Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Festival Find

My last post about the Treasure Mountain Festival got me to thinking about the best thing I ever got there at the festival. It was in 1988, and what I got there that day seemed destined to be, or so I like to think. My best item from the festival was my dog and childhood companion, Speck. Speck was my best friend and we sure spent countless hours together traipsing over the hills and hollows of North Mountain.

Me, Speck and our cat, Milo, at the holler rock.

Prior to getting Speck, my brother and I had been pestering mom for several months about how we wanted a dog, and we had actually even went to see about getting a couple of them, but none of them “spoke” to us. They were either too big, too little, too wimpy, or something always seemed to be keeping us from getting a dog. Mom said what we needed was a “waller” dog, you know, a dog that you could play with and waller around with. Well, we certainly wasn’t thinking about a dog when we attended the festival that year, but one of the first things my eyes peeled upon getting out of the car, was a sign that said “Free Puppies”. I grabbed Jason by the arm and we made a bee-line for the stand.

My brother Jason, our dog Brutus, Me, Speck and our cat, Mouse.

Unfortunately when we got there, all the puppies were gone, but the lady told us to come back before we left the festival because sometimes people bring puppies back after they realize that they just can’t handle one. Well, our hearts sank but we did mull around the crowd and had a fairly decent time. When we got ready to leave, we stopped by the “Free Puppies” stand again, and the woman told us that a little boy had brought back a puppy after learning that his mother said he couldn’t have it and that she had saved it just for us. She then proceeded to lift this little black and white speckled puppy out of a cardboard box and handed him to me. My first look at that puppy was like an epiphany to me, he was just perfect. When I took him from the lady, the first thing he did was lick my face, and my brother reached over to petted him, and it licked his arm. I know now that we were destined to grow up with each other, and that is why it took us so long to settle on a dog.

A group of friends..Speck, Jason, Tippy, Matthew & Brutus.

Well our puppy was certainly a “waller” dog, he loved to play and he loved to eat, and we decided before we ever left Franklin that his name would be Speck. Those first few weeks, he grew like a weed, no doubt because of all the food we fed him. His little belly was tight like a drum. Mom let us keep him inside until he got big enough to be put outdoors under one condition, we had to give him a bath every other day. She claimed to have read that if you wash a puppy in Woolite that it wouldn’t dry out their skin, so Jason and I religiously gave Speck his allotted bath so we could keep him inside with us for as long as we could. I remember that first night when we went to bed, we took Speck into our bedroom with us, and he was supposed to sleep in his box, but halfway through the night Speck somehow managed to cajole his way into sleeping in my bed, and we got to playing in the wee hours of the morning and he fell off the bed. Well, I let out a howl, I was sure that Speck was dead, but when Jason and I managed to get him out from under the bed, he was just fine. In fact, he licked Jason’s face and tried to climb up the cover to get back up on my bed. We just knew we had us a prize dog right then and there.

Me and my baby, Speck.

By the time November came along, Speck had already grown enough to be able to stay on our front porch. We had built him a little doghouse and decorated it with old clothes and a soft pillow. He had him a doggy mansion. Then, later in the month when deer season rolled around, Speck feasted on countless deer bones. I remember one in particular he made his favorite and carried it with him everywhere he went. He still had that thing the following spring! I don’t know that he ever ate it.

Well as time passed, it became apparent that Speck was my dog more so than he was Jason's because he seemed to follow me everywhere. The next summer, when I’d climb the apple tree, Speck would even try to climb it too. He’d make it up about 3 or 4 branches, and then just sit and wait for me to come back down. Nobody had ever seen a dog climb a tree before, but Speck could. Speck used to love playing basketball with us too, the only problem was, he liked to roll the basketball around in the yard like he was rounding it up. He could steal it away from you mid-dribble! He was good at stealing the ball.

Speck, the best dog ever!

I remember one time my Uncle Tom ran over Speck with his Volkswagon, and just luckily, the only damage it did to Speck was give him a little cut him across the nose. Uncle Tom still says he remembers seeing me crying, and giving Speck bath in an old metal washtub. I wanted to make sure he was alright and I needed to clean his wounds. They say the tears were just dripping off my face and down into the bathwater. Everyone says that Speck getting ran over hurt me far worse than it hurt Speck. There was a lasting scar on Speck from his getting ran over…he had a giant scar in the shape of an “M” right across his nose. Everyone said that was just to mark his as my dog, since that is the first initial of my name.

As we grew older, Speck grew older with us. He was our loyal protector and loved us as much as we loved him. Every time we were outside, he would be by our side and ready for our next adventure. One of the hardest things about going off to college was leaving Speck. When I’d call home, Speck would be waiting at the front door for me to come outside and play, he just couldn’t understand why I never came outside. So when I’d call, Mom or Dad would hold the phone down to him and I’d talk to him a little bit. They always said that really cheered him up and that he would be okay for a day or so, but mostly they said he would just lay around and pine away for his playmates to rejoin him for another adventure. I remember how happy he’d get when I’d come home for weekends, he’d be so happy that our little team was reunited again, even if only for a short while, that he'd pee all over himself.

Me & Speck, Spring 1995.

Speck came up missing right before Christmas of my freshman year of college. People said he had just lost his will to live, and they all figured he just went up on the mountain and died, as dogs will sometimes do. When I came home for the Christmas holiday, I looked all over that mountain but never did find him, and even to this day I find myself wishing to see my old friend just one more time.


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

What a heartwarming -- and heartbreaking -- story. You always talk so fondly of Speck. How lucky to have grown up with such a loyal friend.

Jason Burns said...

Hmmm... you didn't mention two things - that we got the name Speck from Big Top Pee Wee (it was the name of Pee Wee Herman's dog), and the whole Rich Warner thing. Yet I digress...

Matthew Burns said...

No Jason. I didn't forget about the Rich Warner/Crumphead situation, but it would add nothing to this story. It would only anger my blood up and lead to a cussin' tirade.

tipper said...

Speck sounds like one more dog! Our little Ruby has been known to squirt from excitment too.

I love the comments between you and your brother.

Granny Sue said...

Your story reminded me of our dog Jessie. She was so private about eating, using the bathroom and evidently about dying too. When she was about 16 years old she just left. We never found her, although we looked for a long time. She was mostly blind and deaf by that time, but seemed otherwise to be healthy. We still miss her, and still tell Jessie stories. Our dogs are part of our families, aren't they?