The two hardest things I ever put to sleep were Spike and my Gravely tractor. Both were old faithful companions.
Spike was born on the old Frank Phillips farm at the head of Johns Creek. Pike County Deputy Phillips was the courage on the McCoy side of the feud and would boldly cross the Tug into West Virginia and get whatever Hatfields he was looking for and bring them back to Kentucky, a process which in the 1970s became known as a Jack Banks Extradition. Deputy Banks would go over into Williamson W.Va., and find his prey and chase them with random pistol shots over Deep Third Street across the Kentucky bridge where Kentucky State Policeman Richard Ray awaited to make the arrest.
Spike was surprisingly gentle to be from there. In 13 years of golden retrieving, Spike never raised his voice, except for a brief and patient staccato when you didn't hear him gently knocking to the back door with his paw to be let in. But as a young dog, he had fallen in with another dog and helped attack and mortally wound a neighbor dog, wounding, too, the family who owned it. I think Spike blamed himself for that uncharacteristic conduct until the day he got the shot at the vets, and made up for it by protecting human babies.
His other fault was he was hooked on retrieving. If you picked up a rotten potato or a rock and threw it into the creek, Spike would bring it right back to you and wait to be thanked.
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Rotten potatoes smelled better than Spike, but after a while only visitors know your house smells like a stinky dog. I quite agree that the relationship of man to dog or woman to dog — because Spike was pretty much a mama's boy — helped both species to evolve. I know Spike sure helped me evolve. I actually lost my gills before Spike died and my tail bone usually feels like it is going to fall off. I'm not sure if my wife evolved during that time, but she sure didn't get any worse.
There comes a time when anything gets so old you have to put it down, but when it is a faithful companion, it is hard to do. An old Gravely tractor is like some old Kentucky farmer climbing tier rails at 70, no quit in him, trying not to end a life of dependability, trying to bring value to the farm. A Gravely likewise will start. It will somehow, someway or another, find a way to run. And I'm fairly certain my Gravely did not intentionally catch my left thumb in that pole-bean fence and about pull it off.
My Gravely will soon be half a century old, but got to be more trouble than she was worth and last fall, just quit — as writer James Still would say, it just "sot down." I was too embarrassed to take her back to the Price family again. They are ill Gravely physicians of some half century. You can't spend everything the country has on old people and a farmer cannot keep his Gravely on life support. Pull her out to the back to a shed row of riding lawn mowers ago, until now a neo-mule crypt, hence a Gravely yard with family names like Briggs Stratton, Craftsman, Murray.
If you have been accustomed to a Gravely, and they last 50 years, and its time for a new one, you realize that you only get one Gravely per lifetime. You are forced to ask yourself some realistic questions about just how long a tiller will have to last to do you. Then you try to find a pretty good one which will hold out for about the same time as you will.
And something that will start easy. Us old men — too young or proud for the shed, but wanting tools which combust — hate stuff that won't start. We have pulled enough rope. We may ourselves not start on occasion, but that is different.
I opted for a tiller with a Swedish name-for-corn-shucks body, but with a Japanese motor on it. Japanese motors start good. The tines on my new tiller do not look tinny. Gravely tines of my era only rotated one way. On my Nordic/Oriental tiller, the tines turn backward or forward either one. The tines they are a' changin'.
Larry Webster is a Pikeville attorney. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org