A dog, a man and commitment

By: Leon Smith - Contributing Columnist

Author’s note: Bill and Elisabeth Walters, Kirk Walters, and the late James Griffin provided information used in this column.

In 1952, Burgwine Walters chose Rocky as his last and best canine trainee.

“He’s long for a Cocker Spaniel,” he told his grandkids. “But I’m long for a man, so I think we will get along fine.”

Burg would have been about 67 years old, and Rocky several weeks old, when the two rode from Monroe to Polkton on a Carolina Trailways bus. After that ride, Burg and Rocky mostly walked.

One afternoon, Burg and Rocky stopped at the loafers’ bench in front of Lum Harrington’s store. The younger men made room for Burg to sit down on the bench; his dog sat on the sidewalk in front of him.

“Rocky’s turning out to be a pretty smart dog,” he said, rubbing Rocky’s ears. “He can do impressions.”

The loafers knew Burg had patience enough to do hard things — like carve a chain out of a single piece of wood, and put the peel back on an apple, without any white showing. But although he did not make statements he couldn’t back up, he had not yet proved himself as a dog trainer.

“See if you can guess who this is.”

He leaned over and whispered, “Do Andrew del Sarto,” in Rocky’s ear. Rocky stood up and stretched, walked two steps then began to stagger. After a few feet, he collapsed completely , and rolled over on his back. He lay still and shook his head, then began to flail his legs as if he were trying to get up.

“Andrew,” the loafers laughed as Rocky flailed. “It looks just like Andrew. Drunk in the side ditch and can’t get out.”

After that, the loafers of Polkton never knew what to expect from Rocky or his trainer. Later, in a crowd at the loafers’ bench, Burg said, “Rocky, you want a Co-cola?” Rocky looked up at him and waited.

“You do?” Rocky wagged his tail. “All right. You’re gonna need a cup. Go find one.”

Rocky got up and walked around looking for a paper ice cream cup — which, when full would have had a cardboard lid with a movie star on it. When he found a cup, he brought it to his master.

“Now watch this,” Burg said as he put a nickel in the cup. “Rocky, take this nickel to Bob Glenn and buy you a Co-cola.”

“Wait a minute,” someone said. “How’s Bob gonna know what your dog wants?”

Burg sighed, then took out his pad and wrote a note, which he put in the ice cream cup. The note read: “Bob, Pour Rocky some Co-cola. The money is in the cup. Burg.”

Rocky took the cup, walked to N.C. Highway 218, looked both ways, then crossed. He waited for traffic along the Ansonville road, then crossed to the Gulf Station. At the door, Rocky barked ‘til Bob came out. Then Rocky laid his cup at Bob’s feet.

Bob reached down, took the note and the nickel, and walked inside the station. When Rocky saw him return with the open bottle of Coke, he walked up and wagged his tail. After Bob poured a cupful, Rocky lapped it as quick as scoffing a cheese cracker. Then he looked up: first at Bob, then at the empty cup, and barked for a refill. After he finished, he crossed the two roads back to the loafer’s bench, and sat down beside Burg.

One of the loafers offered to buy Rocky a drink, but Berg said he had had enough for one day. So he bade them good afternoon, and he and Rocky began their walk home. Most of the way, Burg was silent, stroking his chin. But when they got to the short cut just past Walter Crump’s, he stopped.

“Andrew del Sarto was funny,” Burg said. Rocky wagged his tail.

When he said, “Buying Co-cola was impressive,” Rocky looked up and wagged even more.

At, “I just thought of a trick that no normal dog can do,” Rocky turned ‘round in a circle.

“We’ll get started on it first thing in the morning.”

Next day, as they walked to town, Burg made hash marks in his notebook.

“Rocky, when you and I walk places, you always stick right with me,” he said. “We’re going to prove you can stick to the job, when I’m not with you.”

After they walked from down the hill from their back door, across the branch and out on the paved road, Burg took out his pad again. By the time they reached the sandstone step at Herbert Griffin’s Grocery, Burg had counted 1,230 paces.

“Rocky, this is Herbert’s store,” he said. “I’ll knock. You bark.”

After Herbert came, Burg introduced Rocky and he and storekeeper talked. Then Burg bought a drink and shared it with Rocky, and they walked back home.

“Rocky, it’s a little better than eight-tenths of a mile from our house to Herbert’s Store,” he said. “We can make it in 12 minutes — if we go right on and don’t mess around. When you go by yourself, you can to go to the bathroom — if you really need to — but don’t go marking trees and fence posts. And don’t go running after birds, or cats, or other dogs. It will mess up your time.”

When they got home they went to the outbuilding, where Burg measured Rocky for a new harness, which he cut out and stitched up out of leather.

Next day, Burg said, “Rocky, you want a Pepsi?”

Rocky wagged his tail.

“Come here, then.” He put the harness on, opened the cup that hung from it, and put in two nickels and a note.

“Go to Herbert’s, and bring us back a Pepsi and some crackers. Now don’t mess around.”

When he saw Rocky coming back, Burg looked at his watch. His dog had made the trip in 27 minutes.

“Must have got slow service,” he said.

A few weeks later, Herbert’s 15 year-old son, James, was stocking shelves when he heard a bark at the door.

“That’s Rocky,” Herbert said. “Let’s go see what he wants.”

James loafed around, suspecting his dad was playing a trick on him. But Herbert kept waiting, and Rocky kept barking, so he finally went past the table where the hoop cheese sat, and walked to the back door.

“This is Rocky,” Herbert said. “See his harness? “

James nodded.

“Open the cup and see what Burgwine wants today.”

Rocky stayed put as James opened the cup and found the nickels and a note: “Herbert, Get me and Rocky a Pepsi and a pack of cheese crackers. The money is in the cup. Burg.”

Rocky stayed put as James filled the order and placed it in his harness. But as soon as his cargo was secure, Rocky turned around and headed north. James watched until Rocky turned right toward Pigeon Ridge and trotted on out of sight.

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.

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Leon Smith

Contributing Columnist