Daddy was a traveling salesman. He was one of the old school salesmen who travelled by train. Some of my earliest memories were going to train tracks with him. He carried a roll of newspaper and as the train approached, Daddy lit the paper and waved it in the air. The train would stop and Daddy would board for his sales trip. When I got older Daddy took me with him and we rode in the engine, the mail car, boxcars. Occasionally we got to ride in a passenger car.
Daddy was usually gone for a week at a time with occasional longer trips. When I was eight, Daddy came home from a particularly long trip. It was cold and Daddy had on a long overcoat. He greeted Mother, my sister, and brother. For a moment, I felt that empty pain in the pit of my stomach because daddy ignored me. After a few minutes, he called me over to his chair. He still had his overcoat on. I stood there for a moment with tears in my eyes, then Daddy, with a big smile very carefully and tenderly reached in his pocket and withdrew a black and tan puppy. The puppy was so small that it was lost in Daddy’s big old hand. He handed the puppy to me and said, “What do you want to name him?” Instantly I said, “Blackie.”
Daddy smiled again. He called my brother over, reached in his pocket, and came out with a tiny white puppy. “What do you want to call him”, he said. My little brother thought for a moment and said, “Snowball.” Now since this isn’t Snowball’s story I’ll not mention him again.
I started to walk away while cuddling Blackie and Daddy said, “Where are you going, get back here.” I stopped, turned back, and Daddy again reached in his pocket and brought out a little kitten. The kitten was large for its age, yet still little and was colored in various shades of black, grey, and brown. In spite of his tiny size, he had very prominent cheeks.”Name him”, Daddy said. I said, “Champion.”
Now please don’t feel sorry for my sister, she was Daddy’s favorite and already had a cat.
Daddy helped me prepare a cardboard box for Blackie and Champion. He did the same for Snowball, but remember this isn’t Snowball’s story. From the very beginning, Blackie and Champion bonded. They were more like brothers than a cat and a dog. As Champion grew he often groomed Blackie who simply delighted in it. They loved to wrestle and chase each other. They ate from the same bowl. When it was cold, they curled up in a ball together. Both were relegated to the great outdoors and forbidden to come in the house. When Daddy was travelling, I would get up after Mother was asleep and slip them into my bedroom to sleep with me. I got up before Mother in order to get them back outside before she discovered. Only years later did Mother tell me that she had known all along.
As Blackie, Champion, and I grew older, we grew closer and closer. By the time I was nine, wherever I went Blackie went and wherever Blackie went so went Champion. They would follow me to school where they waited curled under my classroom window until time to leave. Occasionally Champion would jump up in the window that was closest to my desk and signal me. We needed to get out of there, there were games to be played, at least that’s what I thought he said.
There were no leash laws in those days and dogs simply ran free. One afternoon we heard tires squealing, a sharp cry, and a thump. I ran from the backyard where I had been playing and there was my Blackie, lying in the street. The car had stopped; the driver was out kneeling over Blackie who was lying still. I knelt by him and gently lifted his head. There was no movement or response. His breathing was shallow and irregular. I started to cry feeling helpless. Mother was at work and there was no way I could get Blackie to the veterinarian. I was sure he was going to die.
The lady who hit Blackie seemed as upset as I. In response to my distress, she offered to take us to our veterinarian. Our vet, Dr. Bob Montgomery, was a good friend of our family and I quickly agreed. We got Blackie to Dr. M who examined him while I waited breathlessly. After a few minutes, Dr. M said that Blackie had brain damage and might not survive, but he administered an I.V with some antibiotics. I had called Mother as soon as we got to Dr. M’s office. She left work, came and got us and we took Blackie home. Mother made a comfortable bed for him and gently placed him in it. This time Mother made an exception and let me keep him in my bedroom.
That evening, Champion started crying the most anguished meows a cat can make. Mother said that I could bring him in to see Blackie. I brought that big old cat in and he promptly jumped in the bed with Blackie and started to lick him. He purred and rubbed against that poor dog just as if he knew what was wrong. For two days, Blackie remained in a coma and Champion only left him long enough to go outside and relieve himself.
On the third day, it was obvious that Blackie’s breathing was better, but he had quite a lump on the top right side of his head. As I watched, it jumped up just enough to be noticed. Every second or two the bump bounced. Then I noticed that every time the bump bounced, Blackie clinched his jaws in rhythm. We never knew why, but the clinching and bouncing continued throughout his life.
Later that afternoon, Blackie started purposeful movements and then he opened his eyes and after a bit of struggle, he stood up. Champion had been there almost the entire time. Champion’s purr, as Blackie started to respond, was so loud it sounded like a growl and he rubbed his body over Blackie’s legs as if he were celebrating the return of his dear friend.
Blackie was never the same after that. He was still the sweet dog that he had always been, but instead of being active and playful, he was somewhat lethargic and shy. Sometimes he would just check out, stand there, and look at you with hollow eyes and that funny bump bouncing on the top of his head. I could call him or whistle and he would come out of his trance. This is when Champion became “The Champ.” He knew that Blackie was not all right and so he became Blackie’s caregiver and defender. The Champ almost never let Blackie out of his sight.
There were several dogs in the neighborhood, a couple of which had shown aggression to Blackie. Before the accident, he handled himself quite well, never being intimidated or fearful. After the accident, however, he was passive tucking his tail and whining when one of bullies came around. That’s when the Champ showed his true mettle. He would quickly impose himself between Blackie and the offender; swell himself up to twice his size with fur standing erect. Then he would start to spit and growl, he stood stiff legged with his tail straight up in the air. If the assailant wasn’t smart enough to take the hint after a couple of moments of this display, The Champ would make a sudden lunge and bat the offender across the nose. The Champ weighed twenty-five pounds and had front paws with six toes, each carrying sharp claws. His blow was devastating and he sent many dogs running for home with badly lacerated noses.
One especially dumb Boxer simply kept up his harassment after The Champ had delivered his punch. In a flash, that cat was on the boxer’s back, biting his ears and clawing his shoulders for all he was worth. He rode that poor dog for a good half a block before dismounting and strolling home as if nothing had happened. Then he walked up to Blackie and started purring and rubbing himself against Blackie’s legs, comforting his dear friend. The Boxer never returned. (Many years later we learned that The Champ was a Maine-Coon cat which explained a great deal about his fighting ability).
Occasionally I would attempt to discipline Blackie and The Champ would quickly get between us and give me a look that said, “Go ahead and try to get through me, buster.” It was always that way. The Champ would let no one get to Blackie with an intention of harm.
One day, Blackie sneaked into the house with the Champ right behind him. When Mother saw them, she took the broom to them both and ran them out of the kitchen door. From that day on, The Champ hated Mother. If he could sneak in the house, he would seek out the clean clothes Mother had placed on the bed. Then the Champ would climb right into the middle of them and inundate them with his nasty smelling cat pee. He only peed on clean clothes, never just the bed. If he was in a particularly bad mood, he deposited something more solid and stinky. After leaving his gift to Mother, he would make a beeline for the back door, which opened out and slip through it before Mother could catch him.
Late one afternoon Mother was standing at the kitchen sink preparing dinner. Daddy had gotten home early and we were sitting at the kitchen table while he entertained us. I heard the front screen door softly shut. It opened inward and we generally kept the latch on. If the latch was not on, The Champ seemed to know. He would slip through and slink into the house with one thing on his mind. Mother was going to get it. I knew there was trouble brewing, but I couldn’t imagine just how much. I should have gotten up, caught The Champ, and put him out, but I was too enthralled with Daddy’s story.
All of a sudden, Mother let out a blood-curdling scream and started dancing from one foot to the other. Daddy jumped up from the table — asking Mother what was wrong. After a moment of utter hysteria Mother said, “That damn cat peed on me.” It was true, The Champ, not finding clean clothes had quietly come in the kitchen, and like a ninja warrior with great stealth backed up to Mother and thoroughly sprayed her ankles. He then hit the back door on the fly.
Well, we all broke out in laughter, even Daddy. Mother headed off to her bedroom to get Daddy’s pistol. We weren’t sure just who she was going to shoot, but it was quite clear that if she had her way, blood would be shed. Thankfully, Daddy intervened and The Champ lived for another adventure. I’m sure that day cost him one of his nine lives.
Blackie and The Champ lived eight more years and then one day, as cats often do, he simply didn’t come home. Blackie moped and would sometimes visit their old haunts and whine a pathetic whine. Several months after The Champ disappeared, I got home from school, and Blackie was lying in the front yard. I think he simply lay down and died.
Some fifty years later, I still miss those two special animals. I’ve had other animals since then, but none ever were as special as Blackie and The Champ. Occasionally I dream of them and wake up with a feeling of loss. I confess to being Wesleyan in my Theology and John Wesley wrote in his diary that he believed his horse would be in heaven to greet him when he arrived, so why not Blackie and The Champ?