The chill in the air this morning brought back a memory…
Growing up, we had an older neighbor. He had some mental issues and a share of general and incurable meanness.
We had a bull, a gentle thing, who acted much like a puppy. He liked being scratched on the neck and would brush against you when you were near, just a giant of a pet. We named him “Red.”
One day, the bull jumped a fence, trotted up the road, and was standing at the neighbor’s gate looking at his cows. Red didn’t move when the old guy shambled across the yard toward him. He didn’t know danger. He knew petting and rubbing and kids hugging his neck and tugging at his ears. Red didn’t know meanness, not in himself, not in others.
So, when the shotgun muzzle pressed into Red’s shoulder, and the round of buckshot tore into him, that innocence brought pain.
The injury was too great. His leg was ruined; the internal bleeding was serious. He was taken to the slaughterhouse. My father petted him on the head. With him near, Red, still trusting, didn’t move as the final moments came. It was a day filled with confusion and anger for us.
Flash forward a week or two…
It was a cold morning, much like today, when my father opened the front door. His cowboy boots thumped on the front steps but soon stopped. Two hunting dogs lay curled up at the foot of the steps. They raised sleepy heads to look at my father. He glanced down and looked at the brass nameplates on their collars.
Our neighbor’s dogs.
We stood in the doorway behind him. The dogs didn’t move as he stood over them. They didn’t move when he leaned down with outstretched hands. They didn’t move as he petted them lightly on their heads. He straightened back up again and looked out at the pasture where Red once stood.
“Call him,” he said over his shoulder. “Call him, and tell him to come get his dogs. I’m going to work.” He climbed into his truck wordlessly and drove to the office.
On that day, the little boy standing in the doorway watching his father discovered some new things about his world. Allow me to give voice to the words he didn’t know how to form back then…
I learned that what a man doesn’t do is as important as what he does.
I learned that a man who is capable of great destructive force, yet controls himself, is infinitely more frightening than a man who lacks discipline.
I learned that one should never, ever, under any circumstances, look at a man walking away silently as cowardice.
I learned that sometimes you must pet the hounds and go to work.