Authors: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Thanks to our friends, the Maddens, of Friendly, West Virginia
o anyone who ever tried to make a difference
here's one last thing to say about Shiloh before the story's over. I guess a dog's story ain'tâisn'tâever over, even after he dies, 'cause if you lose a pet, you still go on loving him. But I couldn't bring myself to tell this part until now; of all the stuff that's happened, this was the scariest, and just thinking on it starts my hands to sweat.
When I first tried to get Shiloh from Judd Travers, who was treating that dog meaner than mud, at least there was a chance that if I couldn't have him for my own, Judd would let him live.
And even after Judd turns his beagle over to me, then starts drinkin' and talkin' ugly, there's hope he never meant it. But sometimes hope seems out of human hands entirely, and when the third thing happenedÂ .Â .Â . well, here's all that's left to tell.
Next to Christmas, I guess, Halloween is big in West
Virginiaâout where we live, anyway, which is the little community of Shiloh, up the winding road from Friendly there on the Ohio River. It's because I first saw the little dog here in Shiloh that I named him what I did.
To get to our house, you go through this place called Littleâyou'll know it by the churchâand you keep going along Middle Island Creek, wide as a river, till you see this old falling-down gristmill. It's right by this rusty bridge, and just over the bridge, you'll see the old Shiloh schoolhouse.
â1920â1957, reads a sign above the door, like a gravestone or something. I seen plenty of buildings got the date on them when they were built, but I never seen a building got the date when it died.
We live on the side of the creek near the mill, up the lane in a two-bedroom house. You sit out on the steps of an evening, don't move even your little finger, and pretty soon a buck will step out of the trees, a doe or two behind him, and parade across your field just as grand as you please. Now you tell me how many sixth-grade boys in the United States of America got somethin' like that to look on!
“What you going to be for Halloween next year, Marty?” asks Dara Lynn at supper. Halloween is over and gone, see, and already my skinny seven-year-old sister is thinkin' about the next. With her there's never no question. She dresses up like a witch every single year just so Ma can paint her fingernails black.
“I don't know,” I tell her. “A ghoul, maybe.”
“What's a ghoul?” asks Becky, who's three.
“Halfway between a ghost and a zombie,” I say.
“Like a vampire?” asks Dara Lynn. Dara Lynn's big on vampires.
“Naw. Its skin is green, and it don't suck blood,” I say.
“Marty!” Ma scolds, nodding toward my littlest sister.
We're having biscuits with sausage gravy for dinner, and there's nothing in the world I love more than sausage gravy. Except Shiloh, of course. And Shiloh loves that gravy, too, 'cause all through supper he's sittin' beside my chair with his muzzle on my leg, just waiting for me to finish up and pass that plate down to him so's he can lick up every last bit.
“I'm going to be a bunny,” says Becky.
“Bunnies don't scare no one!” says Dara Lynn. “Why don't you be a pirate or something?”
to scare no one,” says Becky.
I guess there are
things I love more than sausage gravy: Shiloh and Becky.
Dad's washing up at the sink. We wait for him if we can, but sometimes his mail route takes longer than he thinks, and Becky gets hungry, so we eat.
“Passed by Sweeneys' house on the way home, and two of those straw men they rigged up on their porch have fallen over and been dragged out in the yard by their dogs,” Dad says, sitting down at the table. “Look like a couple of drunks keeled over on the grass.”
“Those straw men in overalls don't scare nobody,” says Dara Lynn. “I want a dead man on our porch next Halloween with a face as white as flour.”
“What's Shiloh going to be?” chirps Becky.
“He ain't going to be anything but his own self,” I tell her. “Nobody messing with my dog.”
“All this talk of Halloween, when Thanksgiving's right around the corner!” says Ma.
I guess there isn't that much to holler about where we live, so when a special day comes along, you want to hang on to itâkeep Halloween stuff around till Christmas, and
Christmas lights goin' till Easter. I'm thinking how Ma wouldn't let us go trick-or-treating this year, thoughânot by ourselves.
“Houses too far apart for you kids to be walking out on the road,” she'd said.
Well, the houses weren't any farther apart this year than last, and Dara Lynn and me went out then. But this time Dad drove us to the Halloween parade in Sistersville, and we had to do all our trick-or-treating there. I knew Ma was thinking of Judd Travers and the accident he'd had a month ago out on the road, drunk as he was. Knew she didn't want some other drunk to run his car into one of us.
Dara Lynn must have guessed what I'm thinking, 'cause she jokes, “We could always stuff Judd Travers and put him up on our porch. He'd scare off anybody.”
“Hush,” scolds Ma.
“There's enough talk going around about Judd Travers without you adding your two cents' worth,” says Dad.
My ears prick up right quick. “What kind of talk?”
“None that makes one bit of sense,” Dad tells me. “The man paid his fine for drunk driving, he busted up his leg and his truck besides, and as far as I can tell, he's trying to turn himself around. You'd think folks would want to help.”
“I thought they were,” I say. “Whelan's Garage fixed his truck up for him; people were takin' him groceries.Â .Â .Â .Â ”
“That was when he was flat on his back, when he was really down. Now that he's on his feet again, there's the feeling around here that he got off way too easy. Heard Ed Sholt say as much down at the hardware store last week. Said we ought to keep Judd on the hot seat, let him know his kind wasn't wanted around here, and maybe he'd move somewhere else.”
That sure would solve a lot of problems, I'm thinking. Ma wouldn't be so afraid for us kids out on the road, Dad wouldn't have to worry about Judd hunting up in our woods where a stray bullet could find its way down to our place, and I could rest easy that Judd wouldn't look for excuses to take Shiloh back; that he wouldn't hurt my dog out of spite, he ever got the chance. I think maybe I like the idea just fine.
“But what if he
move?” says Ma. “What if everybody starts treatin' him worse'n dirt, and he stays right where he is?”
And suddenly I see a meaner Judd Travers than we ever saw before. Madder, too. I think how he used to kick Shilohâeven took a shot at the log where Shiloh and me were sitting once. A meaner Judd than that?
“Way I look at it,” Dad goes on, “is that Judd's doing fine so far, and we ought to wait and see what happens.”
Dara Lynn's got a mouth on her, though. “Ha! He's still got his leg in a cast,” she says. “Get that cast off, and he'll be just as bad as before.”
“Well, I believe in giving a man a second chance,” Dad tells her.
“Beginning now,” says Ma, fixing her eyes on us. “Your dad and I have talked about it, and we're inviting Judd here for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Dara Lynn rolls her eyes and falls back in her chair. “Good-bye turkey!” she says, meaning she won't have no appetite come the fourth Thursday in November. As for me, I lose my appetite that very minute and set my plate on the floor.
n the school bus next day, I tell David Howard who's coming to our house for Thanksgiving.
he yells, and David's got a mouth bigger than Dara Lynn's. Every last person on that bus takes notice.
“Â 'Cause he don't have no other place to go,” I mumble. All the kids are looking at me now.
“He'll probably show up drunk and drive right into your porch,” says Fred Niles.
“He'll bring his gun and shoot your dog,” says Sarah Peters.
Michael Sholt says, “If it was us,
dad wouldn't let him in the house! Judd was the one who knocked over our mailbox when he was drinking. And it was Dad who caught his black-and-white dog when somebody turned Judd's loose. Said it was almost as mean as Judd.”
“He's just coming for dinner,” I say. “It ain't like he's movin' in.” I wish I'd never said anything. David Howard's my best friend, but he sure is loud.
In school, we're learning far more about Pilgrims than I ever wanted to know. All our spelling words for the last two weeks have had something to do with Pilgrims, so I have to learn words like “treaty,” “colonist,” “religious,” and “celebration.”
What I do like, though, is learning about the two Indians, Samoset and Squanto, who taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn. And how, except for the Indians, every single person who lives in the United States is either an immigrant himself or his great-granddaddy, maybe, came from a foreign country. Us Prestons are mostly English, a little Scotch and Irish thrown in. Miss Talbot says a lot of the early colonists were convicts, people who had been in jail in England, and were deported to America. I'll bet you anything Judd's great-great-great-great-granddaddy was somebody who'd been in jail.
â¢Â Â â¢Â Â â¢
Thanksgiving morning, I can smell the turkey roasting before I even open my eyes. We got a sixteen-pounder on sale, so Ma gets it in the oven early. I guess being hunkered down on a warm sofa, which is where I sleep, smelling turkey and knowing I don't have to go to school is about as close to heaven as I can get. Shiloh must think so, too. He's asleep against my feet, and every so often I can feel his paws twitch, like he's dreamin' of chasing rabbits.
Once Becky's awake, though, I don't sleep anymore, 'cause she'll come right over to the couch and stand with her face two inches from mine. She knows she's not supposed
to wake me, so what she does is just stand there, her hot breath warming my eyelids. If I don't wake up right off, she'll start blowin' real softâshort little puffsâand then I know that whatever sleep I ain't had yet, I'm not gonna get.
I scoot over to one side so Becky can climb up and watch cartoons on TV. This morning, though, she's not content just to blow, her breath smelling of Cheerios and sleep; she's got to tap me on the cheek with the edge of the cardboard Pilgrim Dara Lynn brought home. I'm beginning to wish I'd never heard of Thanksgiving or Pilgrims, either one.
My job is to crack the bag of walnuts somebody give us so Ma can make a walnut pieâwe always have us a walnut pie and pumpkin both. As soon as I'm dressed and get some cinnamon toast in me, I begin. Dara Lynn's settin' the table, putting little toothpick and marshmallow turkeys she's made by each plate. Dad slides the extra leaf in the table so there's room for Judd, and Shiloh just hangs around the kitchen, smelling that turkey. He don't know who's coming for dinner, and it's just as well.
Usually Ma sings when she's feeling good, but I notice she's not singing today. There's a frown-line that shows up on her forehead, and she bites her bottom lip as she tests the pie.