When I was just nine years old my father moved us from our home in W. Va. to Burlington N. C. onto an old tobacco farm called Pope's Farm. During this time in our lives the economy wasn't that good at home so Dad found it necessary to make this move to the country. He had landed a good job as a milk man. He would get up very early everyday, drive to work, get in a cooler truck and deliver fresh milk, cheese and ice cream to stores, businesses and schools. He liked his job and he did it well. In the summer occasionally he would allow me to go on these trips with him. Now there is a treat that a young boy couldn't resist! All day alone with my father driving a truck full of cold milk and ice cream! Let me reiterate; at truck full of ice cream! I was treated to a cold fudge pop after lunch and a chocolate covered vanilla ice cream on a stick when the day was over and Dad would be driving us back to Pope's Farm. I would tell my siblings about how cool it was to be in that big truck alone with our father attending to only me. I'd rub it in that I got ice cream when they didn't-I didn't realize it then but Mom was aware of my treats and made sure there was something comparable for my sister and two little brothers to enjoy at home while I was away with Dad. I remember Dad bringing in giant bladders of whole milk that went into those school dispensers; you know, the ones with the long nozzle&clamp on it. Mom would put it in the bottom of the fridge for our easy access. Dad took good care of us, we kids had unlimited milk and cheese- the ice cream was properly rationed.
Still, how cool was that!
On one of these father/son working days I was sitting up high on the seat so I could see out at the heavy traffic we found ourselves in. I was young enough not to understand Dad’s frustration with the slower traffic and congested highways. I didn’t mind it at all; it gave me something new to look at.
Occasionally as he geared to almost a stop and then clutched the heavy truck to smoothly speed up again I’d hear him mumble, “Damn slow Sunday drivers.”
I didn’t see the problem as he grumbled on about getting stuck in ‘5 o’clock traffic’ as he called it. Of course later in life after I started driving I could understand his ire and would avoid that after-work traffic like I’d avoid the plague.
This late evening we were moving along bumper to bumper doing around 45 to 55 miles an hour on I40 between Durham and Burlington heading home. Dad pointed out a big dog up ahead trotting along the graveled emergency lane on the opposite side, all the way across four lanes of the highway.
“Look at that beautiful dog, son”.
“Wow, Dad, he sure is pretty!” I concurred, Dad smiled at me, we were closing in on the groomed and cut Doberman Pincher as we made our way along the highway.
“Somebody has lost their pet!” he said as shifted the big gearshift toward the dashboard.
“This is a bad place for that big old dog to be,” Daddy continued, “he could easily get startled or something and dart into traffic.”
I watched up ahead as the dog kept on trek.
“I think he’ll be OK Dad, he looks like he knows where he’s going!”
“I hope you are right, son.”
Just as he said that a large truck in the oncoming lane passed the dog and let out a long horn blast and sure enough, the dog was startled and changed direction right into traffic! The Doberman sped up his anxious trot working his way toward us, dodging traffic. More horns blew as there were several close calls as he dodged and moved across the congested highway.
“Oh No…” Daddy began looking around and into his mirrors; there was little room to maneuver.
“Run Boy!” he called out to no one really, the dog couldn’t hear him from inside the cab, I’m sure.
We were on an interception course and as a little boy I didn’t realize it. Dad tried to slowly apply the brakes as the car behind us also slowed and impatiently tooted his horn. We were converging and there was nothing Daddy could do but also hit his horn as the beautiful Doberman ran right into the path of the heavy milk truck we were in. The big dog disappeared from my view going under the front of the truck.
“No!” Dad screamed as we hit and bumped over the dog. I got it right away; we had hit and killed that beautiful dog! I looked at Dad and I can tell you I had never seen such a sad, angry and sorrowful look on his face before. His knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel.
“We gotta…” he started, “we should…” He looked miserable, I said nothing.
As we moved along with the traffic Dad lamented.
“I swear I didn’t want to hit that Dog!”
“Oh lord, some poor family has lost their pet and I’m the fault!”
“It was so beautiful and now it’s gone…Damn it!”
“If I could only take it back…”
He turned to me and apologetically said, “Son, I wish you’d had never seen that.”
“I’m OK Dad.” I said softly.
‘Terrible…just terrible.” He went on. He would swipe at his eyes with his sleeve.
I was more concerned with my Daddy than the death of the dog. I guess I was just too young to realize the loss and the implications. Soon we came upon an exit and it couldn’t have been too soon. He exited. Dad got the big truck parked in a spot near the rest rooms at an interstate rest area. I expected him to say what he always said at these stops,”OK men, take five! Smokum if ya gotum!”
Not this time.
Dad just sat there looking straight ahead and mumbling, “I’m sorry…I’m so damn sorry.” His chin was quivering and his hands shook.
“You couldn’t help it Dad,” I tried to console.
“I know son.” he said,” but still my heart is broken.”
At first that was startling news about his heart then I realized he was telling me that he was very sad about hurting that poor dog.
I had never before or ever again seen my father cry. I will tell you now that it didn’t cause me to respect him one iota less. I too, felt duly sad and began to tear up. Dad sobbed hard into the palms of his hands as I sidled up to him and tried to pet and console this giant of a man there beside me in that truck cab. Soon he reached for his handkerchief and wiped his eyes and face then tooted his nose into it. I took a Kleenex from the little box on the dash and did the same. Dad was getting it back together, wow! I didn’t think anything could upset my dad!
“Well, let’s go on home, son.”
That evening I listened from the hallway as Dad told Mom about the incident, He was still seriously upset as he conveyed the story to her.
“I just can’t get it out of my mind how that big, majestic animal kept coming toward me. It was as if it was planned or something. I plain old couldn’t miss him.”
“If Gary hadn’t been with me I may have ran that truck right into the guardrail to avoid it, but I couldn’t risk hurting my son.”
I listened to this and tried to make sense of it, was it MY fault the big old dog got killed? Just then Mom consoled Dad with words of understanding.
It wasn’t your fault Carlos and it surely wasn’t Gary’s fault. It was fate that put you and that dog in the same place at the same time. You had no choice but to stay on your course.”
That eased my young mind, if Mom said it then it was impeccable; this was not my fault.
“I know, Honey, I know that, but if this is ordained then something good should come of it.” Dad let out a huge sigh, “But I’ll be damned if I know what it could be.”
I knew what good came from it; I just didn’t have the adult words to explain it to my parents. I grew up by leaps and bounds from that incident. I saw many things differently from that day on.
1) I gained a respect for life, any life.
2) I learned that death is real and permanent.
3) To cause death even by accident was still a terrible thing and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
4) My father was an exceptional man with an understanding of how precious life was and he passed that on to me through his sincere actions and feelings instead of words.
5) Animals, any kind of animal should not be abused even through unexpected circumstance.
6) Not only in death, but for every action intentional or not there are repercussions.
7) Some answers to the imminent problem presented to you may be a choice between the lesser of the two evils.
Dad eventually got over the incident to some degree and life went on. I remember that he spent many hours trying to discover the owner of the Doberman. He even went back to the site to look at the dog’s dog tags and bury it if he could.
It was not there.
He never could bring total closure to it; even months later if we passed the spot were he hit the dog Dad would become very silent.
I don’t think he ever got completely over it until his dying day. He would be alert to an escape route if he spotted an animal, any animal on or near the highway.
He intended it never happen to him again. I don’t think it ever did.