by Harley Hay from Red Deer, AB
Every once and a while I like to dig out my old class pictures. I have a laugh at hairdos, shake my head at how things have changed since, and grow quiet when we let those long-ago images of elementary school take us back into the swirling, misty moments of the past.
Grade Three. South School. I walked to South School every day, across the old wooden footbridge over the trickling Waskasoo Creek, always a stick or branch in my hand, always pausing to spit into the little creek off the little bridge. Spitting off the footbridge was an essential, instinctive ritual that seemed to be restricted to the specific social group known as “boys on their way to school”.
Often, I would walk with Glen. Glen lived in a broken-down house – more of a shack really –down the street from me. If the timing was right, we’d just join in on our way to school, kicking rocks down the sidewalk in the fall, throwing the odd snowball in the winter, floating little match stick boats down the gutter riverlets in the spring.
We never said much to each other. Glen wasn’t much for words. He had been ‘held back’ a grade or two in school, and he was much taller and bigger than the rest of the Grade 3s. He always seemed to me to be a bit embarrassed maybe, scrunching in the little desk in Mrs. Lougheed’s class.
But everyone like Glen – and everyone like his dog, Blackie. Blackie was a big old black lab, as quiet and gentle as Glen himself. Outside of school the two were never apart.
Often, Blackie would walk Glen and me to school, and then make his way back home by himself, and often Blackie would be there all by himself at the end of the school day, waiting to walk us home again. Those days with Blackie were Glen’s favorite days. And mine too.
Blackie wasn’t supposed to be at the school though. Glen’s mom had been told that dogs weren’t allowed in the school grounds, and Blackie didn’t have a license or even a collar for that matter.
There had been a couple of incidents with dogs biting kids at the school, but we all knew that Blackie would never bother anybody.
One spring day, the recess bell rang and I looked out the classroom window and saw Blackie sitting in the school yard. He was sitting in the shade by the baseball diamond. He’d heard the bell too, and that big old tail started wagging because he knew Glen would soon be there.
When the bell rang we all ran out of the classroom to the yard.
Glen made a bee-line straight for Blackie, with me right behind him. We were both instantly rewarded with a woof and a lick, but Glen was worried. He told Blackie to go home, that he wasn’t supposed to be there, that he would get into trouble. Glen never raised his voice, he just told Blackie very serious-like and Blackie knew he was in trouble. But Blackie wasn’t going anywhere.
By this time, most of our Grade 3 class had gravitated over to see Blackie, kneeling down for a hug, hoping for a lick on the cheek. The most popular girl in Grade 3, Penny Bond, was on the receiving end of a mighty slurp when we heard the sound of wheels on gravel.
The van pulled up right beside us. It was the dogcatcher.
“I have to take the dog,” said the Dogcatcher as he got out of the van.
He was carrying a pole with a loop of rope on it. It looked like a noose to me.
Nobody moved. Blackie woofed.
Glen kneeled beside Blackie, hugging him.
“He’s my dog,” says Glen. “It’s OK, he’s my dog, Blackie.”
But the Dogcatcher just took a step towards us, slowly swinging the pole. “I don’t see a license on this animal. He doesn’t even have collar. I have to take him to the pound, kid. If he’s your dog, you can claim him there, pay the fee and claim him at the pound.”
Glen, trying really hard now not to cry in front of all of his friends. He didn’t want to say that his mom didn’t have the money to get Blackie out of the pound; he didn’t want to say that if you take Blackie now, nobody will get him from the pound. He didn’t want to say it, but we all knew what happened to dogs that nobody claimed from the pound.
The Dogcatcher wasn’t listening. He took another step toward Blackie, and Glen started to cry and suddenly, somehow, we all stood in front of Glen and Blackie. We stood in between them and the Dogcatcher. And then Penny Bond grabbed my hand, and I grabbed someone else’s hand, and somehow we all linked together, and we were forming a circle - a huge circle of Grade 3 kids, arms outstretched, building a human fence around our friend and his dog.
It was one of those moments. One of those moments where you just know you’ll always remember, even when you’re old. Especially when you’re old.
We stood there in our circle, Glen and Blackie in the middle of that circle, the Dogcatcher outside of the circle, not exactly sure what to do now. Nobody said a word.
We would have stood there forever if it wasn’t for Mrs. Lougheed. Somehow she was out the back door of the school and calling to the Dogcatcher. They stood over by his ugly orange Dogcatcher van, and although we couldn’t hear what they were saying, we could see that they were having more than just your everyday, normal, boring adult-type conversation.
We hung onto our circle even harder now, and then something amazing happened. The Dogcatcher just got into his van and drove off. He didn’t say anything to us at all; he didn’t even look over at us. He just drove away.
When all the cheering and hugging and crying died down, Mrs. Lougheed got us all settled down in the classroom, Blackie sprawled in the corner at the back of the room, snoozing away contentedly for the rest of the afternoon. I had never seen Glen so happy.
Blackie never went on the school grounds again. He would wait for Glen on the boulevard across the street, in the shade. He was smart that way.
Glen and his dog and his Mom moved away that summer, and I never saw them again. But every now and then, I take out my old cardboard box of memories and pull out my Grade 3 class picture. If you look closely, there with all the silly smiles and goofy hairdos of proud and shiny eight year olds is an old black dog curled up at the feet of the biggest kid in the class.