By: David ‘Mac’ McAllister
Padding into the house, shaking off the cold, after our daily walk; I found my favorite place near the wood stove and laid down for my afternoon nap. It was fall here in the Ozarks and getting cold. As I stretched out, my eyes caught his as he eased himself into his favorite spot, an old armchair next to the blazing fire. As I drifted off, my subconscious guided my dreams returning me to the day we first met.
My brothers and sister were standing on tip toes peering over the edge of a cardboard box just outside the 32nd street gate in San Diego. Having been there most of the day we were restless and wanted out to run and play when he appeared. Staggering out the gate he spied us as we bounced up and down with excitement in anticipation of the stranger. Smelling of bourbon and tobacco smoke, he reached down and picked me up by the scruff of the neck holding me at arm’s length for quarters, muster, instruction and inspection. Our eyes met; his liquid blue; mine large and brown as I plied his heart with my best puppy dog look. Oh you know the one, ears at half-mast and head down looking up just enough so that a very thin amount of the white of the eye shows. Instantly, I was in love.
Tossing a few bucks to my little masters, tasked with getting rid of me and my litter mates, he stuffed me into his bridge coat pocket slurring “You’re with me, Sailor”. We swayed to and fro, like a ship upon the sea, down the street until we finally reached a small split level walk up apartment. Here he straightened up as best he could, placed a hand upon me for reassurance and entered the place with as much dignity as drunken Chief Petty Officer could muster. Once inside he snatched me out of his pocket, placed me on the floor and commenced to lay down the rules and regulations of which I didn’t understand one bit. However, there was something about not crapping on the floor and a bitch of a landlady that didn’t like sailors or dogs.
I was fine until the lights went out and with the darkness, I began to miss my brothers and sister. The only way I knew to express my despair was vocally. I started with small yips that gained momentum culminating in a fully-fledged squeaky rather high pitched puppy howl; after all, that’s how dogs cry.
Well now, that got the lights turned on, a scolding with something about the bitch from hell landlady and then lights out. More howling, lights on, more scolding, lights out; howling, lights on, scolding, lights out and so on and so forth until finally he picked me up tossing me on his bed. Gratefully I snuggled in, pressing my short length up against his leg and fell quickly asleep dreaming peaceful dreams of green meadows and un-chased rabbits; until the pounding on the door woke us both up that is.
Stumbling to the door he was muttering something about being in the shits and pointing an incriminating finger at me. Opening the door, he cast his best face forward upon the scariest human I had met so far in my young life. As I looked at this house coat clad, hair curler laden being I knew instinctively what he meant about being in the shits.
She started in nonstop, “Chief you know the rules, no pets. Now don’t tell me you don’t have any pets I heard that dog yowling all night.” Yowling? Are you shittin’ me, she can’t even recognize a fully-fledged howl when she hears one? Then I heard the Chief take control of the situation as only, I would come to learn, the Chief could do. “Madame THAT is no dog THAT is my shipmate and HIS name is Sailor. I am now retired from the Navy and WE will be leaving California for the Dust Bowl.” And so my journey through the Chiefs retirement years began – as his Shipmate.
Soon we were pointing the hood of an old second-hand pickup truck eastward. The Chief at the helm behind the wheel; me, as navigator, with my little rear feet, tippy-toed on the seat, front paws on the window sill, head barely sticking out the window and tongue in the breeze. We were footloose and fancy-free as San Diego, California as a former life for us both disappeared in the rear view mirror. Our happy travels took us across the Mojave Desert and through the wilds of Arizona. On to Tucumcari New Mexico and as we cut the panhandle of Texas, he seemed hell bent upon an unknown destination. When the deserts and flatlands of the west gave way to the lushly green and gently rolling hills of the Ozarks we stopped.
He went inside this exquisitely smelling restaurant while I waited outside scrounging around for whatever was causing that wonderful aroma. Returning he had that breathtaking odor all about him as he opened this grease-stained paper napkin and shared its contents with me. Bacon, it became the second love of my young life. As I horsed down the crunchy goodness he said, “Sailor, seems these folks here have no idea what a Navy Chief is, guess we’ll hang out here awhile”.
Seems the people of the Ozarks were as dog-friendly as they were sailor friendly; so from a seedy but clean motel room to a rather remote cabin back in the woods, that “awhile” stretched into years. Our days past by seamlessly as we explored the woods, enjoyed the seasons and grew fonder of one another in the process.
Oh, we had our growing pains for sure. I had to get this “No crapping on the floor” thing down; then there was the time in my adolescence. Seems I took off after a rabbit that needed chasing and caught the scent of an unknown but strangely alluring fragrance on the wind. Abandoning the chase, I followed that bouquet to the most stunningly beautiful little French poodle I had ever seen. Several days later I brought my severely drained, tired and hungry ass back home to a stern inspection and retribution. “Who gave you a 72hr liberty card, Shipmate?” was all he said to me. After that cool reception, some good ole’ chow, a little rack time and a few pitiful looks (Oh you know the kind, ears at half-mast and head down looking up just enough so that a very thin amount of the white of the eye shows) we were tight again.
Well now, he wasn’t perfect either. I came to know that whenever my food bowl was topped off, extra water bowls put out and my doggie door was left open I wouldn’t be seeing him around for a day or two. I guess he got a little whiff of something on the wind from time to time as well. After a few days, he’d sway through the door singing those stupid sailor songs of his with that ever familiar odor of bourbon, tobacco smoke, and perfume about his person. No problem, a little pouting, some pitiful looks (Yeah you know the ones, ears at half-mast and head down looking up just enough so that a very thin amount of the white of the eye shows) just to let him know that a 72 hr. liberty wasn’t appreciated, and we would be as tight as ever.
As the population of French Poodle mix puppies and the rate of recurrence of his relationships grew, he and I both floated effortlessly through the years. As we grayed and became ever more grizzled, our walks became more leisurely. Frequent stops to smell and water the flowers, more sitting, more resting and plenty of breathers slowly took the place of our former briskness of step. Butterflies rather than rabbits became my chase of choice and he started coveting beer over the bourbon. One day we awoke and found ourselves getting older. Seems the French Poodle lost interest in me and he was spending more time around the homestead. Our relationship shifted into more of a caretaker mode with each of us looking out for the other. He started speaking of this Fiddlers Green place and naps took the place of fetch. As content as a couple of old farts could be, we settled into enjoying the world a little more peacefully.
It was darkening as I awoke to the stillness of the Ozark twilight. I dragged my old bones up and stretched, forepaws low; ass end high, to clear the cobwebs. Softly, I padded over to his chair, as I had done my whole life, and laid my head on his lap with my best puppy dog look. Oh, you know the one, ears at half-mast and head down looking up just enough so that a very thin amount of the white of the eye shows. However, this time, the familiar hand on my head didn’t come. As I raised my head to look, I noticed he appeared to still be asleep. A peaceful countenance with the suggestion of a smile graced his face. I nuzzled his limp and unresponsive hand and realized as it fell lifelessly to the side of his chair just what he must have been referring to when he spoke these days past of Fiddlers Green.
Sadly, wondering whether dogs were allowed in Fiddlers Green, I walked through my doggie door outside and was greeted by the light of a rising full Moon. I sat heavy hearted upon the outdoor deck we had built together gazing into the soft glow of the light that flooded me while the eerie shadows of the trees were cast upon everything.
The only way I knew to express my despair was vocally. I started with small yips that gained momentum culminating in a fully-fledged adult dog howl; after all, that’s how dogs cry.
David “Mac” McAllister a native of California, now resides in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Mo. Having served in Asia for the majority of his 24-year Navy career, he now divides his time as an over the road trucker, volunteer for local veteran repatriation events and as an Asia Sailor Westpac’rs Association board member and reunion coordinator. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about his experiences in Westpac and sharing them online with his Shipmates.