By Constant Latakia
It was late fall in 1938, a Saturday afternoon, to be exact, and the neighborhood boys were coming home from the movies along a path running between the railroad tracks and the river, something their fathers suggested they not do. For safety, fathers recommend the sidewalks, even though it isn’t near the fun.
Along with the boys is Spud, an odd cross of several canine breeds resulting in a joyful and friendly forty-two pounds of pooch. Spud somehow knows when the show lets out and manages to meet the boys each Saturday, primarily to run back and forth from the front to the rear as they walk home along the narrow path. As the boys get closer to home, they move off and go their separate ways, but Spud always stays with his boy.
At that time of year, the neighborhood is often gray with the smoke of burning leaves on a Saturday, and the smell is everywhere. Spud always walks with his nose in the air, smelling the smoke as if trying to detect the individual species of the burning leaves.
But then, Spud knows that he is only looking for one smell amid the many; leaves of the old man who lives in the house with Spud’s boy. He burns leaves all year round, puffing to keep his leaves burning in that piece of wood he holds in his mouth. It’s Spud’s favorite smell, after that of raw meat, naturally.
Spud followed the same Saturday routine for many years. But the day came when the boys were no longer going to the movies on Saturday. Spud hung around the house most of the time, reclining next to the old man and smelling the leaves burning in his piece of wood. Spud’s boy wasn’t around much lately.
For the third day in a row, Spud awoke, walked into the kitchen for some water, said hello to all there, and then looked for the old man throughout the house. Spud couldn’t find him or smell his burning leaves and ran outside, hoping he would be in the yard or taking a walk. Unable to understand why he couldn’t find the old man, Spud entered the house at the first chance, went to the old man’s chair, laid his head on it, and felt lonely.
Spud’s boy became concerned and tried to pay more attention to Spud, to play with him when he could, but Spud had lost all interest and felt very old in his loneliness.
One day Spud’s boy came home and saw that Spud hadn’t eaten his food. Deciding Spud wasn’t getting enough exercise, he got Spud’s leash from the hook on the back door, attached it to Spud’s collar, and forced him outside.
With his head down and his tail between his legs, Spud walked along next to his boy. Sped knew he should because that’s what his boy wanted. Somewhere near the middle of the next block, Spud’s ears stood, his tail wagged, and he started sniffing the air. Tugging at his leash, Spud struggled to cut across a lawn. He excitedly started up the steps to a porch where an old man, sitting on a porch swing, made clouds of smoke with his piece of wood.
Spud’s boy started to apologize for Spud’s actions, telling the man he didn’t understand what got into Spud, but the man held up his hand to stop the apology and started rubbing Spud’s head. Spud stood there sniffing and wiggling like a puppy. Spud’s boy told of Spud’s decline since the death of the boy’s own grandfather, speculating that it might have something to do with pipe smoke. The man agreed and said that Spud is welcome any time.
From that day on, until Spud passed away and went to join his boy’s grandfather, Spud would trot to the house a block and a half away and spend the day with his new old man and his pipe. However, Spud always got home each evening in time to greet his boy when he drove into the driveway.