I never fully grasped the enormity of personal consequences along with the significant life-changing promises that I would make and how all of them related to the flood that ravaged the popular Centennial Race Track of Littleton, Colorado in 1965.
The year before the flood was just the beginning of my normalcy and held many memories for me living at the trailer park packed to the gills with trackers of every imaginable type perched precariously on the southwest corner of the Bowles and Santa Fe Drive intersection.
Jockeys, trainers, agents and all other track workers filled the small Colorado community. The park was nestled in a low area on the city side of the South Platte river with the majestic Rockies in the distance towering over the seemingly harmless slow-running river. Both Santa Fe to the east and Bowles to the north bordered our homes and never was there any talk of how dangerous this location was to be in the future.
Sante Fe drivers using the popular interchange would look down into the busy borough as they passed. The fact of being between the river and the raised roadway is what caused the flood waters to choke down and focus its attention on completely wiping away my home forever.
As kids, the river was a playground with ropes hanging from almost every tree and every kind of snake imaginable to try to catch. On the far side of the river is where on one day all of us kids went to swing and dive into the river for the afternoon. About an hour into the fun, a snake about five feet in length was moving through the tall grass and decided to attach it’s mouth to my calf.
I shook violently to get it off of my leg and in a terrified numbness I instantly and without any proof knew it had to be a rattler. The snake slithered away and disappeared. I ran in a panic all the way out to the road, over the bridge and into the park going to the first trailer in a full scream.
I knew at that moment I was dying. I was sure of it. If it wasn’t going to be from my gaping wound, it would be from the poison injected into me through the serpent’s fangs that was about to take effect and kill me. My body would writhe in pain as my stricken limb disintegrated into a mass of bloody gel and fall off causing a loss of blood no American kid could survive. I needed someone, anyone to perform my last rites and tell my family I loved them, just like they do in the movies.
Without hesitation I chose the old man who lived on the first lot of the entrance to the park to perform the ritual. The balding man was a teller at the track. Through the screaming and panic he took me inside and with the calmness of a brain surgeon carefully inspected the deadly puncture marks on my calf. “Billy, it looks like you got tangled up with a gopher snake. Quit your crying, you’ll be alright.”
Patting my head with one hand, he took his shirttail with the other and wiped the moisture of tears from my cheeks. “I’m not going to die?” I whimpered.
“No Billy, look right here. It ain’t no rattler bite because you can see all the teeth marks. Just a gopher snake. They look a lot alike. You probably stepped on him and that’s why he bit you.”
“Really, for sure?” I questioned.
The old guy squeaked opened the flimsy screen door while keeping his back inside the trailer. “Get out of here and go play.” With his comforting assuredness I leapt from the trailer. “And stop playing with them snakes!” he yelled as I took off through the grass and sunflowers out to the road.
I ran as hard as I could back to the trees with the ropes where everyone else was having fun in the water. I had to get back fast as frog gigging was on the agenda for us kids tonight and I just loved frog gigging and wanted in on the plan.
Mid August in Littleton was muggy but nothing like the stickiness of Omaha at the Ak-Sar-Ben meet. Living on the farmland in Nebraska provided more sounds of insects and sights of fireflies but the croaking frogs along the riverbank and the sounds of rushing water near the bridge were the concert of every night.
The mornings skies were filled with clouds of Canadian geese leaving from the fields through the lazy mist between the river and the track’s backside. I would walk with Sandy who had the longest, straightest and shiniest red hair parted exactly in the middle of her head to the barn area for breakfast occasionally at the track’s kitchen.
On days she wanted to, we would trudge about a half-mile or so through the tall weeds while wading through thousands of restless honking birds. The flocks of geese would strut away in both directions as we approached making a pathway for us in the trampled grass. This is still one of my more clearest visuals. The thousands of majestic birds, heads high and all pointed in one direction or the other marching in unison to make way for us.
I had only a few local friends but a throng of tracker kids who lived in the park with me were my best. Sandy was one of them. Sandy in my eyes was a hippy who was near the same age as my sister and because there were no girls her age that year in the trailers and that she hated the boys who were there, I became one of her daily companions.
Everyday Sandy and I would walk to the office to get the mail. Once a week, it may have been more, she would get a letter from her boyfriend in Phoenix and to her delight, along with the ‘I love you’s and I miss you’s’ written on the note, inside would be several joints wrapped in tin foil.
Her parents would leave around eleven for work and she’d fire up one of the presents as I sat across the fold-out table in the small two room trailer watching her smoking technique. On off days when the track wasn’t running and her Mom and Dad were somewhere else in the park we would go down the road.
With the all clear, she’d grab up the keys to her family’s white ’63 Ford Falcon and drive us out and over the river’s bridge to a small dirt lot a mile away and smoke there. I sure had a crush on her in those days but what ten year old wouldn’t. All I could ever think is one day I would hold her hand or better yet, make-out with her.
Didn’t know how to do that yet but I sure wanted to learn. My life then would be bliss. Imagine a real life hippy with perfectly straight mesmerizing red hair and she liked you. Sandy was not only a great friend to me, she is also the person who rescued me from the grips of the park’s bully, Red, and his gang of omelet eating thugs.
Red, I honestly couldn’t tell you his real name, was a big six foot goofy farm boy who always wore a plaid shirt, levis and work boots. His straight blade Buck knife was never not on his side. He was called Red I thought because of his orange crew cut hair and the millions of reddish tinted freckles covering his dumb pasty expressionless face. I looked up ‘Senseless’ one time in my Thesaurus and ‘Red’ was one of the first synonyms.
I feared him and he knew it. Hanging out with his gang on the road was only my attempt to get to know my enemies better or protect myself from the daily beatings others had endured. A slap here and there never kept me from going back to them and hanging out while they smoked a Malboro from a pack rolled up in their shirt sleeve while drinking stolen beer from their parent’s stash.
Red was mentoring bulliship for two other boys who were a year or so younger than him and would drive them slowly around the park in his rusty Buick taunting other kids. Harry and No-Toe Tony were his gang members. Tony didn’t have a big toe. This crew of advanced brainlessness mostly hung out at the pool hall on West Main in downtown Littleton about a half mile east of the park.
The story on Tony was he got a piece of straw from a dirty barn jammed underneath his big toenail and the infection was so bad the doctor loped it off. Probably not even close to the truth as he was just born that way but one thing for sure, Tony fell down a lot when he was barefoot on the river and blamed it on the missing digit.
Harry’s Dad was the track’s Vet and they had the nicest trailer in the park. The family lived in a pastel pink single-wide. Encircling the trailer’s skin were two white stripes meant for highlights. A small patchy lawn of dandelions and natural crabgrass greeted anyone visiting or looking for medical help. A redwood deck with a white canopy covered the steps leading into the Taj Mahal of the court.
I can’t for the life of me remember Red or No-Toe’s parents or what they did on the track. Looking back I don’t think Red’s worked there and probably owned and operated the DumbAss Drugstore or something of that nature and was planning to hand down the business to their mule-headed son.
One day all three in Red’s car pulled up to Sandy and I sitting at the picnic table by the wash house. Sandy was enlightening me in the life of a hippy and how I might be one of them someday. Red stopped the car where his window was even with Sandy’s side of the table.
“Hey Sandy,” Red confidentially said, his arm laid across the window’s frame James Dean style. His face winced as if he just farted as he pronounced the words.
“Red. Hey Tony, Harry,” she answered. I didn’t exist.
“We’re all going to Red Rocks tonight to see that band the Beatles and toast a few cool ones. Wanna go?”
Sandy looked at me as I was looking at her and pursed her lips, “We’ll see Red.” She turned her head back to Red, “I have to see what Mom and Dad are doing.”
Red turned toward Harry seated in the passenger side and asked, “What time we leaving?” Harry shrugged. Tony spoke up and said, “Around six, it takes a half hour to get there.”
“Okay, I’ll be here if I can go.” Sandy turned back to me, “And Billy too. He likes the Beatles.” Red looked at me with one eye almost closed and the other stupid eye open. He nodded once in agreement. The trio of bullies coasted away and motored up the dirt entrance and out onto Bowles on their way to the pool hall.
Six rolls around and I’m at the table alone. Sandy is not coming. She turned out to be the smart one in that decision. Red pulls up with the guys and asks me where Sandy was. I told him she wasn’t going to be here. He glared at me and asked simply, “You getting in?” I hopped in the back with Tony.
Today I still wonder why my parents never objected for me to do anything with anyone at any time as long as it was with trackers. Little did I know their relationship was already in the midst of destruction and they must have had that on their mind more than me.
I had no idea how to get there obviously but eventually after 30 minutes of beer can throwing out the window and slapping me on the head, we finally arrived. Red knew a way to the south side of the giant amphitheater and the four of us climbed up onto the rocks surrounding the stadium each of them carrying a six pack of Schlitz. Once we got there all I remember is seeing what looked like four black ants on the stage and a muffled and distant singing overtaken with screaming and shouting of girls and the occasional snap of Red opening another beer. My Beatles experience in a nutshell.
On the way back Red stopped somewhere between there and the park at a small gas station that was closed down for the night. He pulled up to the pump and tried to yank off the hose with no luck so he kicked in the glass covering the dials, got in to the car and acted like the Air Force was after us now for what he had done. It felt like we were going a hundred miles an hour down Alameda escaping from the Feds.
Red got us home around midnight and told me I would have to come over to his trailer in the morning to pay him back for taking me to see the Beatles. I nodded okay and closed the door of the car, turned and went inside Mom and Dad’s trailer to go to sleep.
The next morning I knocked on Red’s door and he answered with no shirt on. No Toe was there already. Red told me to sit in the recliner as he had something planned for me and wanted to explain what he needed. I remember being very worried. Red walked up to me an slapped me across my temple. “Listen up!”
I sat silent wanting to cry. “You know how to cook?” he asked me in a expectant way. I nodded when really I had know idea what to do or what he was expecting. “Good.” He slapped me again. “I’ll kick your ass if you tell anyone about this. Got it?” He followed up with another even harder slap. Now the tears were trying their best to break through but I held my ground in the upholstered armchair.
“I want you to cook us breakfast from now on. Today I want an omelet. A cheese omelet. How bout you Toe?” No Toe nodded. “Pan is over there and eggs are in the fridge.” Believe or not, I could cook an omelet. My mom had taken me aside one morning and taught me how to make an egg or an omelet for breakfast if they were gone early to the track and couldn’t make me breakfast.
For the next two weeks, every morning I would go over to Red’s to find either Tony and Harry there awaiting there omelets. Cheesy, greasy, buttery, milky omelets. A hundred eggs later then Sandy found out. I spilled the beans in one gasp and then remembered Red’s demand of not telling anyone. I’m in deep now and I’m expecting I’m going to cooking lunches until the end of the meet. Sandy is no one to mess with.
“Come with me,” she said from the table in the trailer. We walked out and across three double rows of trailers to Red’s camp. Sandy knocked on the door in a normal way. Red answered.
“Hey Sandy, come on in.” Wrong thing to say Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum.
In one step she was inside and pushed Red in the chest backing him up to the counter of his kitchen. I could see the omelet pan on the stove, it was calling for me. “If you ( the F word goes here ) touch, talk, look, hit, , ,” she went off on the wood-headed dope like a mama grizzly for over ten minutes and he never said a word back. Harry left without making any sound out the door and didn’t come back. I was still standing outside and he didn’t even look my way.
Sandy came out and slammed the door so hard the propane tank on the front of the trailer burped. “Let’s go.” I walked hurriedly behind her making our way back to the security of her parents trailer. I knew then my days of short order cooking were through and Sandy was no for sure the love of my life. The night came and all I could do is lay in my bed thinking about her.
The meet finished, I made more omelets during the next week or so but they were for Sandy and I. Time had come to leave and go to Phoenix. I left with my parents for Turf Paradise after the Centennial meet not knowing it would be another 4 years in 1968 until we would return. Hazel Park, Arlington, Rockingham and all those other tracks we would work and create even more memories during our time away from Centennial.
I would never see Sandy again as she and her boyfriend went off to find life and smoke more doobies somewhere else. To this day, I still can not find her and have tried every Sandy Seger in the book more than ten times leaving a message on a machine that it was me and to call back at this number if this is the Sandy from the track. No calls ever came.
Red, No Toe Tony, Harry and all the other tracker friends I had were never to be heard from again. No Rosie, no Kurt, no more Teresa. Dad had different plans because of unusual circumstances in his work and other things in his personal life that I would find out about when we returned. But all was not lost. New friends were only months away. Dana, Curtis, Sammy and Belinda were coming soon and would provide more memories of a my life.
Little did I know I was only a week from a life promise which to this day, 47 years later, is still committed strongly and without question.
The great flood of ’65 would come and Dad’s investment in the park would only become an insurance claim the next year as the park would be removed from the face of the lowlands of the Rockies by a flood that would eventually kill a hundred horses. Fortunately a hundred and forty were saved. This was a test of Colorado’s fortitude and character. The Coloradans passed with flying silks and piercing true colors and rebuilt Centennial and the community.
It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered an actual picture of the park underwater. The A-frame structure in the picture is where Sandy would wash her long beautiful hair every day.
The track did open late but Dad had enough for awhile and the decision to take Bob Yeager and his wife, Willie and Mugs Seger, the Williams, and our broken family along with everyone’s pets to Detroit for the meet to end the summer after Ak-Sar-Ben ended in ’65.
The drive was long from Omaha as I remember passing by Boy’s Town only a few mile away seated in the back of the New Yorker with Ringo, my two year old Chihuahua who I adored wondering if we were in Michigan yet. Mugs Seger had given me the dog just before leaving Phoenix. My sister and I slept almost 15 hours a day, I can’t recollect stopping at a motor inn for a break or a good night’s rest for Dad. He just drove and drove with Mom at the map.
Mugs, her real name was Margaret and was Sandy’s mom and my second mom. Anything I ever needed, Mugs would always be there for me. She was married to a man we called Willie who was a valet and one of Dad’s dearest and closest friends. There wasn’t a week that went by that Willie wouldn’t bring either a whip or a set of goggles as a gift saying a Jockey wanted me to be a part of a winner.
Canasta was the card game my parents played every Friday night with the Segers, the Wards and the Belinos. Pinochle during the off track days. We were all family. I had a few close childhood friends who were always there from those families. George and Mike Ward in Omaha. Mike was older and he repaired tack for Jockeys. His Dad, Arland Ward was renown Custodian of the Jockey’s Quarters and well respected throughout.
Sammy and Belinda ( Bellino ) Williams was always around in Phoenix and Omaha but I never remember George or Mike ever being in Detroit or Littleton. On the other end of the spectrum, I never remember Sandy or her brother at Omaha. I always suspected Belinda and George had a thing going on at every meet as you would always find them with each other watching movies in the treehouse at the Golden Spike drive-in.
The Bellinos ended up being the Williams after their Dad, Johnny died of a heart condition at the age of 30 and their Mom, Betty, married Clyde Williams another valet. Betty Williams who passed in 2009 and Mugs Seger were the first female tellers in Nebraska at the Ak-Sar-Ben meet.
July 7th, on a Sunday in 1965 was a day where the sky was cloudless gray and was the day when we rolled into Detroit. Somehow Dad had prearranged a place for us to stay while he worked book at Hazel Park for the remainder of the meet at the end of July. A two room street level apartment was there waiting for us. The building faced a busy downtown street and our door along with two other apartments were the first ones you see. Dad pulled up slowly rubbing the curb with the white walls of the Chrysler.
“This is it guys,” he announced as he put the car in park. Mom’s look on her face as she turned back to Dad after eyeing the arrangements could have melted glass. Red brick single level building with a dirty sidewalk as a front porch was not what she had anticipated. “Stay inside the car until I check it out.” Dad opened his door in traffic and walked around the front of the car searching for a key in his pocket. He opened the first door nearest the walkway into the heart of the complex and went inside.
Ringo was going nuts scratching wildly at the glass of the rear window where I was seated as he watched Dad go inside. Only a minute passed and Dad came back to the car. Mom hit the electric switch to the window and Dad leaned forward and said, “It’s a little small but its clean. Remember we’re only here for two weeks and then we’ll move on to Rockingham for the rest of August.” Mom’s door unlatched.
In an instant with the sound of the door opening, Ringo squirted from my grip and jumped over the back of the front seats, over Mom’s lap and out onto the sidewalk. Dad made one frantic attempt to catch him as he turned and tore in a full run down the sidewalk ahead of us. I popped my door open in a sprint to catch my dog. “Ringo!’ I screamed. “Ringo stop!” Cars were whizzing by as the little dog made it to the end of the block and turned into the neighborhood behind the apartments.
I was hot on his heels and only feet from the turn when Dad yelled, “Billy! Get back here.”
I didn’t listen and made the turn on the gray unleveled cement. I finished the corner without missing a step and Ringo was nowhere in sight. “Ringo!” I bellowed hanging onto the last sound of his name. Dad came up behind me. We stood there waiting for the small black dog to appear somewhere down the street. Somewhere between the houses amongst the large trees. Somewhere from behind one of the cars parked in the driveways. Somewhere.
As far as I could see were houses and more houses and no dog. “Ringo!” I yelled in panic. “Ringo!” A man watering his yard five or six house down turned toward us.
Dad and I walked up to the man. “Did you see a little black Chihuahua run by here,” Dad asked.
“Nope, can’t say I have. Did you lose your dog?” he asked, turning his look toward me.
“No, I’ll find him.” I trotted out to the street curb, “Ringo!” I yelled one way and turned hurriedly the other, “Ringo!”
A cloud shadow raced toward us from up the street covering cars and houses with ominous darkness as it passed overhead. The gloom suited the moment as I turned to Dad with tears running down my face. “We have to find him, Dad. We have to,” I whimpered.
“Let’s get back to Mom. Maybe they have him.” We walked back to the main street and as we turned toward where the car was parked I made one last glimpse down the newly hated neighborhood.
“Did you find him?” Mom asked. Dad shook his head. My tears were becoming a smear of water down each cheek. “I got everything out of the car,” Mom said as she handed Dad the keys. “Let’s take a drive around and find him. Would that be okay, Billy?” I nodded. “Don’t worry honey, we’ll find him, he can’t be very far.” We drove around and around with half of my body outside the rear window screaming his name until I couldn’t scream anymore. Dad called it quits about an hour later and we went back to the apartment in total depression and worry.
Dad told us that night before bed that he would put an ad in the newspaper’s lost and found and for sure we’d find him then. I couldn’t sleep and remember staring at the ceiling of my new bedroom while I cried and cried. My sister slept as far as I can tell and in the morning I woke up to noise in the kitchen area. I sprung out of bed just knowing Ringo had come back but when I saw my Mom with tears in her eyes I just knew something bad had happened.
“What’s wrong, Mom?” I asked not wanting any bad news. “Did you find Ringo?”
Mom just sat there and took a long drag of her cigarette and shook her head as she expelled the smoke. “No honey. Your Father left early for the track and I went looking this morning but I couldn’t find him. I’m so sorry Billy.” With that the dam of tears were broken and for another two hours we cried together with my sister.
Something odd how I can’t remember any particulars during this time as I truly believe I was just in a state of shock and despair. Dad came home and said he ran an ad in the paper and gave the phone number of the office as the contact if someone should find Ringo. I overheard Mom and Dad talking about how there were just so many streets and cars driving around that it would be a miracle if he even survived the first night alone in a strange and dangerous town as Detroit.
During the next two weeks I only went to the track with Dad a couple of times and would talk him into driving around so I could yell for my dog out the window. The whole town looked gray and menacing to me and I would take a walk every hour or so down the neighborhood where Ringo ran while my Mom stood guard at the corner watching me scream over and over his name. “Ringo!” I’d take a big breath, “Ringo!” I’d walk by the man with the hose Dad had talked to the first day and he would just shake his head slowly at me knowing what my question was without saying.
The first week without Ringo had gone by slowly and the pain was not easing. I laid in bed facing up during the next weekend knowing we were leaving for Rockingham the day after my birthday next Sunday. Dad had already said we would have to leave Ringo behind if we didn’t find him soon. I was past the frantic stage well past the denial and into deep depression when as I laid crying in bed the weekend before our departure when an idea rushed through me like an eureka moment.
“Dear God,” I started out my promise, slash prayer, perfectly. “Dear God. If you bring Ringo home I’ll never say your name bad. Like in vain or something like that.” I continued solemnly swearing, “I know I’ve said it before but I promise, promise, promise,” I enunciated the last of the promises with my teeth gritting. “God, if you can somehow make Ringo come back I swear I will never, ever do it again. Amen and goodnight.” And with that, I turned on my shoulder and pulled up the cotton blanket and fell asleep. The morning brought me a little comfort as I knew what I had promised the night before and this was my last chance of getting my little black dog back.
Now here’s the problem. Trackers and the tracker’s kids swear a lot. They can put the F word together 12 times in a sentence and everyone knows exactly what they meant when they said it. God’s name is used in every problem solving conversation and every explanatory dialogue. “God %^&*#, did you see how bad she ran her last race?” “Well I’ll be God %^&*ed, she run a good race this time.” Even the ever popular, “God %^&*it!” came out about every hour or so in every barn when someone hurt themselves or a horse just bit them.
I had practiced swearing since I was six and had become very fluent in the language. I knew every bad word and how to spell it. I knew every word structure of the F word and knew which times to use if as an adjective or pass it on as a noun. This to me was a skill to be reckoned with as so did every one of my tracker friends. Most race tracker’s tolerate young kids swearing as long as the C word is for crap. The track kitchen is where every morning trainers, jockeys, agents, grooms and hot walkers went to polish their skills and to get a head’s up on the day’s cursing.
The rest of the week went by slower than the first and Mom had started packing for the trip ahead. Dad’s lost and found ad had stopped and we never got a call. Saturday night rolled around and the family sat in the kitchenette’s small dinner table and talked about leaving Ringo and how Dad had told everyone at the track to keep an eye out. He only wanted me to feel better but no words were going to take away the fear of leaving my dog behind.
Sunday morning Mom came in and woke me up and told me happy birthday. She said that when we got to the house in Rockinham we would have a real party and that she had gotten me a present and wanted me to open it before we packed up the car and left. My thoughts were only with Ringo and no present would make anything better. I walked out into the living room area and saw a small box wrapped up in birthday gift wrapping sitting on the couch. I stood there looking at the box and wiped the sleep from my eyes then began tearing the paper away.
The room was filled with Mom’s cigarette smoke. My sister was sitting on the plastic padded kitchen chairs watching me as I carefully opened the box. Inside was as expected. A fishing reel and a box of Jitterbug lures for me when we get to Rockingham. Dad had told us that our new house in Massachusetts was going to be on a lake and Mom knew how much I loved fishing. She knew how my eyes lit up when Dad described the overhanging porch over the lake’s edge. “I know you needed a new reel and those are the best and newest lures for fishing, honey.”
I closed the box up and told Mom thanks. “Do we have to leave today for sure Mom?” I asked.
She knew why I asked and hugged me as she said, “Yes.”
Mom crushed her cigarette out in an upside down Miracle Whip lid and walked into my room. She carried out my boxed clothes and set the box on top of the other boxes by the door. Dad would be home soon from the morning backside at the track and then we would leave. I wanted to walk one more time down into the neighborhood to see if Ringo was there so my Mom walked me to the corner and waited as I did my last attempt in finding my dog. No one was outside. The man with the hose was gone. “Ringo!” I held onto the ‘o’ sound as long as my lungs had air in them. Nothing happened, no sounds, no cars, no dog. I looked up and the sky was still dark and gray with smog.
“Billy,” my Mom called out. “C’mon, your Dad’s here.” I turned and ran back to the corner to her.
“Mom, ask Dad if we can stay another day,” I pleaded.
“Billy, you know we can’t. Ringo is okay, some nice person has him and he’s okay.”
“Please Mom.” We walked together to the apartment’s door.
“Where’s your Father?” she asked my sister.
“He went to the office to give them the key. Said to pack up what we can in the car.” With that, Mom propped open the door and started carrying out the boxes to the back of the car. I was sitting at the table when Dad walked in.
“Hey guys. There was a note for us about Ringo’s newspaper ad. The office got a call last Friday but forgot to tell me. It says to call this number because they found a dog,” he explained.
“Did you call it?” I asked loudly in anticipation.
“Yes, I used the office phone. The lady who called said she remembered an ad in the lost and founds and found a dog last week. She said it was only luck she kept the paper as she missed taking out the garbage. She said its a little black Chihuahua.”
With that news you would have thought I was destined to grow up to be a basketball player. I swear my feet went higher than the table. “Let’s go,” I excitedly said. “Let’s go.”
“Okay Billy but you have to understand that this lady lives twenty miles away and there’s three large highways between her and us. It’s going to be a miracle if this is Ringo. I told her we would be there in an hour or so and explained we were on our way out of town to the East coast. I just don’t want you to get your hopes up. Okay?”
“Okay Dad, but I just know its Ringo. I know it is. I made a promise.”
Dad looked at Mom as if she knew what I was talking about and she looked at my sister for help. She only shrugged in a ‘I don’t know and I don’t really care to know’ shrug. The last box was put in the trunk and Dad pulled the white Chrysler away and into traffic. In Detroit, a drive twenty miles takes about an hour because there are so many cars and lights. We passed under the first highway Dad had mentioned and I wondered then how could a little dog ever cross this huge roadway.
I stared out the window looking up at the streetlight poles going by in perfect rhythm. I lowered the window and put my cupped hand out to catch the wind, swooping it up and down like a wave. Passing the parked cars along side the roadway made a swishing sound. Swish, swish, swish until Dad would hit a red light and then the unison would start again. Another freeway underpass and this one was bigger than the first. More cars, more streetlights, more horns honking. I kept my eyes up staring at the grayness.
“I’m getting a little hungry. How about you guys? An A&W sound good?” Mom asked turning around in the front seat to look at us. She probably feared the upcoming depression of not being Ringo more than I as seeing your child go through the loss of their pet and then again was more than she could take in one month. Another freeway underpass.
“Three,” I announced.
“Three what?” she asked.
“Three highways,” is all I said and returned to gazing out the window. I was thinking then how much I hated the river and everything about it now as because of it flooding our trailer park, we had to come the gray and depressing city named Detroit only to have it swallow up my best friend forever.
Mom turned facing forward, she knew exactly why I said it. “We’ll get something soon.”
Dad slowed at the corner of a street with Mom holding the map, “This is it.” Dad turned left down the street, my Mom’s and my window faced the houses. The curb of the street was a foot high so Dad kept his distance from the edge as Mom counted down the addresses. “4030, 4024, 4020 should be next 4014. Right here,” she announced. Dad stopped in front of a single home with a small covered porch with the inside door open and the screen door closed.
“Ringo!” I yelled through the open window. I was standing inside the car and more than half of me was outside through the opening.
“Hold on Billy, let me go up there and see,” Dad said. He opened his door.
The moment seemed surreal as I could make out the silhouette of a small shape slowly come up behind the graying screen scratching and stand up tall on the animal’s hind legs. “Ringo!” I yelled and jumped out of the window and onto the grass ledge of the curb. “Ringo!” I yelled again as the woman inside opened the squeaking door. Ringo shot out of there like a mini dog rocket and came at me at such a run that when we met we rolled in the grass both us crying harder than ever before.
Dad and the lady stood on the small walkway leading out of her house to the street and all I remember her saying is, “Well I guess that’s his dog.” Dad offered a reward to her but she refused saying watching us two get back together was reward enough. Dad loaded us back into the car as Mom and my sister were trying to gather up their own emotions with a mutual towel. As we pulled away from the lady’s home Dad said, “Like your Mother promised, this deserves a burger and a cold root beer.
The motor of the long car revved slightly as we began to pull away. I looked out the window holding Ringo tight to my chest and said while looking up to the clearing sky, “God. I promise too.”
Well, I’ve kept the promise I made to him to this day. I don’t even come close to saying it, not even a ‘gosh dang’ as it implies too much for me. I’ve only been to church a handful of times in my life and don’t consider myself a religious man per say but this promise to a higher spirit I have kept private. My friends wouldn’t agree but some don’t know of the special deal I made with the man upstairs. 4014, 4, 40 and especially 14 became my lucky numbers forever. Every birthday, believe it or not I say something special to myself about Ringo.
In the end, my dog Ringo aged and loved me every day. He was bitten on the head one day by a German Shepard while trying to protect me from what he thought was an attack. Both of his eyes popped out. Dad and the Vet screwed them back in somehow. Then he was hit by a car in front of our house and his back leg was dislocated. Looked like a three-legged flagpole. Dad and the Vet screwed it back in too. Then on a day, a week before Christmas in Phoenix, Ringo ran off again, probably for a woman or to be alone when he died being so proud of a dog as he was, I never saw him again. For Christmas I asked again for a very special present which I never received.
The torrent of rain hadn’t stopped for a week and the roads in Phoenix were running like a Colorado river. I walked our tiny neighborhood every day and night until the new year was over and then on one gray cloud filled night in January, dressed in a yellow rain coat and hat as if there was going to be a flood, I circled the neighborhood in search of my first best friend. I walked through the glare of our corner’s streetlight in hopes of finding him. I never did. I kicked angrily at the water flowing in the gutter, tears mixed with the raindrops. I walked to the center of the small street intersection of 21st and Highland at the edges of the light, knowing not to swear. I held on to the last vowel as long as I could and screamed through the rain for the last time. I paused to listen over the splattering of raindrops for any barking in the distance.
“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.”
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One thought on “Ringo and the River”
Thanks for including pictures of Ringo…now I even love the story more.