Roger, the handyman codger, is making repairs to the gold mine next to ours in this haven of happy has-beens. His retriever, so far, has dogged his every step and supervised every move. The job, you can be sure, will be done right by Rover, and Roger will get all the credit.
When our son finished college and went to do his military service, his boyhood pup was on the nether end of his skein. He patted the pooch and said adieu, but Prince had subdued his last woodchuck and one of our weekly letters shortly told our son his dog was gone. Winter wore on, the year was at the spring, and our boy came home on his first furlough.
The apple buds were swollen, but the orchard had not bloomed. I'd started to plow a piece of ground for factory beans, a cash crop to help with taxes, and the new-turned soil made me remember Prince. Prince loved to plow with the same devotion Roger's dog gives to Roger the codger.
Prince would walk behind the plow, his nose just abaft the heel of the plowshare, so the sod rolled from under his head, and he walked there all day, helping the plow, pausing at the end of the field to let the tractor turn. The driver of the tractor took care not to back over the foolish dog.
So the lad, home from the Army, rose well before daylight to resume plowing where I'd quit last evening. The morning was well before 7, and he had gassed the tractor the night before. By breakfast time the ground should be nearly ready to harrow. Mother had made his favorite plogues (pronounced "ployes"; they're like pancakes, but without the eggs or milk) with wild strawberry jam for a special breakfast. But when he came into the kitchen he did not say "Plogues!" as she expected. Instead, he said, "I can't plow without Prince!"
He said, "I keep looking to see where he is. I'm scairt I'll back over him. He keeps me all fuddled up and he's not there at all!"
Then he said, "Go find me a dog and I'll finish plowing. I can't plow without Prince!"
Prince, I got to thinking, had many other ways to amuse us. I used to take packages of quick pudding mix to our sugar camp during maple season and cook off a whole bunch at once for the youngsters who would come to see how syrup gets made. The puddings were in several flavors and I poured them off in paper cups to cool. Prince would beg for a pudding, and he'd take it around back of the sugar house, paper cup and all. He was too smart to eat such poor stuff and left the puddings and paper cups for me to find when the snow was gone. I'd forgotten that Prince ate only from his personal dish.
When he was the merest pup, Prince went to obedience school. On graduation night all the dogs were set at charge, and Prince looked very good. Just then some boys heaved a cat through the open window, and every dog broke his charge except Prince. He kept his charge and never turned a hair. The judges didn't know what we knew.
Before that, Prince had wandered unwarily into our barn, where our lady barn cat considered herself in charge. She had climbed aboard, dug in her pins, and had ridden Prince three miles over into Webstertown. Prince mortally feared cats. He won the prize.
But the best Prince trick was stealing tennis balls. The college had courts surrounded by a hurricane fence. When a ball was lobbed over the fence, a dog would appear from nowhere, snap it up, and run away before a player could get outside the fence. The police chief came to ask if I had a dog that stole tennis balls. I said I had a dog and I wouldn't wonder, but tell me more.
Two years later, we repaired our back steps and found where Prince had hidden 178 tennis balls. As to not eating those puddings, like all our pups, Prince was taught as his first lesson never to eat except from his own dish. Bring the dish, and we'll put food in it. This kept dog lovers from handing snacks they shouldn't to our dogs, and kept the dogs from scavenging up and down the county.
But we never taught Prince that on picnics we relaxed the requirements of cuisine and forwent the refinements of high society.
We often had family picnics under the big oaks by the spring, up in our farm woodlot. With aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, school chums, and strays, we would sometimes be a goodly group. Prince would attend.
And when the picnic fire had turned to embers and it was time to cook the biscuits and with-its, Prince would disappear. He'd trot the mile through the fields and home to the house to get his dish so he could eat with us.