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Saturday, March 20, 2010
Cousin' Alonso and Old Bob the Exploding Dog
My grandpa used to tell this story to us when we were kids. He grew up in Keene, Texas, a small college town populated exclusively by Seventh-day Adventists. Most fundamentalist religious communities have strict expectations that local children will exhibit proper deportment and Keene was no exception. Good behavior is especially expected of any child whose grandpa was one of the founders of the local church and a full time minister.
My grandfather's Cousin Alonso was a notable rapscallion. Grandpa Adolph, a shy boy and the only child of the local school teacher, always held a sneaking admiration for Alonso's audacity in the face of remorseless authority. For all that Grandpa H.B. French might have been in the way of a paragon of virtue, nine year-old Alonso was determined to be his own man.
Old H.B. was a noted prayer warrior and often prayed aloud and with feeling up in the barn loft on top of any convenient hay pile. One day Alonso heard him praying about the end of the world and the second coming. When the old man got to the part about the fires of hell, Alsono set fire to the haypile. He was Keene, Texas' original special effects man. One stunt, however, nearly ended his career.
Alonso and my Grandpa, Adolph, decided to go fishing. Alonso's dad had been blasting stumps in his cotton field the previous week and Alonso was suddenly struck by one of those brilliant ideas that come to all such great minds when facts and necessity come together in a moment of inspiration.
1. Alonso wanted to catch lots of fish.
2. There were lots of fish in the pond.
3. Catching fish with worms and a cane pole is an inefficient way to catch lots of fish.
4. Alonso had heard that dynamite, set off underwater brings fish to the surface where you can scoop them up with a net.
5. There were quarter sticks of leftover dynamite in Dad's shed.
6. Alonso knew where the key was.
7. Dad and mom had gone to town for supplies.
In that sudden moment of over-whelming Socratic logic, all the elements of a successful fishing trip came together in a flash of juvenile (delinquent) insight.
Alonso, snagged a quarter stick of TNT, a fuse and some matches and headed for the pond with his posse, four or five local urchins, in tow. Grandpa and Old Bob, his faithful dog trotted along happily at Alonso's side.
It should be noted here that "Old Bob" was a girl dog. Grandpa was about 6 at the time and, the school board in those ancient times, had not yet instituted kindergarten sex education classes in the public school. Grandpa was, therefore, blissfully ignorant of how the whole dog gender thing actually worked. Old Bob later became a mom and Grandpa got several excellent retrievers out of her litters including the semi-legendary Dixie. But none was a better natural retriever than Old Bob.
You probably see where this is going, if the picture at the top of the page didn't give it away.
Down at the pond, Alonso prepared to launch his improvised explosive fishing device. He scratched a match to flame, touched the fuse and flung the sputtering stick of dynamite into the pond. He plugged his ears and turned away.
Even with his ears plugged, he could not fail to hear an unmistakable second splash that followed on the heels of the first splash made by the dynamite.
When everyone looked up, Old Bob was already swimming toward shore with the dynamite hissing and sputtering in her teeth. First she tried to give it back to Alonso, who shrieked like a girl and fled for his life up the nearest tree. Next she ran amongst the posse that had been lying just over the top of the dam waiting to observe their first underwater explosion. The posse, collectively uninterested in owning a genuine lighted stick of TNT, promptly scattered in all directions. Finally, Old Bob chased grandpa around the pond a few times and finally convinced him to take the dynamite from her.
Young Adolph snatched the stick of TNT and flung it toward the middle of the pond. He barely had the presence of mind to fall on Old Bob who was preparing to fling herself into the pond again in hot pursuit. The dynamite exploded about 6 inches above the water sending a loud report echoing off the steeple of the church and the high walls of Old North Hall clear up on the college campus. It being a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the explosion attracted all sorts of unwanted attention.
The boys scattered into the woods, but troops of alarmed parents soon had them all rounded up. In a trice, the town moms sorted out the guilty from the merely stupid and delivered them that deserved it, to their dads for a little 1920's rough justice.
Old Bob, confused by the ferocity of the blast, was always a bit skittish about the retrieving business after that. She took to sniffing dead ducks and tree limbs alike before agreeing to fetch 'em. She never again appreciated the smell of gunpowder and used to cock her head over ducks and quail that had been freshly shot, listening, I suppose, for any telltale hissing and popping sounds.
Wouldn't child protective services have fun with an incident like that these days?
That awful power, the public opinion of a nation, is created in America by a horde of ignorant, self-complacent simpletons who failed at ditching and shoe-making and fetched up in journalism on their way to the poorhouse. -Mark Twain