It was a cool evening in late September 1927, one of those autumn days you wish would never end. The sun had gone down but a street light recently installed at the corner of Indiana and Pennsylvania Avenues cast dim bouncing shadows in front of “The Kid” as he hurried home. He should have been happy from playing with his buddies all day, but all he could think about was how upset his Dad would be. “A nine year old boy has no business being out after dark…”, he could hear his Dad saying.
The kid began thinking about what excuse he would use this time, but suddenly his thoughts and fears were interrupted by a yapping ball of black and white fur that came bounding out of the bushes beside him. The kid stooped over for a look, exclaiming, ‘Well, where did you come from, boy?” The dog responded by wagging its tail and barking like it had just found its new best friend. It leaped into the kid’s arms and began licking him all over the face. “You must belong to someone,” the kid said as he stood up. “You better come home with me. We’ll find your owner tomorrow.”
After school the next day the kid, at his Dad’s instruction, checked with every family in their neighborhood and for blocks around, but with no luck in finding the dog’s rightful owner. As for luck, it depended on who you asked. The kid was feeling pretty lucky when he returned home with Prince, which he had already decided was a suitable name. His Dad said Prince could stay and the kid could tell from the look in his Dad’s eyes that he was just about as happy as the kid to have Prince as a new member of the family.
Prince was only five or six months old but he was already one smart dog. He quickly learned that he was only permitted to follow the kid and his brother and sisters as far as the corner when they walked to school. After they were out of sight Prince would return home and spend the rest of the day following the kid’s Dad, as he worked in the greenhouse and tended his fields of vegetables and flowerbeds for the family’s floral and truck garden business.
Prince also followed the kid’s Dad to the fields and woods at the edge of town when he went hunting for rabbits and other small game, which in those days was an important part of the supper menu. To look at Prince you couldn’t tell what breed of dog he was, but whatever the breed he was a good hunting dog. In no time at all Prince learned to sniff out, point, and retrieve game like he had been doing it for years.
The kid’s Dad used a 12 gauge shotgun, which was way too much gun for the kid, but he almost always tagged along and learned a lot about hunting just from watching his Dad work with Prince. When the kid turned 12 his Dad decided it was about time he stopped watching and started hunting.
Together, the kid and his Dad went to see Casey Young, a friend that owned a gasoline service station and who also sold guns and ammo. The kid’s Dad picked out an old, but still reliable, 16 gauge shotgun, which suited the kid just fine. But before the kid could use the gun he had to pay for it. This was accomplished by shoveling four tons of coal into the bin for Mr. Young, plus other chores he needed done.
After some instruction in the proper care of a gun and hunting safety, the kid’s Dad took him out a few times, mostly to observe that the kid understood the safety rules so as not to hurt himself or someone else. The day finally came when the kid was ready to go hunting by himself, accompanied by Prince of course. He was counting on Prince to sniff out rabbits and other game just like he’d watched him do scores of times for his Dad. With six shells in his pocket, off they headed to a good hunting area at the edge of town.
When they arrived the kid put a shell in his gun, and with a wave of his hand gave the command, “Go on Prince, find us a rabbit.” But instead of tearing out across the field in search of a rabbit, Prince sat there and looked at the kid like it wasn’t his job to do anything except watch. At first the kid tried coaxing Prince into action with a playful tone, but with no luck. Then he tried making his voice sound like his Dad’s as he sternly commanded Prince to hunt, but that didn’t work either. Frustrated, the kid finally headed out across the field only to have Prince jump to his side with tail wagging like he thought they were headed to the swimming hole or to a buddy’s house to play ball.
With some effort the kid finally flushed out a rabbit, raised his gun, took aim and fired, only to watch the rabbit bound away. This went on for about an hour by which time the kid was down to two shells. With the fifth shell, and no thanks to Prince, he finally winged a rabbit enough to put it down. He picked up the rabbit and headed for home, embarrassed by the thought of trying to explain to his Dad that Prince wouldn’t hunt.
At home the kid shooed Prince under the porch, then went to the barn, where his Dad was doing chores, to explain what had happened. With some embarrassment he showed his Dad the rabbit, then began telling him that all Prince wanted to do was tag along and play instead of hunting like he was supposed to.
The kid learned an important lesson that day about dogs, leadership and respect. “Son,” his Dad began, “Prince sees you as another member of the pack, sort of his equal, someone to play with. He sees me as the leader of the pack, the one who gives the orders and commands respect but without really asking for it. You have to earn a dog’s respect and it’s the same way with people; it requires gentle but firm discipline. That’s why Prince will hunt for me but only wants to play with you.”
Years later the lesson learned from his Dad that day would serve the kid well. He enlisted in the Army during World War II and it so suited him that he made a career of it, rising to the rank of Command Sergeant Major, and gaining the trust, confidence, and respect of those who served under his command in both Korea and Vietnam.
As you may have surmised, “The Kid” was my Dad. This is an abridged and edited portion of a story Dad wrote in December 1988, at age 70, sharing some memories of his boyhood in Marion Ohio and of his dog, Prince. To be continued.
George Brown is a freelance writer. He lives in Jackson Township.