"….But once upon a time, we had a real dog. His name was Barney and he was an English Springer Spaniel. The best dog ever. He moved all over the country with us and could handle just about anything or anyone. He was smart, loyal, gentle and absolutely fearless. Not counting my wife, he was my best friend.
But when he died I wasn’t there. Why I wasn’t there is another story and it will be someone else’s to tell someday when I’m not around. But I wasn’t there when he took that long, last ride to the vet. Thankfully my wife was there and to this day she cannot stand to watch the similar scene as it plays out in the movie Marley and Me. Maybe it was for the best that I wasn’t there. I just don’t know.
But I do believe that our dogs will be there for us when we get to heaven. And they will come running to greet us and not only love us, but forgive us for taking so long to get there."
-from the HeadhunterPOV post “Barney and Me” (August 2012)
Fast forward to Saturday August 8, 2020. It’s a blazing hot afternoon in Central Texas and we are on our way back to Grayson County, driving fast on a farm-to-market road through the Texas countryside south of Rogers. An 8 week old English Springer Spaniel puppy, also named Barney, is buried in my wife Kayla's lap, wondering when he will be released and returned to his family. Who are these people? They smell different. I want to go home. But I do like the cool air blowing on me.
And then I feel it, the road on the right seems to fall away. Then I see it, the dashboard instrument panel showing a diagram…41, 39, 40 and 4. Tire pressures. 4 is a problem and it’s on the front passenger tire. I’ve already slowed down from 75 to 35 and quickly go to 10 looking for a safe, flat place to get off the road. Flashers on, I see something up ahead on the right. Baseball fields. Must be close to town. Maybe we can make it to Rogers. Nope, I can feel the rim digging into the pavement. We pull into the ballpark. The rim is ruined.
Google says we are still two miles from town. I’m not even sure the spare has air in it. Besides, I’m not even sure I know how to get the spare down from underneath the pick-up bed. Haven’t had to change a tire myself in twenty years. I’ll figure it out.
My wife is less optimistic and calls her road service number as we sit in the cool truck, engine still running and A/C blowing full blast. After 10 minutes of back and forth the road service says it will be a couple of hours. Only available service will have to come out of Temple and they have other service calls ahead of us. Heat does things to tires and there are plenty of flats today.
Kayla, who is a successful realtor and always on the go, has a Plan B. She tells me to call the local police, not 9-1-1-. Just the regular number. Maybe they can send someone out to help. Tell them we are stranded with a new puppy. Of course, I think this is a terrible idea. But she can be persuasive and the little dog is looking at me with those puppy eyes. So I call the Rogers Police number and get transferred to the county sheriff’s department. They say no problem, they will have an officer come by as soon as possible…could be 30 minutes, could be 2 hours.
We're in a safe place off the road, there is water and a little covered picnic table. Even restrooms. If it weren’t 105 degrees it wouldn’t be bad. At least we have a good breeze and we brought snacks. With Kayla and little Barney secure in the shade at the picnic table, I go back to the truck. I need to get to work and figure this out. How do I get this spare tire down and on the ground? It feels like it’s aired up. Maybe we’ll be lucky. By the way, where is the jack and tire tools? See the manual.
As I am standing beside the truck thumbing through the manual, a beat up old black Chevy Blazer pulls into the parking lot. I see one large tattooed arm hanging out of the driver’s window. And my pistol is in the truck. Should I make my move now or stay cool?
“Need some help?”, the young man attached to the tattooed arm asked. Anyone under 40 looks young to me these days, but I reckoned him to be in his mid-20’s.
I replied, “Well I think we’ve got it covered. Sheriff is sending someone out and we also have road service from Temple on the way.”
“I can change that tire for you”. He is still sitting in the old Blazer which is basically a rolling pile of junk filled with more junk. I was hoping he would say that someone from the sheriff’s department had sent him out. Apparently not.
“So you think you can do this?”
He nodded and took off his sunglasses. “Yes sir. I do this all the time.”
“I’ll pay you.”
“That’s ok” he says as he lurches out of the Blazer. He doesn't appear to have a weapon. Maybe I can take him with my bare hands if need be. Wish I had that pistol.
So the young man with the large tattooed arms goes to work. Finds the jack and tools under the passenger seat. Of course, that was going to be the first place I looked. Assembles the tool and extends it through a hole in the back bumper attaching it to the spare tire rack and quickly begins cranking it down. (My plan exactly). Spare tire on the ground, he goes to loosen the lug nuts. He’s strong and appears to almost bend the little single arm lug wrench that came with the pick-up. He goes and digs around in the back of the Blazer’s junk pile, finds an old four-way lug wrench and promptly begins loosening the nuts. He then sets the little jack in place, cranks it up and finishes taking off the flat tire. He mounts the spare, tightens up the lug nuts and lets down the jack. We are good to go. This one man pit crew really did know what he was doing.
I had $25 cash in my wallet and would have probably given him $100 if I’d had it. I handed him the $25. He shook my hand and said, “My name is Milton. I’m from just up the road a piece”.
“Thank you Milton, we really appreciate it. No telling how long we would have been out here. And with the new puppy we wanted to get back home.”
“Glad I could help. Be careful.” And with that he drove away.
My wife called the road service and cancelled the order. I called the sheriff and said someone came by, a local by the name of Milton, hoping they would say they sent him or knew him or something.
“No sir. I don’t know of a Milton and we are still waiting for an officer to respond.”
“Old black, beat up Chevy blazer? Big guy, in his 20’s, tattoos?”, I asked.
“No sir, doesn’t ring a bell. Ya'll have a safe trip home."
When we picked up the pup earlier that morning, before we left the old breeder, she prayed over us. Prayed for a safe journey back home and “may God’s angels watch over you all”. My wife reminded me of that prayer as we drove back north. Maybe Milton was a good Samaritan or just a poor country boy hoping to pick up a few bucks. Or maybe he was something more.
We made it home without further incident and Barney got to meet our other two dogs, small white bundles of soft curly hair only slightly larger than him, but not for long. He is adjusting, the other dogs are adjusting and we are adjusting. But, I knew it was time for one more “proper dog” before this life is over. And he is definitely going to be a proper dog. But if, some day, I do get another one…I think it will be a rescue dog. And I'll be naming that one Milton.
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