Critiqued by the dog

Published 7:12 pm Monday, November 11, 2019

Jerrie Oughton

The name of the book intrigued me: “In the Sweet By and By.” My grandmother sang me to sleep by that song. So I checked it out and brought it home, laying it on the coffee table for the next day’s reading. Actually, several days passed and then I couldn’t find it. Getting down to serious business then because our small-town librarians are dead serious about late fees. If you owe 29 dollars or a mere 10 cents, they will hold your feet to the fire until you cough it up. Experience has taught me well.

Oh, no! I found the book in the dog’s crate. Apparently, he had not only read it; he didn’t like it. The back cover was chewed to a fare-thee-well. Lord knows. We might have to take out a second loan to settle those librarians down. But, hey. It wasn’t due ‘til Friday. I had four more days. I thought I’d just read it myself and try to figure out why he gave it such a vigorous thumbs down.

Believe me, it was not the gentle little story my grandmother sang about. This lot of men (I won’t call them gentlemen) who held forth in one chapter were housed in a minimum-security facility and farmed out to various and sundry work tasks that never took them away from home overnight. They always finished by suppertime. The day in question, their assignment was to dig up a couple of graves in a small cemetery, stow them in the back of the truck in which they also rode, and then reinter them a few miles away in a newly designated home for the forgotten.

Starting early, they finished the first part of their assignment by noon. The prison guards provided each man a pop-top can of pork and beans, a plastic spoon and two cans of soda pop. One had also, generously, brought leftover cornbread from his wife’s dinner of the night before. The meal was enjoyed in the shade of a large tree at the first cemetery. Several of the men even took full advantage of their hour and caught a quick nap. Then came the part which I suspected had insulted the dignity of the dog. Who knew he was such a prude?

They climbed aboard the bed of the truck, resting against the dirt covered coffins and began their journey to the cemetery down country roads. The jouncing of the truck, the beans and soda and corn bread all combined to engender interior gases that built to a head, At first, they sang tunes they all knew, in truth, to cover up the sounds of the escaping gas. These were not gut rumbling belches either. Nor were they fragrant. But the wind took care of that. When they ran out of communal songs, there was a silence punctuated only by the escaping gas until one bright soul suggested they try harmonizing with the expelling gas. “How ‘bout the National Anthem?” one asked in an attempt to get everybody on the same page.

Now the dog at our house apparently was raised by cultured people in his early months because he didn’t find that ludicrous scene one bit funny. While I, though brought up in educated surroundings which included book clubs and the DAR, fell out of my chair laughing at the spontaneity and the ludicrous ingenuity of those men who found a way to pass time and gas simultaneously.

At the library, I showed the librarian the pathetic book. She tediously searched for the price, announced it in less than a whisper, and I paid every red cent. Then she asked if I would like to donate the book for the used book sale coming up in January.

“No,” I said. “I rather enjoyed it and might read it again sometime.” (Or give it to the dog as a project to work along on.) I refrained from telling her about the truck bed scene. First, because I don’t feel especially close to people who take my money and, secondly, because we live in a small town. Word gets out. You share something of that ilk, and it gets twisted into quite another story. Two weeks from then you are walking down Main Street and someone sees you and nudges her neighbor, saying, “You see that woman walking that big black dog? Well … ” I think you get the picture. I don’t even know all the words to the National Anthem, truth be told. And I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But I do know a good story when I read one. Sorry. It was the only copy the library had, and I am certain the staff never read it. Perhaps we could work out an arrangement wherein the dog could critique some of their incoming titles in exchange for my late fees.

Jerrie Oughton is a resident of Washington.