Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Dogs of Grayton Beach

There were plenty of animals in Grayton: snakes, lizards, butterflies and roaches and other myriad insects, alligators (when I lived in the trailer on the main drag of town, I rode my bike out of my gravel lot one day and there was this huge bull gator crossing right in front of me), frogs, toads, turtles, salt and fresh water fish, scallops and oysters, squirrels and mice, there were raccoons and opossums and armadillos, deer, many birds of many sizes, and there were feral cats, abandoned cats, house cats and there were dogs.
Dogs in Grayton Beach never had leashes. They usually had collars and they all belonged to someone and everyone in the small town knew what dog belonged to who. Randall had two dogs: Pogo and Lemmy. Pogo was small, older, and probably the most intelligent dog in town; Lemmy was a young lab pup, a bit dumb but cute (which is often a hallmark for success in this country). But Pogo wandered the town, never getting in any trouble, a sweet smart dog, calm, never straying too far. Despite his size--little stocky body on short legs--no other dog bothered Pogo much and there were much bigger dogs around; a lot of hunting dogs, mostly males, who wandered the sand streets and gnarled treed yards, the woods along the dark lakes and the state park dunes west of town. Van--Mr. Butler's son--had such a dog. It was a big reddish Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Chester. I once tried to have a tug of war with that dog, the rope in both our mouths, and he almost pulled my gums out.
When I lived in the stilt house our roommate, Jeff, had a good dog: Pistachio. Pistachio was a blonde lab, maybe a little mix in him. He loved to wander (though went to work with Jeff most days) and was fascinated with fish, especially washed-up-to-shore stinky squalid dead fish. In the fall, in October of 1985, of my first year in Grayton, as the weather cooled and tourists dwindled and business at the Paradise Cafe slowed, I'd go off by myself for long walks into the dunes or into the woods beyond the dunes. Except I wasn't always by myself, because if he was around, Pistachio would come with me.
I'd always been a cat person. My family had our share of dogs when I grew up, though always for short durations, but we always had cats--from kitten to grave--and I liked cats and I related to cats. So, having a buddy dog come along with me on my quite solitude walks around the woods was charming, interesting, different to me. Pistachio would go off, disappear, but I'd hear him, then he'd find me, hang with me for a while as I progressed on and off trails, then he'd disappear again. One time, I remember, I climbed a big pine, just to see the land from up high. Pistachio did not like it--he barked and barked until I came down. He was a good dog.
But my favorite dog was Butch. Butch was a scrappy little creature, not much bigger than a cat. He was straw yellow with long scruffy fur and he wandered everywhere around town by himself. "Oh, there's Butch," people would say, so that's how I knew his name. I did not know who he belonged to. Butch did not appear to get along with other dogs--or rather--other dogs did not seem to accept him in their various groupings. Butch was an outcast. He was a loner. Still, he was omnipresent in town, watching and not participating, always on the cusp of human activity. You could pet him, but could never tell if he enjoyed being pet. He was funny looking and I liked him. It wasn't until later someone (Jeff, I think) pointed out his owner to me. It was a man I'd seen around, a man who had a stiff gait and walked a lot. Turned out the man had a serious injury--his back had been broken in a car accident, I think--he wore a brace and lived in Grayton while he convalesced. He fished a lot, but not for anything too big. I never talked to this man, though by all accounts he was a nice guy. And so to me--to Brock and Matt and Roger and maybe a few others--he was Mr. Butch. "Oh, I saw Mr. Butch headed down to the water today," we'd say. "Mr. Butch caught some tilefish." Stuff like that. And the next year, Mr. Butch's teenage son came to Grayton--Mr. Butch was well and out of town most of the time--and he even worked at the Paradise for a spell. 
I don't recall his name, because we simply knew him as Butch's Boy.

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