the information I received during those days, there was a great deal of money coming into to the coffers of the Temple. The High Priest, Annas, administered these funds as needed,
and there were many, many needs, many of them personal.
People were coming in daily and purchasing sacrificial animals. The priest would tell them they needed xyz for their sacrifice. The booths selling xyz were set up right there in the Temple for ease and convenience. The people, hearing of what they were required to sacrifice, would go and spend their money and return. The sacrifice was made and the things moved along. As business grew, so did the profits. Soon, the Temple was a true money maker.

The prices for the sacrificial animals rose almost monthly. The higher the price would go, the higher the profits would rise. It was a racket. Annas was soaking the people. He was milking these people without a worry or care and growing extremely wealthy right under the nose of Rome.
As Rome assessed the situation, it soon became easy to see that Annas was gaining incredible wealth and it was not difficult to observe how that was happening. Rather than correct the situation, Sejanus decided that he, not Rome, wanted to partake in the wealth and he would work through his man on location, the Prefect.
He worked through several Judean Prefects until ultimately; he secured the services of Gratus. Sejanus and Gratus, working together, begin to pressure Annas. Many believe he was pressured to release the financial trappings of the Temple to the Roman officials. Annas had to willingly do this for it all to work.
You see, if Rome came in and forced the issue by taking over the Temple operations, the money would go straight to Rome and not to Sejanus or Gratus. Also, the Jewish people were not about to submit to a Roman priest in the Temple. That was not about to happen. If Rome pushed too hard, they money would dry up and all would be lost. Annas had to play or the game basically would not work.
A final confrontation came when the Jewish High Priest, Annas, refused to give anybody any money and actually appealed to Quirinius, the Roman Legate who initially appointed him.
In the game of politics, Annas was spared his life, but eventually, he was unceremoniously removed from office and eventually replaced by his son-in-law, Caiaphas. Caiaphas was deemed a worthy replacement, primarily because he was willing to bow to the greedy desires of Roman hierarchy which and eventually included Pontius Pilate. Sejanus was eventually tried for treason and the glory days of Pilate were ended.
Now, as a Roman Prefect, Gratus and then Pontius Pilate were granted the power of a supreme judge, which meant that they had the sole authority to order a criminal’s execution, collect taxes, and manage construction projects. His biggest job with the Jews was maintaining law and order. Believe me, this he would do by any means necessarily. I know. What he couldn’t negotiate he accomplished through brute force. Me and my men served as his brute force. Thus, I found myself in the middle of this Jesus situation…while I was in the court that final morning,
The courtyard was packed with men, women and children. I had never seen anything like it. The anger on the faces of these people was surprising. They seemed to be unaware as to why they were angry, but regardless, they were all in an emotional uproar. Caiaphas was present with his puny contingency. Annas was back home. Seeing Caiaphas there made the picture complete. He was instigating this. This was a drama presented for the benefit of Pilate.

The forcefulness of the emotions, the claim of Caiaphas that this Jesus was conspiring against Rome and the glaring political situation forced Pilate to take a position that he did not want to take. He did all that he could to extricate himself for the situation and when he heard that Jesus was a Galilean, he knew right away what he could do. Galilee was the responsibility of Herod Antipas, a Roman Tetrarch and son of the late Herod the Great. So he passed this Jesus off to the court of Herod. Herod was interested only in seeing Jesus do some circus tricks and was not about to get involved in this volatile situation. The problem was a Roman problem, so he sent Jesus back to Pilate.

I watched Pilate struggle with the decision. He really was torn. It was a custom, on the Passover to release a prisoner, a tradition I have never understood. He decided that he was going to punish him and then release him. The Jews went insane, I believe under the orchastration and direction of Joseph Caiaphas. I got my men to stand alert with swords drawn. The crowd took note of our position and controlled themselves a bit, but still, they were really letting Pilate hear their displeasure.

There was this dung heap of a man named Barabbas. He was a real loser. He was the leader of a pitiful uprising within the city that resulted in a few men dying. Barabbas had been complicit in the murder of another. If one was worthy of the cross, Barabbas was the man. They began to cry out for his release. This cry was being made under the orchestration of Caiaphas himself.
Pilate was exasperated. He eventually relented and gave in. Caiaphas had some political pull and a tremendous amount of pressure was applied. So, Barabbas was put out, free as a bird and Jesus, well, I was given control of Jesus. The facts have not been let out but this Barabbas continued his nefarious ways and eventually killed two more Jewish men. Caiaphas wanted us to take care of that situation and I refused. To my knowledge, Barabbas will probably die an old man. Pilate told me afterward that this Jesus was being railroaded for the benefit of a few corrupt Jews. He had insights to which I was not allowed. My personal thoughts, which I never uttered, coincided with his. Jesus was innocent. He was no terrorist and no conspiracies were being played out. Still, my men and I were wanting to hear what this Jesus had to say in his defense. I never heard a word in the courtyard. I was ordered to take him out and to rough him up and then return him back to the courtyard for presentation.

This is a task I passed down to my captain. I had no desire to be a part of this, but through my responsibilities, I was charged with the task. I am sorry to say that my men took too much pleasure in fulfilling their job. When Jesus was returned, he was a bloody mess. When I looked at Arilius, my captain in charge, he shrugged. What was done was done.
Still, if this Jesus was going to say something, I wanted to hear it. I wanted to see this man and hear what he had to say. But, it was like some old Jewish man said in passing, “He is acting like a sheep being led to slaughter, not making a sound.” I was amazed.
Now, with so much activity taking place within the walls, we had the entire legion active, standing sentry, marching the walls and policing the city. Once the trial, joke that it was, was completed, Arilius escorted Jesus into the large hall of the Preatorium. I went to tend to other matters. We had to map out the critical path to get the prisinors out to the trash heap for their exection.
In the grand hall, the men again took liberties that were actually normal activities, but in this case, I would have preferred that they held off. I was gone and left them without specific instruction. I can change nothing now, but hold regret in this particular situation.
They began to beat this Jesus with reeds and one of my men had run out and cut some Locust tree branches and wound them up making a crown out of them. This thing had thorns on it an inch and one half long. They placed this on his head and beat it down. Blood was everywhere. They spat upon him and beat him in the face after having placed the thorn of crowns on his head and scourging him.
Scourging was perhaps the most violent thing we could do to a man. The prisoner would be required to bend over a pole so that his back was fully exposed and the skin pulled tight. His wrists were then tied to the legs so the body would not jerk back to an upright position due to the pain being inflicted.
There was an entire battalion involved in this, so I do not know who actually participated in the scourging. Some men were masochist and delighted in this sort of thing. Others begged off. The ones who participated were particularly cruel and relished their work.

They used what we called a “flagellum”. This was a horrible tool that broke men. I have seen many die with the use of this instrument. It was actually a simple thing. It consisted of a block handle with woven leather straps tacked into the handle. These leather straps were about three or four feet in length and they were braided for durability. They were thick and strong. In the ends of these straps were fashioned pieces of bone or metal. These bits were jagged and when they hit the exposed skin, they dug in and pulled the skin back, exposing muscle and bone.
Now, these men would swing with full force. They did not play here. They would have contest amongst themselves. Many would be bent over trying catch another breath of air, they had worked so hard. The prisoner usually had grown silent and after a few minutes, he would pass out.

The beating had to have been terrible. They usually were. My men told me that Jesus had grown quite but had not passed out. He just grew silent. Now, explain that to me. They took a bucket of filthy waste and threw it on him to revive him, stood him to his bloody feet and led him outside. Now that this was over, he was going to be crucified.
One thing to note is that we never exceeded thirty-nine lashes due to the fact that men generally died during the process if we did that. Bearing this in mind, my men showed no mercy in their efforts. Roman justice is relentless. My men despised the Jews as a people and because this Jesus told Pilate that he was, indeed, King of the Jews, gave an extra effort.
They took their time and when they were done, it did not appear that this Jesus was going to be able to walk to Golgotha. Actually, that was almost guaranteed. Still, they brought the cross in, tied it around his body and began to lead him out.

I had them go down through the Sheep Gate. It was actually the most practical exit to use. It opened right up to the area and was easily accessed. This was the gate most of the herdsmen used to bring in their sheep that were going to be slaughtered. Sure, it smelled like animal waste, but so what.

Golgotha was located about three hundred meters from the Temple, so Jesus did not have too far to go, but in his condition; making it outside of the building would be considered a victory in and of itself.
He stumbled and fell and it was apparent that he was not going to be able to carry this cross and make the distance. Aralias, one of my men, grabbed some man named Simon and had him carry the cross. He took off and wasted no time while Jesus staggered. There was a great number of people following him. They lined the streets. Women were weeping and wailing and men were watching. Our bets were that he would not be able to make it the entire way. To our surprise, he did.

Once he arrived, I made a pass through the area and retraced the street to make sure all was secure and upon my return, I dismounted and asked if my help was needed.
This place called Golgotha was a filthy sty. It was the city dump, if you will. Dead animal carcasses were there, rats the size of cats and human filth of every kind was everywhere. The odor was almost insupportable and we wanted to get our job done and get out of there.

I was asked to hold his arms in place while they nailed his hands down. Nobody ever explained why we nailed him and tied the other two (We had two more crucifixions that day as well). I asked and was told to direct my questions to Caiaphas. I let it pass. This Jesus was getting the works – nobody was showing him any mercy at all, no favor in any way. That is amazing when you consider that one week earlier these Jews were dancing in the streets and singing because Jesus had come to town.We had him secured and lifted the cross-bar into place. Once it was attached, it was all a matter of time. All we could do was wait.

Now, I am not a sympathetic man. I had a job to do and did it. That is all. I signed up for it, it is what I did for thirty five years. I had participated in these things hundreds of times over the years. The first few times, it is hard. You heard things and you saw things, things you never wanted to see. You learn. This is your job as a Roman Legion Soldier. Get used to it.
On this day, though, it was different. Up until this time, Jesus said little to nothing. When we attached him to the cross-bar, he cried out in agony and then again when we attached his feet. Pain does that to a man. His teeth shook and sweat pushed down his bloody brow. His eyes were swollen almost shut and his jaw was hanging agape where the soldiers had beaten on him. His back was gone. There was nothing but raw meat. His front was torn open as well. His teeth were hanging and his beard was pulled out in sections. All this and the only time he allowed the pain to get the best of him was when we attached him to the cross. Something was going on here, something I did not understand and it was starting to spook me. Listen, I kid you not…I do NOT get spooked.
When you set a cross, more often than not, you hoist it up and drop it in the hole. You do not pack it, you just leave it. As the man kicks and fights death’s arrival, the cross will sway but it was not about to fall.

This was different. We were attaching a man to the cross–bar and then setting the cross-bar on top of the center piece. So, we had three men involved in the setting, no actually, four. Two held the ladders and two shouldered the cross-bar, lifting it to the center piece. When they set the cross-bar and dismounted, Jesus began to talk.
I wanted to hear what he had to say. I hurried the men down and sent them to the perimeter. I stood by listening. His head was about eight feet off the ground, maybe ten. I was looking up and trying to comprehend what was being said. His voice was scratchy and barely audible.

“Forgive them, Father. Forgive them.” He cried. He lifted his feeble head and looked around. “Oh, Father, forgive them. They don’t know, Father, they don’t know what they are doing. Forgive them.” He turned and looked directly at me. His eyes were clear and his voice was clear. The compassion was undeniable. Chills went through me. I was rattled…to my bones. I looked around. People were gawking, looking, women were crying and others were just talking and watching. There was a horrible smell as this was not a place for the faint of heart. It was a place of agony and death. But I know this. He looked at me and he asked his father to forgive me. That I will never forget. I began to mill about, knowing that in a hour or so they were going to come and ask me to break his legs. It was the Passover and the Jews did not want this suffering and such going on all throughout the day. We broke their legs so they could not push up and suck in any air. Thus, they would suffocate as their chest was caving in on them from hanging so long. It caused them to die a lot quicker. This was actually very efficient, believe me.

My men were waiting as well. They were making use of their time by gambling for the clothes that the three guys had been wearing. I guess it was something to do. Jesus had this robe that was very nice. It was a single weave that had no seam. Each of the soldiers liked it and they were about to rip it up and each take a part it when one of the guys suggested that they cast lots for it. Whoever won got a new rode. I did not keep up with who finally got the rode. It was nice, though.

As we waited, the skies became dark and this darkness fell on the entire area. For three hours it was black as soot. Never had this happen before. It had us all rattled real good. I was already spooked. I sent word to have all soldiers on ready, but it was so dark, my soldiers were moving very slowly. Then I heard it. “I…I am thirsty.” I motioned for a soldier to get him something. The soldier grabbed a sponge and soaked with wine that turned out to be sour…like a vinegar. He stuck in on a branch and lifted it up to his lips. His head bowed down then he eased his head back and said, “Eli, Eli, llama sabachthani” and then his head fell freely. He was dead. It was over. Or so I thought…

The earth began to shake violently and the huge curtain in the Temple ripped right down the middle, from the top to the bottom, mind you. The Jews tried to blame this on the renegade Jews, but they had no proof. Then rocks began to split. I was terrified. I knew that this was the Father to whom Jesus had prayed. How do you battle God? How to fight against God? I knew at that moment that we were dealing truly with the Son of the living God. I do not know about the god of these Jews, but this God of Jesus was for real. I just held down His hands. I just supervised the murder of God’s Son. I could not move for a moment. Was I condemned now forever? What had I done?

I write this in the silence of my home. I sit here alone. My confession to you is sincere and a true assessment of most horrible event in history. This is what I did. I realized I could not run and hide. My training would not let me. I did know how to sheath my weapon and kneel in submission. This is what I did. I took a knee. I made my apologies. My men were by my side, kneeling. We knew. As we were wrapping things up for the day, I ran into a fellow named John. He was a nice man, I suppose. He was scared to speak with me, I remember that. He wept as he was escorting a middle aged lady back to the Sheep Gate.

I introduced myself and asked if he knew this man, Jesus. John explained his relationship, hiding nothing. I asked if he, with me promising asylum, could teach me more, would he. He agreed.
John invited me to sit and talk with him on a later date, which I did. When I saw him after nearly a week, he was breathless and rushed me inside his abode. He then asked me if I had heard anything. I laughed. I already knew. Some of my men were guarding the tomb. They told me the entire story. John smiled and took my hand. I entered his home and together, we broke bread. My first Jewish friend.

He told me all he could about Jesus, the Messiah. John called Him the Christ. What I have come to know is that now I have a Savior. He was a Jewish Carpenter. I presently reside in Capria which is located on the western coast of Italia. I have been here now for nearly four years. I remained in Jerusalem for one year after retirement in order to learn what I could about Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God.
John, along with a few more men, took time to teach several of my men and I the ways of the Christ. Eventually, it was time for me to take my leave of the area and allow the new Head Centurion to take his place.
Presently, I have a group of men that I instruct almost daily. Together, we bow before God in prayer. Then, I teach the men all I know. We are praying for a change within the Roman Empire. “Caesar to Christ” is our motto. We will continue…

Perhaps you may think that I am too insistent on giving the credit to God. After relating these events to a close friend of the family, he began to question if I had properly understood the prognosis and if the situation as even real. In other words, he doubted if this was a real event and intimated that I was prone to embellishing the matter. His words were offensive, but they did not seem to trouble him much. Perhaps he has trouble with this sort of incident. Or perhaps he wanted to tell me something that he had felt for quite some time. Either one, it does not matter. God has done something. I rejoice. Reject it if you will or struggle with the issue.

Fine. If you have no desire to hear or read about what God has done, then leave the page now or walk out of the room. It is not my intention to misrepresent anything.  I simply wish to tell you what the Lord has done in my life. If you doubt the veracity of what I am saying, do the research and discovery. Then, after your discovery, I would ask that you return with proper apologies and tell others about what God has done. Give God the praise.

In the month of October, 2013, I had become concerned about an issue I was having as I was passing inordinate amounts of blood in my stool. Nasty subject, I know, but a very real one. I scheduled a visit with a doctor in town and was told that he would need to perform a colonoscopy. I do not know any man that sits around wanting to go through anything like this, but I will say, if you have any questions of concerns, delaying this matter is not the way to go. Go get checked out. NOW! Do not wait. The consequences of a delay could be the difference of life and death. I am serious. A date was established and I had my son, Ethan, take me to the hospital for the scheduled appointment. My wife had to work and I was thinking this would be an in and out procedure. I was assured that the entire ordeal would take less than one hour.

This event was planned for November 3, 2013. After the procedure was completed, I was asked to wait for the doctor to come by for a discussion. My son and I waited for thirty minutes or so. The doctor came and closed the door. He was pleasant but wasted no time in informing me that he wished he had good news to tell, but he did not. I had a huge tumor that would require surgical removal. He indicated that this tumor was the size of a balled fist. I was a bit taken with this news but agreed to do what needed to be done. I was not prepared for the news that followed.

The doctor continued his discussion by telling me that I had what he would diagnose as Stage 4 Cancer of the colon. This meant that the cancer had perforated the three layers of the colon, infected my lymph system, my liver, my pancreas and possibly my lungs. Apparently, the cancer had been there for quite some time. Changes were slim regarding my survival, around 4%. Survival would require chemotherapy, radiation, along with major surgery for the removal of the tumor and all polyps as well as substantial portion of my colon. Then, we had to consider recovery. The next three to six months were critical.  Blood test indicated the definite presence of cancer that the colonoscopy indicated that there was a marked spreading. The doctor was serious. I was shaken. Shaken to the core of my being.

I went into a fog. No, I did not say a this was a depression nor was it a denial. To me, it sounded as if the doctor was trying to utter strange sounds and that none of this applied to me. I was in shock. I mean, this was a simple matter of passing some blood in my stool. It could not possibly be this bad. As he spoke, my son began to weep. He was in shock as well. I instructed him to go and get his mother, who was actually working directly across the street at a bakery. He left and was back in just a few minutes.

Momma and I sat there and listened to the entire presentation. I was able to hear it once again. The weight of the issue was heavy. The news he was giving was staggering. The finality of the issue was obvious. To give a bit of an illustration of how I felt at that moment would be as follows; Imagine being tossed out of the window of a high rise building and hearing a description of what lies ahead. The fall is unavoidable, the end is imminent, and treatment only delays the inescapable. How to handle the matter was difficult. On my part, there were no tears. There was no sense of resignation either. We drove home quietly with little to no discussion.

We decided to have the family get together around six o’clock that evening and share the news. During this entire time I did not have one “woe is me” thought. I was concerned with the family. How would they do? How would they fair once I was gone? My worry was that they would struggle.

During the family time, there were tears and there was discussion. It left us all in a state of shock. Caleb and Katie seemed braced and stoic. Neither seemed to over react or to fall apart. Lindsay cried until her eyes were swollen shut. Emily cried and Ethan was tearful. It was a somber moment. We prayed and thanked God for the years He had given and for the family He had provided. We rejoiced, which, I confess, was hard to do. I called and shared this with the church and my parents and all. Prayers were being presented on my behalf. God was hearing about this, I am sure.

I went by to see the doctor and he assured me of his findings and again, showed me his reports. He was fully confident that he was not wrong and surgery was scheduled for as soon as possible.  I needed to plan on being out of service for a substantial amount of time. I was to be operated on November 14, 2014. This surgery was completed and I remained in the hospital for five days following surgery.

The day I was to leave the hospital and begin my convalescence, my doctor called and was very excited. He informed me that they could not find any cancer. None. They had extracted seventy lymph glands and biopsied other things and done that and that. They were confident that there was no cancer. I was deemed to be cancer free.

Now, I will confess that I was praying for the cancer to go away. I was praying that I would be cured as were many. However, the main prayer that my wife and I prayed is found in Philippians 4:6-7 –

Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

I tell you that I had the greatest sense of peace that I have ever had in my liferegarding any matter. Not once did I worry nor was I troubled by my situation. If God had desired to take me home, I was ready to go. I would miss my family as I prepared to leave, but I am certain that once I arrived, my sadness would go away. However, if I stayed, I was good with that as well. I do have a family here that I love a great deal and would not mind watching the grandkids grow for a few more years.

I was so relieved to receive the news that I was cancer free that I wanted to go celebrate. The nurses would not allow me to dance in the hall and walking at that time was a challenge. I told anybody and everybody I could. These nurses knew that God had done a wonderful thing.

I have wondered often if this is all some dream. Then I look down at a 22” scar. It was no dream. God delivered me from what the doctor’s told me was most likely a final dilemma. God did it. They checked my lymph system, my liver and my pancreas. While they did remove 18” of my colon, which they insisted was necessary, they could find no traces of cancer. They have never told me or confessed in any way that they had misdiagnosed me in any area.  My doctor has suggested that God was in it.

I am convinced…God did it.

So, I praise Him. God is able to deliver from the most evil of foes. He has no limits. I look forward to meeting Him and thanking Him personally. Yes, I have done this many times, but when I see Him, I want to thank him again.

I was awakened by a spash of sunshine across my face. The curtains had a little wind-blown opening that allowed a sliver of light to break through, eliminating the room as if someone was preparing for a photo-shoot of some sort. I leaned up on one elbow. It was six o’clock in the morning. My wife is never affected by such things. She could sleep through an all-night bombing raid and snore in rhythm with the noise.  As I lay there for a minute, I thought, “I gotta get this monster up.” Then I decided,  ‘Nah, let her sleep a few more minutes.’ and smiled.

Sleep was over for me so it was time to get up and wander down the hall and into the kitchen.  My back was bent due to the contour of the mattress. I felt as if I was literally crawling down the hall like a monkey. I had a catch in my lower back. These aches and pains come with age, I reckon. Once in the kitchen, I found an empty coffee pot. This was not a good start to a day filled with activities.  My eyes were watery and filled with sleep.My hair felt as if it was a patch of dried weeds and my mouth fealt as if it was filled with dried paste.  The coffee was supposed to jump start things, lubricate the body and energize me for the day. I filled the machine with coffee and water. It would be ready in five minutes.

While I waited, I stepped out into the garage to feed the dog. He was gone. Somebody left the door open – again.  My neighbors loved the way my dog treated their garbage cans with such care and concern. I’ll be getting some calls, I am sure. Great. Still, the routine was followed. Kibble and Bits and cool water. WHile the coffee was perking I sat at the able reading the paper. “Is that you, honey?” the wife asks. Who else would it be at this hour? I say, “Yeah, just me.” I  get to thinking that this could actually mean anybody. “Don’t make any coffee. I poured the water last night but forgot to set the timer. Just turn it on.”

I looked over to our now coffee-covered counter. Water was still pouring out of the machine. I quickly jumped up to wipe up the grainy mess. I moved as quietly and as quickly as I could, but these little square napkins were not getting the job done. THe mess was just getting bigger. I ran out and grabbed a towel in the laudry room. I hear the shower start. This gives me ample time to clear the area, ditch the towel and recommence the coffee. I did my best but I knew that the little woman would know, instinctively, that something was amiss.

The wife comes in looking like Queen Tut and filled with the confidence of royality. A towel wrapped head, an old faded football jersey and some frayed house shoes. “The tub is leaking again. I thought you fixed that?  There was a snail crawling up the shower wall. We gotta get out of here.” She shivered with her hands in the air. This served to enforce her disgust.

“Morning. I guess I slept well. You?” I said.

She froze in place and put her hands on her waist. “Why does it always have to be like this? She asks. “Can’t you just be happy for once?”

I am caught off-guard, which is nothing new. I usually am. Though the battle horn was sounding, I tried to ignore the coming skirmish by hiding in my office with the paper, but Tut’s voice was taunting me, “Sure, run to your office. Did you spill the coffee? You perked it, didn’t you after I specifically told you …” She commenced to re-clean the area I just spent twenty minutes cleaning. Her diatribe continues. “I spent two hours in the beauty parlor yesterday and have to come back to this!” Hearing this, I was convinced that the two hours was only for an estimate. She had some sort of white oatmeal paste  smeared on her face. It looked like a death-mask of sorts.

The pain in my back moves up a foot or two and now my neck is hurting. A sharp pain bulges right behind my right eye ball. What is it with all these aches and pains? Good grief.

As I sit at my desk, I actually reach out  to grab my cup of coffee. It was not there. I have to get it but am afraid to enter the kitchen. I wait until everything is still and quiet. When I am sure the area has been vacated, I silently step out of the security of my office and am immediately startled by this white faced, towel headed ladywho is at that moment leaning on the kitchen cabinet, feeding on a trough of shredded wheat. At five foot two, this was actually a very strong woman. Her strength was not in her arms and muscles…no, it was something stronger than that…more painful and enduring… her strength was in her vocal abilities. They have been well exercised. She could fight in the MVA (Mixed Vocal Arts) and do quite well.

Our eyes met and instantly, she began. “Did you pay the cable bill? It needs to be paid on time and I believe today is the day. Also, would you please take the trash out, it is starting to smell. When was the last time you took it out anyway? That dog better not be in this house! He leaves hair all over the place and you know who will have to sweep it up? A woman’s work is never done and our house is NOT a kennel. But, then. nobody really cares, do they?”

The pain behind my head grew sharper. I wanted to grab my eye and fall to the floor but knew that would be of no value. I would just be told to get up. The coffee maker looked to be so far off but it was calling my name. The problem was that it situated on the counter top directly behind the towel headed lady and the cups were in the cabinet just over her head. There were some real threats here.

“What? You want coffee? Why not say something? All you had to do was ask. I am just a fixture here anyway.” She steps aside.  By the way, We need some more  French Vanilla. I got the last of it. Sorry. I meant to get some last night but forgot. You should have noticed it anyway and bought some. I guess you didn’t really want any.” Without the creamer, she knew full well that the coffee was worthless and bitter to me. I held my hands up and headed to the shower shaking my head. “Don’t shake your head at me.” she says with a snarl. Reagan was the Teflon President. Meet the Teflon wife…

“Oh, Mr. Macho, you will need to wait a while on the shower. I used all the hot water. Why don’t you kill that snail while you are waiting?” she barks. We have an eighty gallon water heater. How could she use all the hot water? I’ll tell you how…she leaves the hot water running while she does her other beauty chores. She says the mist from the heat helps her skin keep young. Yeah, it also keeps the water bill high and the hallway wet. And guess what…hot wet air does not stop the biological clock from ticking and least not in this case.

“Oh, woman…” I say as I head into the bathroom. Indeed, there was no hot water. I stand as long as I can in the shower in order to get a decent cleaning. After two minutes, my skin is blue and my teeth are chattering. I feel as if I am clean enough. Any longer and hypothermia would set it.  Another five minutes and I am dressed and ready to go.

As I am getting dressed, Queen Tut begins a lecture on the ‘Oh, woman’ remark, reminding me of all the work she does around the house. “I slave around this house and get little to no thanks. I cook; I clean, and wash clothes. No thanks. I run the kids to school and pick them up. What do I get? No thanks, that’s for sure. Just complaints.” Her voice becomes a shrill in the background, something like Charlie Brown’s teacher. I am throwing on clothes and grabbing for socks. I simply don’t have time…

I never have understood exactly what this white oatmeal paste is or how it works. She says it exfoliates her skin pores. I think it is some sort of tribal war paint she applys before battle every morning. I know that is sure scares the dog. I look at her while she is talking and notice that some of this has fallen to the floor. It shattered…now she has to sweep…

I grabbed my briefcase and and swiftly made my way to the car.  I get adjusted and lock the seat belt only to find that my keys are not in my pocket. Great. I get undone and zip to the bedroom. The pants I wore last night are gone. Vanished. Disappeared.  I have to bite my tongue. Last night at eleven o’clock, they were on my chest. This morning at six thirty…gone.

“Sweetie, have you seen my pants that I wore last night?” I hollered.

“The Kakis?” she responds.

“The Kakis.” I said.

The blue ones or the kaki colored ones?” she asks.

“I don’t have any blue ones.” I said.

“Oh, that’s right. Those were mine. I bought them at Burkes last week. Five dollars off with the Burke card. I got a blouse that goes real good with them. Have you seen them?” she is going on and on.

“Honey, where are my pants?” I ask.

“They are in the washing machine. Why? Don’t use that tone of voice with me. Are you mad again?” she demands to know.

“My keys were in the pocket. Oh, woman…” I am shaking my head as I head to the laundry room.

“Oh, I bet that’s what that noise was.” She says as if she now understood some new truth.

“What noise?” I asked with widened eyes.

“Well, I started the wash and it made this scratching noise and then sounded like it was grinding. Then, it just stopped. I thought it was broken but then it started right back up like everything was normal. I thought that was strange.” She gave me a blank stare.

“Oh, great, woman.” I tore into the washing machine and located the pants. No keys. I pulled out the soaking load of clothes and found my keys on the bottom of the drum. The car key was fine but house key was broken in three pieces and the F.O.B. suffered a watery death.

I grabbed them and shook them off, soaking my shirt sleeve in the process.  About that time, Queen Tut started in with another lecture on the ‘oh, woman’ remark. She took a breath and looked at the clock. “You better hurry. You are going to be late!” Then she stopped and closed her eyes and puckered out her lips for a good-bye kiss. For a moment, time stood still. I was afraid. I touched her lips with two fingers and wished her a good day and I was gone.

I was going to be late. I had never been late, but, I sighed thinking that there was always a first time. I work in Lexington, which is an hour away. I generally allow twenty minutes for traffic and such, but this morning, that was all eaten up. There could be no errors. It is nearly seven a.m. and I am really being pushed.

I get to the office and open up. I quickly walk to the elevators and push the button as I always do. You know, every time I push this button, I think of the Matrix movie and wonder…

I notice that Rachel is not at her desk. That is unusual. She is always there. I actually have asked if she has a room on this floor. She is always on time, bright and smiling.

Things then went in slow motion. The quietness of the place was deafening. Nobody was walking around. The hustle and bustle was not hustling and bustling. The security guard was not there. It was surreal. Finally, I saw Johnny Bain, the building superintendent.

“Hey, Johnny. Where is everybody?” I asked.

“Well, I have a two man crew today. Can’t get many to work on Labor Day. But, I see you drew the short straw. All work and no play….” He was smiling.

“Yeah, somebody’s got to mind the fort.” I said as bells began to go off. Today was Labor Day. The office is closed. Nobody is here and nobody will be here. Suddenly, I felt so tired….

I watched for Johnny to drive off, which he did after a few minutes. I slid out to my car and sat there for a while. Actually, I celebrated a small victory. I was on time. I reached over and on the radio to classical music, not because I love classical music but because it is soothing. I leaned back for a moment and was awakened by a knocking on my window. It was Johnny Bain.

“You were supposed to be off today, weren’t you?” he asked.

“Yeah, Johnny, I was. Why are you working?” I asked in return.

“Well,’ he turned red, ‘ I am heading home as well.” he said.

We both laughed.

“Say, you had breakfast?” I asked.

“Oh, not a chance. I live an hour away and had a hectic morning just trying to get away. You wuold never guess…” he said.

“Hop in,’ I said with a wink. Let’s head to Denny’s. I hear they have good coffee.

I started the engine and was driving out of the parking lot when the phone rang. It was Queen Tut. I let it ring and headed to Denny’s. They truly do have good coffee. We enjoyed a nice breakfast, I saw there was a movie playing at the Strand that I had been wanting to see…a matinee. I ordered another cup of coffee and made plans… it was going to be a good day after all. Johnny and I became good friends…turns out we have a lot in common. The only difference, according to him, he is married to the Queen of England…