The Personal Histories
Darvil Burns McBride & Josephine Phillips McBride
SOME OF MY PETS BESIDES JO
From whom or where he came, I've forgotten, but someone gave me a special dog. About half grown, old Cub, my furred friend was a Collie mix. No doubt mixed with whatever other dogs were running the dirt streets of the town at the time. Long haired, he grew a little bigger than medium size—just a good ordinary sized dog—and smart. I knew he loved me because he stayed right at my side all the time, keeping his eyes on me constantly, waiting for a kind word, a call or to be ready to go along wherever I headed. You could see it in his eyes as he hoped for some bit of recognition, a signal to act, a call or a word of command or praise. I would only have to make a motion with my hand to get a reaction. He waited constantly to respond and cooperate to do whatever I might want.
Desiring for him to jump over a fence, I motioned toward it or patted the top. If too high to jump, no problem, he'd just climb it and jump down to the other side, there waiting for me to be on our way. Often, I coaxed him to climb the six and seven-foot high, page-wire fences, usually strung at the top with barbed wire. Still no problem for him, he acted like the happiest dog in the world to do the exercise. He climbed trees too, and with my coaxing he cooperated willingly as best he could, which was pretty darn good, given the right tree. If he had his eye on an animal he had treed himself, he anxiously performed even better. Sometimes he'd get up in the flimsy limbs and if he thought he couldn't get any farther or make his way down the way he’d gone up, he simply leaped to the ground from there.
We were seldom apart, and if not resting, we were busy romping and running. We loved to hunt together. Though not as good at clinching the capture as old Teddy had been, he would catch a rabbit now and then. Out in the uncleared, brushy mesquite country, he routed through brush and piles of it slipping through other thick growth spooking the hiding animals so I could get a running shot at them with my flipper, and later when older, with the 22-rifle.
I taught him a cute trick that the family was real proud of. He learned to stand dead still while I placed a piece of tidbit he liked square on the top-side of his nose—bread, meat, cheese and the likes. He learned to stay completely motionless while I placed it, waiting expectantly for the signal, then he'd toss the morsel up with a slight flip of his muzzle and catch it through the side of his mouth. It happened so fast sometimes, it appeared as just one single motion. After training him with food, I taught him to do the same with a small rubber ball, after painstakingly positioning it on top of his nose.
Uncle Oscar Sims, my mother's brother, and his wife, Aunt Roxy, watched us with interest during a visit to our home, as Cub went through the routines. They belonged to a small drama group comprised of friends with the mutual interest. They practiced together and presented their plays weekends. They asked me to be a part of one of their productions to show off our cute trick. Proud to be the star of a bit part (given my, inclination), Cub and I practiced and then performed the tricks with style and aplomb for the delighted audience.
I think the only really disconcerting hunt Cub and I ever had was when his nose drug him up to an unhappy surprise living in the hollow of a partly rotted tree trunk that had been cut off about four feet from the ground. Not knowing what Cub was throwing such a fit about, with all his barking and jumping around, thinking that, for sure, a rabbit was in the old stump that I might be able to capture alive, I leaned over the opening to peek into the shadows. My curiosity was rewarded with a vitriolic spray, the physical effects of which one cannot possibly describe, especially since one drop of it entered my left eye. The rest of the skunks devastating stream caught me under the chin and across my shoulders.
My first concern, my eye, bandanna in hand, I sprinted to the canal, some fifty yards away. Though the water was cool, and I bathed my eye for a full half-hour, the pain would not subside. So, with the wet kerchief held to my eye, fouling the atmosphere around all that I passed, I paced off the distance home, in better than good time, and tried to wobble into the house.
Did I reach a home where sympathy dwelled? Not by a long-shot! Mother must have smelled my approach, for sympathy met me at the back door and ordered me to the garage. (It was not attached to the house.) Under her somewhat stern though distant direction I ran water into a number-3 washtub dragging it into the garage after me. She brought me soap and towel, a change of clothes, and left me on my own.
Even with three applications of soap around my head and torso, the family relegated me to the open-air screen porch for the next three days, where at least my bed happened to be, where I was forced to reside only there eating my meals in lonesomeness.
Uncle Oscar Sims, who lived next door at that time, smelled my predicament and offered to help. He told me —and he knew from experience—that the only way to get the stench out of my clothes was to wash them first, then bury them in damp soil for at least a week. He helped me dig a hole in the back lot where I dumped pants, shirt, socks and underwear. My straw hat I hung high in the apricot tree hoping it would air out. After a month I burned it.
I also had a beautiful, iridescent-feathered bantam rooster for a pet. He became completely tame and trusting of me. I would walk over to him whenever I wanted and pick him up. He loved to be stroked while I carried him about nestled on my arm. His head, decorated with a large red comb bent a little to one side and hanging wattles, distracted one's attention from the long sharp spurs that armed the inside of each lower leg. The feisty little rascal, always ready to fight, protected his territory from any other wandering roosters unlucky enough to get past his I-dare-you-line; for he jealously protected his own small harem of three hens. He also starred with Cub and me in Uncle Oscars play. Once placed on Cub's back, Cub would run around the stage, as the cowboy banty rode his steed in total enjoyment balancing with perfect ease.
Our first dog after we moved to Thatcher, we named Teddy. I can't begin to tell you what kind of a dog he was. Pure mongrel, he probably boasted some of every blood line in town and from outlying communities. A cute, good old dog, though not as big as Cub, he sure knew how to hunt. He loved being with us when we explored the wilds, such as down in the river bottom country where he nosed around for anything he could rout out to chase. I think he thought he could catch anything and everything with four legs.
One day, Leonard and I were down at the river bottom with our flippers scouting around for whatever we could find. Suddenly, Teddy brushed out a fox. The chase began and they headed almost straight for us until the vixen saw us and swerved away as we continued watching the drama play out. He brought the fox to bay under a big bush of thick over-hanging limbs. Frightened and probably fearing the barking dog could out-run him if he chanced a break, he cowed back into the thicket.
We ran to the dog, and with his help, Leonard and I kept the little, gray fox cooped back in the recess. Leonard pulled out a short length of rope, from somewhere. He began a careful, measured craw toward the confused animal, bound, bent and determined to maneuver a noose around his neck. I warned him that the fox would bite him if he put his hand too close. Leonard just said maybe he won't, as he slunk toward it ever so slowly and carefully. Leonard, an animal’s man, gifted with a sixth sense about them, calmed the creature down, and I'll be darned if he didn't maneuver that noose over his head and snare him.
Back at the house, Leonard promptly built it a cage. Examining the animal closely, we decided the beautiful Gray Fox might not be full grown. He fashioned a collar with a leash and ring on it and worked at taming it until he could lead the pet around on the leash. The fox grew to trust Leonard. But, if anyone else approached too close, frightened, it would back up snuggling against Leonard's legs, The pretty creature continued to tame as my brother spent time with it.
The cage it lived in only had a simple latch on the door. It wouldn't have been long before it would be tame enough to really enjoy. However, some thief came along during the night and stole the fox from its cage. Whether it was actually stolen or just freed by some well-meaning do-gooder we couldn't be sure, but we never knew who did it nor did we ever see the little pet again.
When about 14 years old, I found a petite, half-grown screech owl. Soft gray in color, half feathers and half fuzzy down, it couldn’t fly yet. I kept it in the back, screened porch, where it roosted up on a 2 x 4 ledge just under the ceiling. I visited the local butcher shop to scrounge lean pieces of meat from the bones and other remains from their throw-away container to bring home to feed the bird.
After opening the paper sack containing the meat scraps about three times, the young owl associated the paper’s crinkling sound with food and would fly down to me. With it sitting on my arm or hand, I fed the meat scraps to him by hand. It became full fledged and could fly well, so I would often take it outside and let it loose to sit alone up in the umbrella (china berry) tree at the back corner of the house. I never left it there for long: maybe an hour or so, or while I made the round trip to the butcher shop and back. Though he might change places, he always stayed in the tree. Whether inside or outdoors, as soon as he heard the sound of the paper he would fly right down for his meal. I killed an occasional sparrow or caught a mouse, and he especially liked those fresh wild desserts. He became a special attraction for all my relatives, friends and neighbors.
After keeping him for more than two months I returned from the store one time with his food, I found him lying dead under his tree. Crushed, with aching heart, seeing his lifeless little body there on the ground, my sorrow soon turned bitterness, for it struck me, clear as day, who the murderer had been. Beside myself, hurting inside beyond explanation, I marched two houses down the street, stepped up on the porch and whacked on the Boyles family door. The mother answered and asked how she could help me. I said, “Is Kenneth here?” Before she could answer and without another word from me, back in the house out of sight, 10-year-old Kenneth hollered out, “Darvil, I didn’t kill your damn owl!” With that spontaneous denial, he had admitted his guilt not only to me but to his saddened mother. Moreover, it sealed his fate with me.
Kenneth was at that age of having his first flipper and was desperate to make that first big kill. He had probably watched me leave the little pet in the tree, then with weapon in hand, went over just to look at it again and was simply overcome by the easy opportunity. His mother asked me to tell her exactly what had happened. After I told her the tragic story, I added that I would get even with Kenneth somehow. But, somehow I never did. What could one do with a 10-year-old? Beat him up? Besides, shortly, the poor kid’s name was worse than mud as the entire town heard of the horrible homicide.
On the subject of flippers (sling-shots). I
became so expert over the years, that after we married, the doves were
so plentiful down in the river-bottom trees that I could have kept my
family in meat with nothing but a flipper and rocks. On one
occasion, Jo and I entertained company, and for the main course of the
dinner, we dined on dove breasts roasted in chicken stuffing, Now and
then, I bagged a quail or cottontail with the weapon made with rubber
powered strips of inner tubes. If latex tubing existed at that time, I
had never seen it and I was unaware of it.