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Bruce - Whence Came Thee and Where Didst Thou Goeth?

by:Casen Doors     2020-09-09
I remember him well. He was much taller than myself; I only came up to his shoulders. He had longish light brown almost ginger hair, a beautiful set of teeth, and one strange rather crooked floppy ear. He was playful, great fun and had a beautiful loveable nature. We, that is my two elder brothers, the neighbours' kids and myself, used to push and shove him, dress him in old hats and clothes, pull his ears and tail, try to ride on his back, prod him, poke him, roll him over on his sides, yell at him, laugh at him, make fun of him & generally give him a bad time, and he loved every minute of it all, his wagging tail told us so!
He just loved the excitement, the noise, the shouting, and the fun & games with the whole gang in our secret hiding place: we even tried putting him in an old pram and pushing him around the local streets but he'd jump out after only a few seconds of that thank you very much! We'd all meet up after evening teatime at our secret den in the thick bushes on the wasteland across the road from where we lived. We had adopted this wasteland as 'our' playground. It had secret pathways through the bushes and stinging nettles which the adults couldn't know about and which led across the field to the embankment leading down to the railway tracks.
Mother was constantly telling us all 'and keep away from those darned railway lines!' and we did what she bade us most of the time! These warm summery evenings on the wasteland playing at war games were happy times and just too good to miss. Looking back later I realize these really were our 'Huckleberry Finn' years! BRUCE was the name we gave him, and he was HUGE as any self respecting Irish Wolfhound would tend to be. True to his name he was fearless & very protective to us kids, & whenever ANY adult came near us and spoke, he would bare his teeth & give a deep baritone growl. After all, wasn't HE one of the gang! The adults always kept a safe distance when Bruce was with us as he was the ugliest, tallest, scariest & scruffiest Irish Wolfhound that ever lived, but we all loved him dearly, and when he was with us we all felt safe. Mum too knew we were safe, often saying - 'Go out & play with your friends and take the dog with you!'
The whole saga began one day when he suddenly appeared on our back doorstep looking like a skeleton. He had probably been attracted by the smell of the scraps of food, which my mother kept in an old tin bucket with a lid on it outside the back door. These scraps were kept to feed the chickens to get fresh eggs, as food was rationed owing to the war. Bruce was obviously no slouch and knew exactly how to look after his stomach. In his wanderings along the street past our open front gate he'd got a whiff of some tasty smelling snack, and, following his nose he found where it was hiding. He nudged at the lid on the bucket until it went 'CLANG - BOING - WOING!' onto the concrete and lo! - there was a tasty meal of scraps waiting just for HIM!
We wondered what all the noise was in the backyard, and when we opened the door - there stood Bruce as bold as you like wolfing down the scraps as though we were about to take them from him. Mum took pity on him saying 'Ah look at this poor dog' & whilst making all sorts of sweet 'cooing' noises she scraped together as much leftovers as she could from the dishes, the pots & pans, and the bucket, and making up some sort of meaty smelling mixture, she put it out for him on an old tin plate in the backyard. He looked in a terrible state, he was a bag of bones, & was filthy dirty as well.
He gulped down the lot in short order and stood there looking for more, all the while licking his lips & smacking his jaws in glorious fashion. We laughed, stroking & hugging him, & his tail wagging told us that he was enjoying the whole pantomime immensely. Later that evening when my mother opened the back door to collect her washing from the clothesline he was still sitting there forlornly waiting for someone to appear. Maybe there just might be another free feed!.
'Ah look, this poor dog is still sitting here' she exclaimed 'in the cold and the dark' 'Oh, he can't stay out here all night we'd better let him indoors!' I was secretly delighted that he was such a smart operator! From that moment on he'd found a nice warm home & a free feed as well, and he had no intention of moving on thank you! Next day was bright & sunny, so we took him into the backyard, brought out the old tin bathtub, and, with half a handful of soap flakes thrown into half a tub of warm water (being wartime that was the only soap we could get or spare) we launched Bruce into the tub. At first he was as stiff as a stair-rod but after a lot of splashing & laughter he loosened up and soon realized that he was in no danger from us, his newfound friends.
He'd arrived looking like a bag of bones and had no collar with name disks, so mum thought he'd probably been abandoned when someone had been bombed out or moved house. Whatever the reasons for his wanderings, he was free to go if he wished as we made no attempt to chain him up or keep him against his will. He was obviously happy as he chose to stay. One bright summer day after Bruce had been with us sometime I was sitting on the floor in our front room playing with some old toy cars, when my mother said that she was going to hang some washing on the clothesline out back and that if Mr. Phipps the insurance man called I was to tell him that the insurance book & money were on the mantleshelf next to the clock. Right! O.K.!
Sometime later there came a knock on the front door and a voice called out 'Hello Mrs. Fox' - 'it's only me Mr. Phipps the insurance man'. 'I've called for the Insurance money - Hello - anybody there?' 'O.K. Mr. Phipps, you can come in' I yelled, 'mum's out the back doing some washing, and she said that the money is on the shelf next to the clock'. I was so engrossed with my toy cars I'd forgotten that Bruce was there with me. There wasn't really any need to tell Mr. Phipps where the money was, because with the scores of customers that he visited each week and the invitations he got into their parlours for a 'cuppa' the trusty Mr.Phipps knew where everyone kept their insurance book & payment. Meanwhile Bruce had been lying quietly next to me with his giant head on the floor carefully scrutinizing my every move in my cars and spitfire adventures. As soon as he heard that strange voice his head suddenly shot up and he gave a low deep growl. I'd completely forgotten he was there.
I immediately tried to settle him down by talking to him & stroking him, but he was VERY carefully watching as Mr.Phipps with one eye on the dog, nervously stepped into the room. Mr. Phipps, an elderly pleasant bespectacled man about 60 years old was undoubtably a man of great experience in the matter of entering premises when dogs were around, but this was the first time he and Bruce had met, and Mr. Phipps was taking no chances. 'Hello son' said Mr. Phipps 'Is it O.K. with your dog - he wont bite me will he?' 'No' said I with an oversupply of confidence for a three & half year old. 'He growls but he won't bite you Mr. Phipps, not while I'm here - he's quite friendly you can come in' Mr. Phipps slowly and carefully worked his way round the edge of the room to retrieve the money & the little payment book from the mantelshelf and just as slowly sat himself down at the dining room table. He then commenced making the entries in the payment book in his usual meticulous copperplate handwriting, all the time eyeing the dog whom had by now risen to his feet & was still growling.
As Bruce was sitting close to my right side I reached across, grabbed a handful of his mane, and clinging on tightly, told him in as bossy a voice as a three year old could muster to 'Stop it & shut up as it's only Mr. Phipps the insurance man' and looking Mr.Phipps eye to eye I said, 'It's O.K., he growls but he wont hurt you'.
Famous last words!
Mr. Phipps, who had strategically placed the dining room table between the dog, myself & himself, & had by now finished with his bookkeeping, got to his feet & tried so gently to edge towards the front door. Bruce decided that THAT was far enough thank you very much! He leaped out of my grip across the room and sitting himself behind the front door was snarling, growling and baring that magnificent set of brilliant white lion sized teeth each time the poor Mr. Phipps as much as moved an arm or a leg. Even I was surprised & caught off guard. 'Help - missus - quick, come and get your dog, he's going to bite me!' shrieked the petrified shuddering Mr. Phipps. Well of course, this yelling only alarmed Bruce even more, and with a loud deep bark the dog stood on his hind legs, his face level with Mr. Phipps's and at the same time placed a huge hairy paw on each of the hapless man's front shoulders. This pinned Mr. Phipps with his back to the wall, his eyes set in an ashen coloured face, looking I thought, rather like pickled onions behind those fascinating old round 'John Lennon' style spectacles!
WOW! Far out! Suddenly my respect & admiration for Bruce had jumped right off the meter! I didn't know whether to laugh or what to do, being just as amazed as Mr. Phipps! Fortunately my mother suddenly appeared and took control of the dog scolding him loudly, whereupon he jumped down from the trembling Mr. Phipps, and turning down his ears he slinked over to sit next to me like a lamb. My mother took hold of the dog, locked him out in the back garden, then calming down poor Mr.Phipps she gave him a nice cup of tea with a biscuit to settle his nerves. After all he was no youngster & had the rest of his day ahead of him. Some time later Mr. Phipps who was a good sort of fellow, recovered himself sufficiently, and now smiling about the whole incident, mounted his bicycle and rode off to encounter the rest of his day. As for Bruce, he was left wondering what all the fuss was about, after all, how could we expect a dog to let a complete stranger into the house without the dog having some say in the matter?
One morning when I was about 3 yrs old, I was out in the back garden when I heard a strange whirring noise which was getting louder and louder. It seemed to be coming from out the front in the street. I rushed into the house then into our front room and staring through the window saw dozens of army trucks rolling by. This was a spectacle that I'd never seen before. I didn't know the army HAD so many trucks! My mother allowed me to stand out front of our house on the footpath with Bruce sitting next to me. The soldiers in the back of the trucks were throwing out all kinds of strange things wrapped in shiny silver & coloured paper onto the footpaths. The trucks were passing on their way to the army base around the back of our house just across the fields. Watching the procession of trucks it seemed to me there were hundreds of them, the line just went on & on pouring past.
Picking some of the shiny objects up, I asked one of my friends who was older than myself what they were. 'Well' said he with a slightly superior and very loud sniff 'This one is a bar of chocolate & this one is a stick of chewing-gum' I noticed all the local kids scrambling around on hands and knees grabbing as many of them as they could, so I joined in saying 'But what do we DO with them?' 'You EAT them stupid!' he spat, without even looking up from his important task of frantically gathering more! Well how would I know, I'd never seen such trinkets before? A few days later, shortly after the army trucks had driven by, Bruce must have decided to go walkabout around the local streets as he would sometimes do if he found someone had left the front gate open. But we didn't worry unduly on these occasions, as we knew he knew his way home and he knew his food was always waiting for him at dog's dinnertime.
That night was different somehow, and we kids all went to bed very anxious, as he hadn't come back home. I knew it was cold & dark out there & I was frightened for my friend. Bruce was ALWAYS home for his supper! What had happened to my big dopey furry friend? Something was wrong, and we all sensed it. I was beside myself with worry and sobbed myself to sleep that night, as I'd fallen madly in love with my big soppy hairy pal. He'd come into our lives and was the best thing that had ever happened. At that young age the thought of waking each day without him licking my face and wagging his tail with joy and excitement, forcing me to dive under the sheets, was just too much for a kid to bear. I was shocked.
Bruce my buddy had gone.
Decades later when I was chatting with mum in her later years about our younger days, the subject of Bruce came up. She said that shortly after Bruce went missing one of our neighbors had told her that she'd seen some soldiers out walking a dog exactly like 'our' Bruce, and when she'd called the dogs' name from across the street, it had wanted to leap across the road towards her almost dragging the handler into the middle of the road. Of course she couldn't prove anything so couldn't say anything, but she swore that as she knew the dog well, and the dog knew her just as well, that it was definitely 'our' Bruce.
A few days later the army base was empty, the soldiers had gone to Europe.
We never saw 'our' Bruce again.
Copyright March 2005.
A Poignant Real Life Story by Guy Fox.

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