Major, a fice of some eight years, and dog of the Lockhart clan, was not much of a hunter. With a body about the size of three bladders of bologna, squeezed inside a balloon, with a covering of short white hair, and four short legs much too spindly to sprint, Major was more of an observer.
Hattie Lockhart did not tell her fice she loved him, but she spent nearly eight years showing him by baking him biscuits and aging them just the way he liked them. And she made sure he had plenty of well water. When she found she could not take care of him anymore, she said she was giving him to my sisters and me. She had to be sad to send Major away, but she did not show it. Having seen what had to be done, she simply did so.
We had a few weeks to get ready for Major to come live with us. We prepared for his coming each Sunday afternoon when our family came to visit the Lockhart farm.
Whenever we came outside , Major came out from under the house to follow us as we sought adventure. He watched as we dipped the gourd into the water bucket and tried not to “hold over the bucket” as we drank. If Major needed fresh water, we would put a dipper full in his bowl. But he never showed any expression, did not wag his tail, and he would shy away when you tried to pet him.
Major’s favorite drink was cool well water from Aunt Hattie’s hand-dug well. After we found out how to sink the bucket in the water, we wore ourselves out trying to winch it back up. When we poured our quarter bucket into his bowl, Major drank vigorously, but without emotion that we could see.
Major lived under Lockhart homeplace, which sat three feet above the ground on sandstone pillars. Sometimes he would go under there and wait until we followed. There we found dirt-dauber nests and spider webs, and little paths where slugs had crawled around, but the most unusual thing under there were the little funnel-shaped holes in the dirt.
Major walked over and stood by one of them.
“What is it Major?” we asked. Major just looked at the hole. Not even one tail-wag.
Daddy heard us, so he crow-walked under the house where we were and squatted down to look.
“They’re doodle bug holes,” he said.
“What’s a doodle bug?” we asked.
“It’s what’s down in the bottom of this special hole,” Daddy said. “See how the sides slant toward the bottom?”
When he barely touched the edge of the hole with his pocket knife, all the dirt under the blade caved in. Then Daddy trimmed a magnolia leaf to make a stick. While he stirred gently along the bottom of the cone, he sang: “Doodle Bug, Doodle Bug, your house is on fire. Come out and save your children.”
Pretty soon we saw something moving in the bottom of the hole. Like the grabber of a really small crab, these pincers caught hold of the stick. Manning those pincers was a grey body about the size of a first-grade pencil lead. Then we stirred the dirt and sang the doodle bug song. Major just watched.
Daddy said the doodle bug hole was a trap, so the doodle bug could catch an ant. If one stepped on the rim of that cone, the dirt would give away and the ant would slide down to the bottom of the hole and became doodle bug dinner.
After doodle-bugging, we went outside, and Daddy showed us all how to shine a penny by polishing one with the moist sand he found near the bull rushes. Daddy let us put sand between thumb and finger, and make a dull penny shine. Then we showed the finished product to Major. He looked but showed no emotion.
What would it take to get that dog to make him smile, to make his tail wag? That old dog was just like Aunt Hattie; you couldn’t ever tell whether he liked anything, or hated anything. He was just an old stick in the mud.
So one day, I went out behind the smoke house to check out figs, and Major followed me. That was when I decided to get a rise out of that old dog. I saw a little fig bush limb about eight inches long lying on the ground . I picked it up. Then I looked around to see if I had Major to myself.
“Now I’ll get an expression out of you,” I thought .
“Major,” I called and I tossed the stick at him. It landed in the middle of his back.
The impact was so light Major never even winced, but he did look surprised. For Major, this was an enormous reaction. Just then, Daddy came up and put his arm around me.
“Old Major’ll never forget that, son, ” he said gently.
All of a sudden, I could see through Major’s eyes. From down near the ground, I looked up at the boy I had showed the doodle bug to. Then that boy looked right at me, hit me with a stick and smiled.
I did not like the boy I saw through Major’s eyes.
“Major, I’m so sorry,” I said.
“Daddy, will he ever forgive me?” I asked .
“I don’t know, son,” Daddy said. “I don’t think you hurt his body, but I do think you hurt his feelings.”
“Major, I’m so sorry,” I said, looking right into his brown fice eyes. It seemed like he knew what I was saying. He seemed to be thinking the proposition over.
“Major, will you forgive me?”
After a little bit, Major made his decision. He sidled over just close enough for me to reach him with my fingertips. Then he waited for me to rub him softly on his head.
After the finger rub, his hassle looked like the beginning of a smile.
I had hurt Major, and had asked for and experienced Fice Forgiveness.
Soon after that, Major came to live with us, and after a while we became fast friends.
I never forgot his forgiveness, and I never hit Major again.
Leon Smith, a resident of Wingate who grew up in Polkton, believes the truth in stories and that his native Anson County is very near the center of the universe.