Lucky: A Boy and His Brother's Dog
LUCKY: A BOY AND HIS BROTHER’S DOG
In my best Pete Rose stance, I punched the wiffle-ball into right field for a base hit. Heck, I was Pete Rose. My friends were Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, and Lee May. It was 1970 Cincinnati and we were 6 year-old boys.
I was Greg Cook (Cincinnati Bengals quarterback), Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals basketball great), and BatMan. Life was good.
But on this day as I rounded first base, I heard my mom calling me home through the open yards. So Pete Rose ran off the field, got on his trusty red bike and headed home... not to score a run but for dinner.
It's hard to imagine now that I was ever so skinny, but I could stick my small hands all the way around my arms. Tall for my age, I had two huge front teeth, a Frankenstein haircut, and the energy of a water bug on speed.
I threw my bike down in the yard behind our house on Cleander Drive and ran around to the front door and into the house. My mother was coming out of the kitchen.
Doris Williams was forty years-old. She was cookie-cut from a 60's and 70's sitcom. She had dark hair that she wore in a half bee-hive style with a pretty smile. Dinner was always on time and like June Cleaver, she may not have had what we call a "real job" today but was as much house manager as housewife.
I charged into the house and ran into the dining room. Looking up to my mom, i chirped, "Where's dinner?"
My mother put her arm around me and steered me into the TV room. Sitting me down on a blue sofa, she sat across from me in a blue easy chair that was my dad's throne. In a soft voice, she said, "It's not quite ready. It will be done in a few minutes." She paused and then seemed to talk even more softer and slower, "I want to talk to you about something."
"What's wrong?" I asked her with a puzzled look on my face. "Am I in trouble?"
"No, you are not in trouble," She started. "Your father has been transferred at work. So we will be moving soon."
"Leaving here? But, I like it here. All of my friends are here."
"I know, David. But you can make friends anywhere. It's a nice little town. It's called Cumberland, Maryland."
"Maryland?" I queried in a high-pitched voice. "That's a woman's name. Do they show Reds games on TV there?"
"Well, I don't know about Reds games, but I'm sure there are other teams up in the area that they show on TV."
"Do they have Gray's Drugs there?" I asked with the utmost urgency. Gray's Drugs was my favorite store in Cincinnati. The comic books were on the bottom shelf of the magazine rack and I'd run straight to the rack and literally dive into the comic books while my mom shopped.
Mom shrugged her shoulders and said, "Well, if they don't have Gray's they will have something just like it."
"What about King Kwik?" I asked. King Kwik was a popular convenience store in Cincinnati in the 60's and 70's. i used to get baseball cards and Icees there.
Mom assured me that there were convenience stores in Cumberland and places to buy baseball cards and Icees. Mom realized these things were very important to me and took them very seriously. For me, my world was baseball, superheroes, and my friends and family.
My brother Gary, who was five years older than me, had important issues as well. He loved Cincinnati. He had lots of friends and was getting ready to enter Delhi Jr.High School. Gary did not want to move either.
My oldest brother Melvin Jr. , who we called "Butch" had graduated from Oak Hills High School. The world was at his knees. He had many friends. He did not want to move to some little small town in Maryland. He would have a much better chance finding a good job in Cincinnati than in Cumberland, Md.
My father, Melvin Williams Sr., had the most at stake though. He had busted his ass working his way up on The B&O Railroad. The railroad had merged with C&O and was now The Chessie System. He was getting a promotion to Master Mechanic. He was not keen on moving to Cumberland but there was an opportunity there to move up and make a better life for his family. I was born in Cincinnati in 1963 after my family had moved from their hometown of East St. Louis, Illinois after my dad's first transfer with the railroad.
My parents knew there was not a choice in the matter but they wanted their kids to be happy. They bought a modest three bedroom house on Beechwood Drive in Cumberland. The house a few factors that were intriguing to a young boy. My mom did not drive so it was imperative that the house close to a shopping district. I was a little boy who loved candy, baseball cards, and comic books so stores were appealing to me as well.
My parents tried everything to sell me on the new house, including using my brother Butch to help pitch it even though Butch himself tried to stay in Cincinnati but then agreed to move.
Mom knew her son loved forts and playing cowboys and Indians and Army, so she tried this approach. She came into the TV room when Butch and Dad were in there and said, "David, the new house has woods in our backyard."
"Woods in the backyard?" I asked kind of puzzled, not sure what that would look like.
"Yes," Mom said softly and then continued, "Well, there is hill right behind our house after the backyard. After the hill is a flatland."
"It's called a gully," Dad chipped in.
"What's a gully?' I quizzed.
Dad answered, "It's a like a yard, it is flat but the surface isn't grass. It's real hard?"
"Like a parking lot?' I wondered out loud.
Dad answered, "It's not as hard as a parking lot there are a lot of rocks though but there are a lot of things you can do."
Butch chimed in, "You can play baseball and football there. I can also build you an underground fort in the gully."
I was almost sold, "An underground fort?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, it will be easy. I'll just dig a big hole in the ground and we will make you a fort," Butch promised.
Dad continued, "There is also a woods right behind the gully. I'm sure there are plenty of fun things to do like play Army and Hide and Seek." Feeling left out of the conversation Mom added, "And there's plenty of stores within walking distance!"
Now, this statement got me excited because now there was a real certainty that I would be able to continue collecting baseball cards and reading Fantastic Four and Batman comics. I was very interested in the conversation now as suddenly ol' Cumberland, Md did not sound so bad. I spoke out, "What stores? Gray Drugs? King Kwik?"
She started slowly, "Well, no Gray Drugs or King Kwik but there's a Thrift Drugs and a Drug Fair and a whole bunch of other stores within walking distance."
I was excited and just had to ask, "Are there any kids in the neighborhood for me to play with?"
Mom answered, "There are several kids including a kid your age right next door."
I was ready. I'd had heard enough about this little town in the state that had a woman's name and I was ready to say goodbye to my beloved Cincinnati Reds and Bengals and move onto bigger and better things at age of six. After all, I would soon have an underground fort of my very own.
Then it finally happened, on the day that Pete Rose would lead the National League All-Stars over the American League All-stars with a bone-jarring smash into catch Ray Fosse in the bottom of the twelfth at Riverfront Stadium in my Cincinnati, Ohio, our furniture was loaded onto a Mayflower truck and we were on our way to our new home.
It was exciting to finally reach my new home. Our new house was in fact brand new and bigger than our old one. I was still sharing a room with my brother Gary but now we have two stories instead of one. The gully and the woods were indeed fantastic to a young boy. Of course, I was too young to explore without my brother Gary but Gary was always a great big brother and let me tag along.
The sad thing was that Butch's shovel could not penetrate the hard surface of the gully and it was apparent very soon that my underground fort would remain a dream. We would find other uses for the gully and would spend many hours in the next six years playing soft ball and hide and seek in the gully.
I was only allowed to roam the neighborhood with Gary or take a walk with my mom. I could see kids all around the neighborhood but my mom wanted to become friends with Randy Manuel next door. Randy was my age and my height but was heavier and stronger than me. Randy wanted to hang around with my brother Gary more than me. Randy tried to bully me some so I really did not like him much. But, his mother Shirley was very nice and became friends with my mom. We would play games like Clue, Monopoly, and other board games at their house.
Gary met some friends and ran around the neighborhood and our part of town on their bikes. Butch got into motorcycles and found a new gang of friends to ride with. But the first few weeks were still sad. We were missing our home in Cincinnati and our friends. I was missing listening to Reds games and watching the Reds on TV. It was this obvious sadness that helped something happen that I thought never would. This event was outright miraculous in the eyes of a young boy.
It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. Gary had gone somewhere with some of his friends from down the street. I was very bored. I had a good imagination and was making the best of it. I was jumping around the backyard playing Batman by myself when I turned and spotted someone running through the gully. It looked like my brother Gary but he was carrying something.
As the figure got closer I could tell it was my brother running toward me but what was in his arms? There was something brown and white and very furry in his arms. What had he found?
He came running up the hill. "Look at my puppy," he exclaimed.
"Where did you find it?" I asked.
"I bought it in the pet store downtown, " Gary stated.
"There's no way Mom is going to let you keep him!" I said hoping with all of my heart that she would. I had always wanted a dog in Cincinnati but my mom and dad would not even discuss it.
"Mom is the one who gave me the money to get him."
"What kind of dog is he?"
"He is part Collie, part Cocker Spaniel," My brother Gary answered.
"What are you going to call him?"
"I don't know I have decided yet. He's kind of brown I thought about Smokey."
I suggested, "He's got spots why not Spot?"
"That's stupid," Gary said.
"We are lucky Mom and Dad is letting us have a dog so how about Lucky?"
"I'm not going to let you ruin my dog with a stupid name," Gary groaned.
But, after hours of thinking, Gary decided that Lucky did work as a name for his new dog. I was right, we were certainly lucky that we could have a dog because I never thought Mom would give in. She was OCD about cleaning and was even more OCD about complaining about cleaning. Anytime I thought about us having a dog I could picture Mom following the poor pooch around with a vacuum cleaner.
My brother Gary said about how he became Lucky’s owner, “Randy Winfield was one of the first kids I met…I spent a lot of time at his house. They had a Welsh Corgi names Tiny. One day we were all playing and a friend who lived on Church Street said he was going to buy a puppy from the pet store…I think it was on Baltimore or Mechanic Street. They were $3…I asked Mom and she said yes. They had about a dozen or more puppies in an elevated pen. He picked out a dog and I picked outa white puppy with large light brown spots. They said he was born on July 13, 1970 and was a cocker spaniel and collie mix.”
Lucky wasn’t house broken when Gary brought him home and Mom said he had to stay downstairs in the basement. Part of the basement was finished with a family room and the other part had not yet been finished. He stayed in the unfinished part when no one was there…he would eat all of the insulation out of the wall.
Lucky would soon discover that living with three boys guarantees that there will never be a dull moment. Dad eventually became a big Lucky fan. Mom would soon love him but she did not believe in showing affection to an animal. She never pet him but she was the hand that fed him and cleaned up after him.
We would try to keep him in the house when Gary left for school. Gary and his friends would walk to Washington Jr. High about a half-hour before I would catch the school bus to JohnsonHeights. Sometimes Lucky would go downstairs to Butch who would let him out early. Other times, we would get him in and then he would go right downstairs to be let out again. Some mornings when we would call him to come in so Gary could leave, he would hide in the bushes of the house across the street and wouldn’t come out until Gary was 2 or 3 houses away. Then he would run up next to Gary. He rarely followed up past the church and he never actually crossed Oldtowne Road.
Gary had a friend named Mike Buckalew who lived a couple houses away from us. My mom would go to their house too and talk to Mike’s mother Kate. They had a brown dog who was bigger than Lucky named Snoopy. When Lucky was a puppy, Snoopy would pee on Lucky so he did not like Snoopy too well. But when Lucky would go there he acted like he liked Snoopy.
Lucky would even go by himself to Kate’s and she would let him inside and feed him. One time we were all out in the neighborhood looking for Lucky and he was inside Kate’s house the whole time.
When Snoopy came into our yard, it was a different situation. Lucky would go nuts and bark and throw fits and follow Snoopy barking until Snoopy left the yard.
He liked to sit on the top of the hill in the back yard and look for rabbits and cats across the gulley in the woods. If he saw one, he would then tear down the hill, across the gulley and back up the hill into the woods. He was always filled with ticks after he chased the rabbit for awhile. On several occasions, he pulled leg muscles by taking off so fast and would limp around for a day or two. He would also come back gasping for breathe because he would run and chase until he dropped…didn’t know how to pace himself when he was chasing. We used to say that Lucky ran with his eyes closed because if he was chasing a rabbit, at some point the rabbit would turn off and Lucky would keep on running straight ahead.
Lucky thought cats were called “Em’s”. If we saw a cat we would say “go get ‘em!” After a while we would just say ‘em and he would jump up and start looking for a cat.
Lucky was Gary’s dog but he loved us all. He loved Butch as well and would wait up all night for Butch to come home. He always knew the sound of Butch’s cars and would go crazy when he heard Butch pull into the driveway.
Butch had a turtle pond in the basement for awhile and he didn’t like the turtles at all. We had to keep him out of there because he would try to get the turtles in his mouth.
Butch would take him to a pond by Allegheny Community College and Lucky would jump in and swim.
Although Lucky loved to swim, he hated to get wet. Mom would give him a bath but it took a lot of effort. We had to chase Lucky all through the house and carry him to the bathtub. He soon knew the word bath and would growl if you said the word.
Lucky was a puppy and I was a little boy, so I think we understood each other perfectly. We had one thing in common and that was we liked to explore. When we first got Lucky, he was too small to roam on his own and I was too, but as we both slowly got older – that changed.
By next summer, Lucky and I were both able to expand our roaming area. Lucky loved all of us. He would follow Gary every time he took his purple bicycle out of the house.
Lucky would wait for the sound of Butch’s car pulling into the driveway late at night and then be at the door to do a dance for him.
But, Lucky and I were very close, because as I became old enough to explore; Lucky also became old enough to explore.
By the Summer of ’71, Randy had moved from next door. I became expanding my boundaries and looking for new friends.
On the edge of Magnolia Court, touching Industrial Boulevard, and right in front of a huge shopping center lived two brothers that would become my friends.
Shawn and Damon Thomas lived in the house that overlooked Town and CountryShopping Center in White Oaks.
The parking lot was huge and hosted tennis ball games and was the lot we rode our bikes and played Cops and Robbers.
On the far left end of the shopping center was a bowling alley. Shawn, Damon, Lucky, and I would run into the alley and watch the bowlers. I enjoyed playing pinball machines but that part of the alley scared me. That part of the alley is where “the sweats” hung out.
I was not quite sure what sweats were but Shawn and Damon informed me that sweats were no good pot smoking punks. Thinking back, I think sweats were young hippies. It was the early 70’s and it was “The Age of The Hippie.” These sweats were not necessarily hippies themselves but future hippies. They wore long hair and often had a bad attitude and loved to push younger kids around.
Of course, Lucky was not inside the alley to protect us. He would be outside patiently waiting. Well, he may not have always of been patient as he would go into a barking spree and occasionally scratch the door but he would never leave.
The next store up from the bowling alley was Town and Country. It was a department store that was like a cross between a K-Mart and a Big Lots.
I fell in love with music as a kid and bought my first 45RPM single records at Town and Country for 59 cents. Whenever I could get a hold of some loose changes and decided not to spend a dime on baseball cards, I would head to Town and Country with Lucky right behind me and flip through the singles while Lucky waited outside.
The shopping center also had a Thrift Drugs, an Acme Grocery Store, and a few other shops but we would always end up at Village Dairy.
Village Dairy always had a box of baseball or football cards on the counter. They had hand-dipped ice cream and a little diner inside. The diner had great food and Mom and I would walk over and enjoy the Open-Faced Roast Beef.
No matter why I was going to Village Dairy. It could be anything to taking some money and a note from my mom for a pack of Pall Malls for her, or could be running in for a loaf of bread: I always had the cards as my goal and Lucky always waited for an ice cream sandwich from the freezer.
Jim owned the Village Dairy and he was an animal lover. He did not live far from us and had an old sheep dog named Sam in his front yard. Lucky and Sam would always engage in a bark-off whenever we passed.
Perhaps Sam knew that Jim would always come outside the store and give Lucky an ice cream sandwich when we were there. Lucky quickly became conditioned to the ice cream and looked forward to going to the Village Dairy.
I could see the disappointment in Lucky if we would be walking down the sidewalk of the shopping center and passed The Village Dairy. Then again, I was disappointed too if we walked passed there and I did not get any baseball cards.
When the Village Dairy closed around 1974, I do not know who missed it the most, me or Lucky.
Lucky would play tennis ball with us in Shawn and Damon’s side yard facing the shopping center. He tried to play football with us but that usually led to him getting in trouble as he got mad when I got tackled.
We could go inside and play games or watch TV and come out and Lucky would be right there waiting.
There were several dogs that ran free in our neighborhood back in the 70’s and people did not get too upset. It was a more care-free age.
Kids could roam the neighborhood and parents did not have to worry as much about child molesters or drug dealers. It was a different era. People were friendlier.
The railroad moved their headquarters to Huntington, WV and in 1976 we were on the move again. Once again, I was unhappy. Butch was working for the railroad and stayed in Cumberland. Gary stayed a few months at Doug Dunn’s and Doris Brady’s house and finished Fort Hill and graduated in 1976.
Lucky, Mom and Dad, and I packed up and moved to Proctorville, Ohio. Proctorville was/ is straight across the Ohio River from Huntington. Lucky ran and played with me and my new friends Jeff Westlake, Forrest Hardy, and Tim Watts.
He gained a new enemy in Forrest’s mean black cat Spooks and chased Jeff’s cats Tinker and Frosty up a tree and would try to chop the tree down by biting the bark off of it.
The neighbors did not take to Lucky like they did in Cumberland and we had complaints.
Lucky never seemed to adjust to the move. Gary came home but left rather quickly to go to college at University of Cincinnati. Butch would visit and the sound of his car in the driveway would send Lucky into fits of joy. But, Lucky missed them and he missed my friends in Cumberland. He also missed his gully and woods.
Lucky died about three years after our move at age 9. We find him laying in the bushes of our neighbors house in Proctorville. The doctor said his liver was badly damaged and perhaps he drank anti-freeze. Many neighbors did not like his roaming so I always suspected that someone poisoned him.
I remember him being at the vets and I was terribly shaken. I was shooting basketball with Jeff and I was saying to my self if I make five in a row maybe Lucky will live. Every thought in my mind was of Lucky. I cried more when he died than I did when anyone I ever knew including my mom and dad died. It was one of the saddest days of my life.
A dog provides everything a young boy needs when growing up. The dog is a bodyguard, a trusted friend, a constant fan, and he gies the boy unconditional love. His love gives the child confidence. They grow together and they learn together. They dream together and experience life together. Lucky touched more than one boy, he touched a whole family. It’s been almost forty years and I still miss him. I am just thankful I had him in my memories.