Gene and I were twelve years old in 1956. We lived in Parsons, Kansas, in the southeast corner of the state, thirty miles from the Oklahoma border. We lived in the northern part of town. Gene lived in the "Y". The MKT Railroad (MO. KN. and TX. (Otherwise know as the Katy)) shops and offices were located in Parsons. As the tracks headed north, they split into a "Y". One set of tracks went through the yards and proceeded to Kansas Citys "Union Station". The other set of tracks went east of Genes house and west of mine, and ended up in St. Louis.
On a Tuesday morning in August I headed to Genes with my 22-rifle under my arm. We had plans to go to the dam to shoot cans and bottles. We did a lot of target practice in the summer time. Gene lived three blocks from me. I would always go to Genes house to pick him up if we were going to the dam. He lived across the street from Martins Grocery store. I would stop there (if I happened to have money) first to buy candy. After which I would head to Genes.
As I entered Genes house, his mom was setting on the couch in the living room.
Hes in the kitchen, she said.
As I walked into the kitchen I saw Genes rifle lying on the table. Two boxes of 22 long rifle shells were setting beside it. Several shells were lying on the table by themselves. Gene walked into the kitchen, from the back yard. His dog was under his arm.
I asked Gene, What do you think youre doing with that dog?
Im taking him with us.
No youre not.
Yes I am. Hes going with us. He hasnt gone with us for a long time.
Not with me he aint. I dont care how long its been since hes gone with us he isnt going this time either, I told him, raising my voice.
Yes he is too. I want him to swim in the creek. He needs the time out, Gene said smiling. I hated that smile. He knew he was winning. As usual. I had to win this battle. I hated that dog worse than I hated Genes smile.
Genes dog was some kind of shorthair, squat legged, white-with-a-couple-of black spots, ugly, no-good, low down, cur of a dog. Dog wasnt worth nothin. I hated that dog. Gene thought his dog was great. Genes mom didnt like the dog, either. The dog was old. The dog stunk. The dog was stupid. Gene wanted to take the dog with us to the dam. Genes mom wanted us to take the dog to the dam with us. And lose him. I didnt want to look at the dumb dog.
If that dumb dog goes with us I aint responsible for him, I told Gene. I stood up straighter trying to get my point across.
Thats OK Ill take care of him, Gene said.
Yeah if he goes Ill shoot him, I said raising my voice for impact.
You wouldnt shoot my dog. You dont have it in you.
I needed more impact. I squinted my eyes. Looked Gene in the eye. And told him, You watch. You take that stupid dog with us and he wont come back. Im the meanest kid within twelve blocks. Ill shoot that dumb dog if you take him.
Genes mom came into the kitchen and said, good idea. But dont shoot each other.
Gene looked at his mom then turned to me and said, you look cross-eyed at my dog and youll pay, brother. Hes a fine dog. Youll not touch him. If you do boy are you in trouble.
Gene grabbed his rifle, shells, and dog, and headed for the front door. I grabbed my rifle and started to follow him.
Genes mom looked at me and whispered, do it.
Gene and I walked back east to the tracks, and headed toward the dam. We always walked to the dam when we had our rifles. Gene put the dog on the ground. As usual the dog started falling behind us. The dam was only a mile away. We passed the stockyards first, which were a half-mile from our houses. By the time we reached the stockyards, the dog was ten feet behind us. The stockyards were on the east side of the tracks, and on the West Bank of Labette creek. The ice plant was located on the West Side of the tracks. A road ran in front of the stockyards, went across the tracks and ran on west. Another road started by the ice plant and ended at the creek where the water plant was located.
Once we arrived at the creek we would start picking up cans and bottles. The dam was about two hundred yards east of the tracks. We spent many hours at the dam. Fishing, swimming, target practice, camping in the summer time. In the winter rabbit and squirrel were plentiful. We had built a lean-to shelter beside the water plant on the creek bank. The dam was the place to go. The dam was constructed from what seemed to us boulders. It wasnt poured concrete or earthen. Blocks were set in place and rose about twenty feet from the floor of the creek. The dam was one-hundred-fifty feet long. On the East End of the dam the wall came up two feet higher than the dam, extended into the bank. The wall came up another two feet, made a forty-degree angle, and went thirty feet. At the base of the wall, there was fifty feet of concrete going to the water edge. Feeder pens were to the east of the dam(cattle were held there for the stockyards sometimes). We would approach the dam from the west, sometimes following the path on top of the creek bank. Other times we used the rutted, muddy, cratered, so-called road.
Finally arriving at the creek the dog was thirty feet behind us. We had to wait for the dog to catch up, before we went to the dam.
I told Gene, Boy what a dumb dog. Hes so old he cant keep up. Its a good thing we didnt ride our bikes. He would still be on your porch.
Dont worry about my dog. Hell be just fine.
Im going to load my rifle. And start picking up some of these can and bottles that are lying around here. Maybe hell be here by then.
Gene had a single shot Remition. I had a Mosburg, auto load, semiautomatic. My rifle had 17 long rifle shells or 22 shorts. I always hated shorts. They didnt have any power. Our rifles kept rabbit and squirrel on our familys tables. Mom made a great squirrel stew; we liked it fried too. I took the loading rod out of the stock of my rifle, slid in seventeen long rifle shells. Replaced the rod and pulled the bolt back. A shell went into the chamber. The dog finally caught up with us. I started picking up the few cans than were lying around. Gene loaded his rifle and picked up a couple of bottles.
Gene said, you want to walk the path or take the road?
Doesnt matter to me. You think mabey there is more cans on the road?
Yeah probably lets take the road.
O.K. Ive got four or five cans. How many you got?
Ive got three or four. I see a six pack on the road with a couple of cans in it. the road will be the best way, Gene said.
Walking down the road, Gene picked up the six pack. Took two cans out and threw the carton away. I found three bottles in the weeds. Walking several feet Gene found two bottles and a can. Looking up we could see the small wall. That was just before the dam. A small pile of cans and bottles were setting on the ground against the wall. Our arms full of cans and bottles, we took what we had and added to the pile at the wall, leaving our rifles with the cans. We turned to the road. I went into the weeds on one side, picked up five or six more cans. Gene was on the other side of the road. He found three bottles and six cans.
Look what I found, Gene said.
Standing up I turned toward him saying, what?
An old tennis shoe.
Yeah another shoe. Throw it away.
I know. But you ever think why anyone would throw away one shoe? What happened to the other one? We always find one shoe. Or a shirt. Sometimes we have found pants. What happens to the rest of their clothes? Its funny what we find lying around here.
Yeah I know. What would your mom say if you went home with just one shoe? I know what mine would say. Id probably get spanked or something.
Id like to see that. Maybe Ill take one of your shoes and throw it in the creek. So you would get in trouble. Ha! Ha! Gene said.
You try and see what happens to you.
Ha! Ha! Good thing were not swimming, I would do it.
Wheres your dumb dog. Think Ill shoot him now.
Watch your self, boy. Leave my dog alone. Hes over by the wall. We have enough cans now. I want to let my dog swim before we start shooting.
We went back to the wall. Deposited our cans and bottles on the pile. Gene grabbed his dog. Carried him to the water above the dam. Gene swung his dog and let him go. The dog flew threw the air and hit the water fifteen feet from us. He swam back toward us. Got out of the water. Gene did this four more times. It took the dog longer to reach shore each time.
For crying out loud Gene, I told him, I wouldnt have to shoot your dog after all. Youre going to drown him.
What are you talking about?
Look at him dummy? His tongue is hanging out. Youve thrown him in five times. He can hardly make it back to us. Besides I want to do some shooting. Come on leave the stupid dog alone.
OK its tiring me out too. He had a good swim. Thats all I wanted him to do.
The dog climbed out of the creek, went to the wall, and lay down. Gene and I went to the pile of cans and bottles. Gene picked up two cans. I picked up three bottles. Going to the waters edge, Gene threw his cans twenty feet into the water through the opening someone had made. The bottles floated on their side but didnt fill with water. The opening was above the water and they couldnt fill.
Gene said, what do you want to shoot first?
The cans. When they fill with water we will only see the tops.
Yeah you need a big target dont you?
Shut up and shoot, Ill get my own. What one do you want?
Ill take the one on the right. You do the next. Let me shoot first.
Gene took aim. Squeezed the trigger. The round went through the side of the can, which filled with water and sunk. I raised my rifle, pulled the trigger six times. One round hit the water in front of the can. One round hit the water behind the can. One round hit the water to the left and above the can. One round hit the water below and to the left of the can. One round hit the water to the right beside the can. The last round grazed the top of the can and made it roll over.
Why do you do that? Gene said, you always just start blasting away. And you dont hit anything. You dont have a machine gun, you know.
Its fun doing that. I like the way the water splashes up when the bullets hit.
Youve fired six times and your can is still there. I fired once and my can is gone. When you take your time you hit what you are shooting at.
I know. But this is fun. I always hit the rabbits and squirrels though.
Well shoot like that then. You waste more shells than anyone I know.
I raised my rifle and took careful aim, fired once. The bullet went through the can, which disappeared under the water. Gene fired next and a bottle disappeared. After two boxes of fifty shells each, the cans and bottles had sunk to the bottom of the creek. We started back home. Unknowns to Gene I still had eight rounds left in my rifle. We jumped the wall getting back on the road and headed for the path on the creek. We were waiting for the dog as he climbed the wall. He was twenty feet behind me. Gene was ten feet ahead, standing on the path.
Hey Gene! Watch this, I shouted at him.
Gene turns toward me and says, what.
The dog was now twelve feet from me. I raised my rifle. The rifle seemed heavier than usual. The dogs forehead was square in the middle of my sight. The rifle gained more weight. I squeezed the trigger four times. The dogs eyes openened wide. His knees buckled under him. His forehead disappeared. He fell to the ground. Blood ran down his nose. As he was lying on the ground I put two more rounds into him. He didnt move.
Yyyou ssshot my dog, Gene screamed at me.
I told you I would if he came with us.
Ill break you head.
Your dog was old and sick. Your mom told me to anyway remember?
I know but I dont believe you would do it.
Hes happier now anyway. Thats what you always say.
He is. But you didnt have to shoot my dog. Get those two broken bottles over by the wall. There are a couple of sticks here. We will not leave him like this. We will bury him.
My rifle felt like it weighed twice what it normally did. It was a relief to put it down. I picked up the broken bottles. Gene had the sticks. We went into the weeds and cleared a spot. We both began to scratch out a shallow grave. Tears were running down both of our faces. I guess I wasnt the he-man I thought I was. Even though he was a dumb dog.
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