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Day of the Mad Dog

by Allen Rolf

When the war came, the government man came and made us move to the city. He wanted our place for a glider training school.

We moved into town to a shot-gun. It had a bedroom for my sister, Margaret, and myself, a living room, a bedroom for Ma and Pa, and a kitchen. It was called a shot-gun, because if you stood at the front door you could shoot straight through all the rooms with a shot-gun.

The shot-gun had a giant pen-oak in the yard and was on an intersection with a street car stop.

Margaret and I loved to sit in the shade of the pen-oak and watch the street car go by, but there were many other kids in the neighborhood, so we were never at a loss for something do.

Our world at that time, though, was only about two square city blocks and in the evening at dinner time all the mothers in the neighborhood would call their children with a special cry like a mother quail hen calling her brood.

At eve tide, the neighborhood would ring with a symphony of different mother calls, but I always thought my Ma's was most distinctive: three long "yoooooo-hooooos" in rapid succession. When we heard that call, we stopped everything and came running home.

In the summer, all the moms would put a tuff of cotton on the front door screen to scare away flies and the screen was never latched. There was a stern formality when someone came to the front door. If Ma did not know a visitor, she would reach up and latch the screen door, a suttle signal to the visitor that he was not yet accepted. The latch, of course, was just above the reach of the children, and was used as a simple command that the children should not go outside.

It was a hot summer day in August, those days which are called dog days, and Margaret and I were collecting China Berries in an old bucket. We soaked them in water to harden and then had China Berry fights with the Holcomb kids down the block.

Suddenly, came the call: "yoooooo-hooooo ... yoooooo-hooooo ... yoooooo-hooooo!"

We climbed from the China Berry tree and ran for the house. Ma shooed us though the front door and latched the screen door.

"You stay inside till I tell you to," Ma said, "there's a mad dog coming down the street."

Margaret and I scurried to the front window. Kids were running for home, each answering their mother call. We spied a dog down the block.

Slowly, the dog came our way.

"That dog don't look mad," said Margaret, "it looks drunk."

"Yeah, look at all the slobber!"

"Ma, what do you do with a mad dogs?" asked Margaret.

"The dog catcher is coming to get him. They'll take him downtown and cut off his head to see if he's really mad."

"Cut of his head?"

"Yes, that's the way they find out!"

Margaret and I felt sorry for the poor dog.

"Maybe we could take him and nurse him back to health?" suggested my sister.

"No, if that dog bites you then you have to take twenty-one shots in the stomach, or you will go mad, too."

I cringed. I was afraid to ask if they would cut your head off, too.

The dog catcher came. He drove a yellow truck with "Dog Catcher" on the side. He put on large rubber gloves and pulled a long pole with a loop on the end from his truck. He walked around behind the mad dog, placed the loop over the dog's head, and pulled it tight. The dog didn't even fight. I think it was too drunk.

When the dog catcher left in his yellow truck, Ma unhooked the screen door and we could go out to play. Somehow, collecting China Berries didn't seem like much fun. Margaret and I sat in the shade of the pen oak thinking about the mad dog.

"That poor dog," said Margaret.

"Yeah, and they're going to chop off its head. Wonder if they'll put it on a spike at City Hall like the Romans did?"

"Really, you mean they cut the head off and put it on a pole for everybody to see?"

"Sure," I said. "That's the way the Roman's kept everybody in line."

"You think we can go see?"

"I guess so, the street car runs right by City Hall."

"Oh, let's go tomorrow," said Margaret. "I have two tokens we can use."

The next day we boarded the street car. It rattled down Fourteenth Street, down Main, and finally to Markham past City Hall.

We peered out the window.

"You see anything?" asked Margaret.

"No, not a thing," I answered.

We rode the street car to the end of the line and looked again on the way back. Still no dog head on a spike in front of the City Hall.

"I still think that dog was just drunk," said Margaret.

"Maybe so," I agreed. "I guess it sobered up and they let it go home."

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1998 Allen Rolf