Monday, April 20, 2015

A Mutt Named Gyp

On a spring vacation, in the 1950’s, my family went to South Dakota. It was a combination trip of sightseeing, and visiting relatives. It was exciting to visit the Black Hills, Mount Rushmore, and other historic places. But the visiting relative’s part wasn’t all that much fun for me as an eight year old. I was definitely bored and quite shy as we stopped along the way to see various relatives I had never met. By the time we got to a Great Aunt Kitty’s house (my Grandmothers Sister), I stubbornly refused to get out of the car. Little did I know, that Great Aunt Kitty house was going to prove to be the best part of my vacation that summer, and provide the best medicine a shy and soon to be crippled, eight year old would ever receive.

After several tries by my parents, to convince me to be polite and come meet Aunt Kitty had failed, Aunt Kitty took matters into her own hands. She approached me and knelt down beside the car door and whispered; “Won’t you please come help me? I have a litter of new puppies, and one is very shy and scared. He won’t come to anyone. But maybe he will come to you as he knows you’re shy too.”

Well, shy or not, I figured I needed to try and help a poor puppy that was scared just like me and off we went to the barn. There in one of the horse stalls was a Momma dog and four pups. Three of them were running around and yipping and barking like any happy puppy does. But tucked away in a dark corner under some horse tack and saddles, was one little male puppy that was hunkered down and trying not to be seen, just like I had been doing in the confines of the car.

I got on my knees and crawled into the tiny dark space and hunkered down with him. I decided maybe we could hide out together until everyone else went to the house and he and I could just hang out together, avoiding all the noise and people neither of us were interested in being with. After the adults left us, the Pup slowly began to lick me and then began to play. He and I spent most of the visit running around inside the horse barn and exploring the world together. By the time supper time came, I still was not going to go inside, but Aunt Kitty said I could bring the puppy with me. No one could pry the Pup away from me.

By the next morning, the relationship with the puppy had become concrete. No one could separate us and it became another ordeal for my parents to try and get me to leave with them. Again, Aunt Kitty came up with the solution. She offered the Pup to me to take home as my very own. It sounded great, but my mother wanted no part of the idea. After more tears and refusals from me to leave the pup, my Dad said; “Well, that Pup would probably fetch Aunt Kitty a good price at the auction barn, so we really couldn’t possibly take her Prize Puppy.” At which I promptly got my little purse and took out the rest of my allowance that I had saved to buy souvenirs on our trip. I had a whole dollar and some change, which to me was a lot of money and offered it to Aunt Kitty who of course accepted it as though it were a vast fortune.

By this time my parents decided the only way they were going to win was to give into me and let me have the dog. By the time we got back home to our farm, spring break was over and I was back in school, but rushed home eagerly every afternoon to be with my new companion who I had named Chip, but my dad jokingly called him Gyp the mutt, (a farmer slang word for worthless) because the once shy pup, was the terror of the farm yard, chasing the chickens and the cattle and everything that moved.

Shortly after returning to school, we were all vaccinated with the very first Polio vaccine, which proved to be a disaster for me. Instead of just a mild reaction to the inoculation, I was one of a few thousand children across the country, who actually got a full blown case of Polio from the vaccine. The lab had inadvertently not killed the entire live polio virus in a few batches and it had disastrous results for the children who got the bad vaccine.


As spring turned into summer, I had spent most of it in the hospital and when I came home, I was no longer just a shy child, but one who could no longer walk. Chip a.k.a, Gyp, as my father called him, was again, my sole comfort and interest in life. From the moment I came home, Chip never left my side. Through all the painful therapy I had to undergo, Chip, was there and when I would refuse to try and walk, he would jump at me as though to say…”You can do it! Come play.” He instinctively began to take things from me and hold them just out of my reach, so I would have to stretch and work my muscles to retrieve them. That was something no therapist could get me to do, but Chip made it worth the effort. He knew how to make work seem like play. By the time fall rolled around, I was able to stand and Chip was always there to encourage me to try harder and take another step and another. Chip, knew that deep inside all I needed was encouragement that one day we would again chase the cows and chickens together. And so it was, that I learned to try a little harder, stretch myself beyond what I thought I could do, and achieve the freedom to live and love and trust in a dog my father called  Gyp…The best bargain I ever bought, even though he would never be worth much as a farm dog. He proved himself a wise and wonderful friend until the day he died.




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