By Tom Schmidt
WATERTOWN, MN I’ve enjoyed sharing articles with readers through the Watertown Archives column. Growing up in Watertown, I remember reading lots of local interest stories written by former C.C. News owner Jim Berreth and editor Jim Bart.
Berreth, in particular, had a knack for writing fun stories about local folks that would often include stories about his life, his experiences, and those of his family and friends.
I’d speculate both these gentlemen have had some influence on my own style and approach to writing.
Apparently, however, not everyone appreciates that style of writing.
This is evidenced by some of the mail I get from time to time, which at times gets down-right “nasty” and includes pointed requests that I discontinue submitting articles that make any reference to my family and friends.
It’s not surprising that these letters are always unsigned. After the latest unsigned letter, I considered giving proper consideration to the unsigned cease-and-desist requests.
After proper consideration, those two seconds soon lapsed, and I decided, instead, to share a story about family, friends, and my dog, Lady.
For those of you who are dog lovers, and especially those who were fortunate enough to have a pet by your side during your childhood, you may enjoy this little “Marly and Me”-type story.
If, on the other hand, you don’t like dogs and/or if you’re a cat lover, then read this lengthy ‘tail’ at your own risk to avoid boredom.
Lady was my “first mate” for most of my childhood. She was a dog who just showed up one day, when I was about 8 years old, and hung around the neighborhood gang for weeks. Eventually, I adopted her as my own, and took care of her.
Since I was regularly bringing home stray animals, my parents had their routine down pat. They soon were contacting the CC News, again, to put in an ad to find my latest pet a new home.
But, Lady would turn out to be a different sort of pet than I had previously brought home.
When the new family showed up to take her, I handed her over with tears in my eyes. It was clear to my parents that this dog and I had really bonded. Accordingly, they just didn’t have the heart to separate us, so I got to keep this one.
Lady would be by my side everywhere for the next decade. And when I say, “everywhere,” I mean everywhere.
One Saturday, we thought we had lost her. It was almost midnight and we hadn’t seen her since 10 a.m. Then, I realized she had followed me to confirmation class at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church earlier that morning.
I grew up across the street from Highland Park, so the church was within walking distance. When I got there, Lady was still sitting by the front door waiting for me to come out of the building. I had apparently left that day through the back door, so she didn’t see me leave. She waited for close to 14 hours.
When I played high school and town team baseball, she would regularly sneak over to the park and sit in the dugout during games.
Football games used to be played at Highland Park. One night during a game, while I was on the field, I looked over at the bench, and next to my teammates, on the sidelines, was my dog.
She was the most loyal dog I’ve ever seen. She was extremely mellow and mild-mannered, but she was also one of the fiercest dogs I’ve ever owned.
In those days, we didn’t have many “thoroughbred” dogs in the neighborhood, and Lady was no exception. She wasn’t very big, and she was obviously part Welsh Corgi, which were bred to be “badger dogs.”
Badgers can be pretty fierce critters, so it takes a special dog to take on a badger. I pitied the poor badger that made the mistake of messing with Lady, because her bite was much bigger than her bark.
Scott and Tim Mueller’s Husky learned that the hard way one day. We were playing baseball out on the sandlot, and their big Husky decided to challenge my little pint-sized stray. From that day forward, their Husky would choose to watch us play ball from a safe distance across the street.
One of my favorite movies, “The Sandlot,” does a great job of depicting what it was like for those who were young children during the 1960s. In that movie, the most feared dog in the neighborhood was Hercules, and the neighborhood children made sure to keep their distance from this menacing creature.
In our neighborhood, the dog you avoided was Duke. If Duke decided to take a stroll through the neighborhood, you ran for cover. The name Duke just seemed too elegant for a dog that could be so mean, so I came up with something more appropriate. I nicknamed him Hitler.
Tim Wabbe’s childhood dog was a little black-and-white Terrier named Tippy. Like Lady, he was a mutt, and a really nice little dog.
One day, my Aunt Sandy (Tim’s mom) and I took Tippy for a walk. We were walking by Willard Grife’s place, which was close to where Hitler occasionally hung out. As we passed by this particular August afternoon, Hitler decided to make an appearance.
Hitler ambushed Tippy with a vengeance. It was awful. We did our best to break them up, but by the time we chased Hitler away, Tippy was clearly in trouble. The fur was flying, and as a result, Tippy was bleeding badly.
Tippy didn’t survive the attack, and died later that day.
I suppose if I were an adult at the time, maybe I would have learned some coping skills, and been able to understand that sometimes that’s how things work in the animal kingdom.
But, I wasn’t an adult, I was barely 10 years old, so I handled the matter in the only way that seemed fitting for a 10-year-old.
I decided to saddle up my newfound, pint-sized, best friend, Lady, “the fiercest dog in the neighborhood,” and go for my own little private stroll, directly into Hitler’s domain.
As expected, when the two of us approached enemy territory, we could sense he was in the area. It didn’t take long before Hitler sprang out from behind the bushes and ambushed Lady. It was awful. Lady was pinned down by the much bigger dog, immediately. The fur was flyin’ and there was blood everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen two dogs tangle in an uglier battle.
As is often the case with bullies, it’s usually only a matter of time before their actions come back to haunt them.
Such was the case this particular afternoon, as it soon became obvious to Hitler that he had finally messed with the wrong dog.
After gaining the initial advantage, he soon found himself in a vulnerable position, with a dog who is used to dealing with varmints much tougher than some big ol’ hound dog. Soon, Hitler was fleeing from the scene with his tail between his legs (down a few pints, I might add).
We didn’t have any further trouble with Duke after that. He seemed to be humbled by the experience, and content to watch the neighborhood children play ball from his new position, across the street from the sandlot, alongside Mueller’s Husky.
At least that’s where he perched whenever Lady was around, and she always was.