Published on August 4, 2020
Grandpa Ruffo and his bigmouth terrier
By Roy Edwards
“This story takes place in the mid- 1920s during my father’s teen years on the family farm outside Tennessee Colony, Texas It is one of Dad’s favorite stories.
It was late summer. The fields had been harvested, and there was little to do for a week or so before the fall planting began. Grandpa Ruffo and kin met after church a couple of weeks before and decided on a week-long camping, fishing, and hunting trip. It would be a week of eating, storytelling, relaxing and renewing friendships. Everyone was invited. You came when you could, stayed as long as you wanted, and brought whatever you thought would be used or eaten.
Grandpa Ruffo and his five sons decided a wagon sheet was needed to shelter the kitchen area of the campsite. (Wagon sheets are the canvas sheeting that protected the contents of covered wagons during the westward expansion.) Since Grandpa Ruffo did not own a wagon sheet, he had decided to borrow one from a neighbor several farms away.
My dad and his four brothers were given the task of getting the wagon sheet and bringing it back to Grandpa Ruffo’s. Wagon sheets were large, stiff, heavy and hard to fold. It would take all five of these farm boys to carry the sheet home.
A little mutt that looked like a Rat Terrier was the family dog at that time. He had been the runt of the litter and weighed in at about 10 pounds, but what he lacked in size, he made up with attitude. He charged the bull in the corral with the same enthusiasm he used taking on a rat invading the corn crib. He was vocal. He used the same dog language and vocabulary as a Marine drill Instructor, and he used it constantly. When the boys got the sheet, the terrier went along.
About halfway to their destination was the Weems farm. The front yard was surrounded by a decorative white picket fence about three feet tall. Inside the yard were Mr. Weems’ two oversized unchained Doberman Pinschers. As the boys passed the farm, the terrier stayed with them – at least physically. Audibly, it was a different story. If his dog language could be understood, it probably would have turned the air blue and could not be printed in a family newspaper. But the crew went on to their destination to get the wagon sheet without incident.
The boys’ return trip passed by the Weem’s farm again. But this time, events took a different turn. The Terrier had spent his time on the way back thinking of more insults for the dogs behind the cute little picket fence, and he decided to hang back from the boys to make sure the Dobies got the tongue-lashing they so richly deserved.
The boys were about 100 yards down the trail when the two Dobies decided they had enough. They looked at each other, grinned, and stepped over the cute little picket fence.
When faced with a dangerous situation, you decide on fight or flight. The Terrier chose flight. Yelping at the top of his lungs, his head turned while watching the Dobies, and he took off toward what he hoped would be the protection of his humans. The Dobies loped easily along behind, their teeth glinting in the sunlight.
The boys stopped and turned to see what was going on. When brothers work, play, eat, and sleep together, sometimes they think together. They looked at the Terrier, then at the Dobies, then at the wagon sheet. They looked at each other. There were no words spoken. They just stretched the wagon sheet across the trail.
The Terrier hit the sheet running for his life while looking back to see how far the Dobies were from his tail. The boys rolled the Terrier up in the sheet.
Dad said he never heard a more pitiful assortment of yips and sounds coming from inside the wagon sheet as the Terrier struggled to get free. The Terrier may have thought that one of the Dobies had swallowed him whole.
After a few minutes, the boys unrolled the sheet. They experienced an unanticipated crisis - probably what happens when a small dog thinks he’s been eaten alive. Sometime during all the frantic screaming, crying, tossing and turning trying to get free, he lost control of all his body functions. Now, the wagon sheet was in no shape to serve as a shelter.
After a mile and a half detour to Catfish Creek and two hours of scrubbing the sheet and the dog, the boys got back on the trail to home.
(Write Roy in care of The Bulletin. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)