always comes suddenly in Mississippi. One moment everything is gray,
next moment the first tentative leaves and buds appear, and then there
eruption of green, not the deep, lush emerald of mid-summer or the
green of the late summer, but the bright, exciting, vibrant green of
The spring of 1957 was no different. My sister Jo-Jo had been born in
and I would turn four in June. Somewhere between these two events we
When we got
Scrappy our family lived
only four blocks from the Greenwood-LefloreCountyHospital
where Jo-Jo and I had been born and three blocks from the YazooRiver.
Scrappy was the runt of his litter and had already received his name
was so small that he was no bigger than a handful of table scraps.
he was fed table scraps most of his life, and prophetically, he was
getting into scraps with other dogs.
I can’t say
for sure, but Scrappy’s
arrival in our lives may have had something to do with Jo-Jo’s birth.
have been an attempt to keep me from being underfoot all the time.
Momma didn’t work outside of the home, we had no TV, and I didn’t read
well yet. I was used to being read to whenever the whim struck me or I
playing. Scrappy was a perfect playmate.
small when we got him
and of completely indeterminate breeding; but he grew quickly as dogs
more quickly than little boys, and soon reached maturity. When fully
Scrappy was shaped just like a Vienna sausage with short, stubby legs,
pointed tail, and floppy ears. He was mostly white (when not dirty,
often) with a few black and brown patches, mostly on his back. But his
striking feature was his face. Scrappy’s left eye was a perfectly
eye, but his right eye was completely white except for the pupil. I
if he had no iris or if it was white like the cornea. To add to the
effect, Scrappy had a brown ear over his white eye and a white ear over
brown eye and a moist, black nose in the middle of his face. Some
thought this made him look slightly confused all the time; some people
it just made him look stupid. But Scrappy was not stupid, even if he
As evidence of
Scrappy would always stop and look both directions before crossing the
Whether he learned that from me or I learned it from him, I’ll never
he always did it. This was a good thing for Scrappy went with me
went, and we were often crossing the street to play with Gail and Gary
lived directly across our street or going down the street to Penny’s, a
teenaged girl who would watch me if Momma needed to run an errand
without me tagging
along. Incidentally, it was Gail and Gary who first told me that
someday. I was appalled and immediately ran home to confirm this with
She assured me that the information I had received was correct but
by telling me that chances were good that neither I nor anyone I knew
likely to pass away any time soon. That was re-assuring, but I spent
days rather concerned about the whole concept.
Scrappy and I
also spent many an
afternoon lolling in a patch of clover under the warm summer sun. As
dogs are wont to do, I would lie on my back and stare at clouds
across the sky and Scrappy would sit by my side so I could scratch his
always alert for any impending danger, whether from a renegade squirrel
crossing the yard or a vicious robin searching for worms.
was large, grassy, and
unfenced with apple trees and a swing set. Of course Scrappy couldn’t
swing set as much as I could, but he would watch attentively as I swung
and forth in lazy arcs, higher and higher.Once I jumped from the swing at the highest
point just to see how far I
could go. As it turned out, I was able to go far enough to land with a
thud and be knocked out. The first thing I remember after coming to was
licking my face. That’s the kind of dog he was, always looking out for
people that he loved.
There was also
a low wooden shed in
the backyard that we used as a doghouse. The doghouse was large enough,
was small enough, so that I could actually get in it with Scrappy. My
were of the opinion that pets should stay in the yard, so no matter how
pleaded, Scrappy was not allowed to sleep in the bed with me. Instead,
to share his doghouse, although Scrappy did not always sleep there.
slept in the crawlspace under our house.
Scrappy’s most rash
quality was that if one or two, or even five, strange dogs so much as
Leflore Street, much less into our yard, he would immediately single
largest dog and attack him without batting an eye. Whether this was to
his family (us), to protect his territory, or just some innate
we never knew, but he was garrulous. Despite the vigor of his attacks,
invariably proved his undoing. He would come crawling, usually torn and
bleeding, back into the yard and establish himself under the house.
Subsequently, I would spend several days crawling under the house with
water bowl and food dish. After a few days, Scrappy would come limping
the backyard to take the sun, and in a few more days he would be as
new. Scrappy would have been a veterinarian’s dream. Just imagine all
bills for shots and stitches. But I can’t remember a single time that
him to the vet for repair (only for his regular injections). Daddy
crouch down, peer under the house, and say something like “Well, Boy,
learned your lesson yet?” But Scrappy never learned, despite all the
nearly proved his undoing.
Life for us in
those days was a
seemingly unending string of days to be enjoyed to their fullest. Life
slower then, and the whole world, at least for several blocks in any
and countless adventures were open to us. Scrappy and I roamed the
making friends. Once, three other young boys, Scrappy, and I were
the backyard trying to think of something exciting to do, when one of
fellows, obviously of a sound geographical bent, suggested that if the
was round and China was on the other side of the world, all we had to
dig a hole straight down and we would eventually reach China. We knew
would take some time, but time was something we had plenty of, so we
scattered to our respective fathers’ tool sheds for shovels and picks
reconvened in the backyard that, for some reason, seemed most likely to
success, eager to be the first in our neighborhood to visit China.
We began to
dig furiously but soon
settled into a more reasonable pace. After scratching at the hole for a
Scrappy became bored and settled down for a nap. Our hole was about
in diameter and three feet deep when someone, obviously of a more
than geographical bent, mentioned that if we dug all the way to China
bound to run into Hell first. Excavation stopped immediately as we
and cautiously peered into our hole, expecting at any moment for the
from the Underwood Deviled Ham can, complete with horns, Van Dyke
tail, and pitchfork, to leap up and drag us down to perdition. We may
young but we had all spent enough time in Sunday School to know when
souls were in peril. Shovels and dirt flew as the hole was refilled and
the scene as if the very Hounds of Hell were on our heels. I think the
away was the only part Scrappy actually enjoyed.
decided to build a
swimming pool in one of our backyards. Since we had seen no sign of
our previous excavation or even the smell of brimstone, we felt we were
long as we didn’t exceed the three-foot-deep limit we had established.
So as to
avoid having nothing more than a muddy hole, we decided to line our
bricks. With great anticipation we uncoiled the garden hose across the
turned on the faucet. To our great disappointment, our brick lining
significant difference: we still had a muddy hole, a muddy, brick-lined
with so many days stretching before us we didn’t stay disappointed for
Our days did
have regular schedules
between rising and retiring: three meals which most families ate
the table without the TV on, the dreaded afternoon nap, Dad’s return
and the also dreaded bath. Although, in honesty, the bath was only
an interruption. With enough toys in the tub, it became just another
my father pulled into
our driveway in our white ’59 Ford a little after ,
the work day over, and asked me if I wanted to go
the movies with him. I was only five years old and thought it was a
idea. Our family went to drive-in movies often, and my mother had taken
walk-in theatres, but Dad and I had never been to the movies together.
a movie! “Ol’ Yeller”, a boy and his dog, a classic. I cried at the end
still do. Obviously I returned home determined to keep an exceptionally
eye out for any rabid animals in our neighborhood. After all, I had
followed their courses.
I lived in little striped T-shirts and shorts in the summer (usually
bare-foot); added a sweater, shoes, and cap in the fall and spring; and
to long pants (jeans) and a coat when winter came. Of course Scrappy
anything but a collar and a few scars from his fights. Fortunately
too young to want to dress him up in silly clothes. Scrappy was so
young children, he probably would have let her, but I’m sure I wouldn’t
been able to stand it.