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“Hemlock Stories” by Ira Briggs

A Tough Decision

By Ira Briggs

25 February 2015

Uncle Jimmy, an outdoorsman friend of mine, faced the unpopular, but necessary decision to terminate the life of Canadice, his dog.

Canadice had outlived his ability to walk and control his own excretions. “Better let me put him down for ya, Jimmy.” I urged gently.

Uncle Jimmy protested, “Reeds have always taken care of their own, no need to be a’ changin’ things now!”

“Don’t be stubborn Uncle Jimmy; you know how much you love that dog. Why not let Doc Kiehle (the veterinarian) put him down the domestic way?” I coaxed, but my stubborn friend wouldn’t budge.

“No! My 22 caliber Harrington and Richardson Trapper pistol will do the job. I’ll heavy load the powder, he won’t feel nothin. I’ll take him on down to Dixon Hollow outlet, by Big Rock, where we always skinned muskrats and et’ jerky. Just like George did to Lenny in Of Mice and Men.” Jimmy’s voice trembled with emotion.

“Jimmy, that’s the movies, you can’t be sure he won’t suffer!” I countered.

“Sufferin’s a part of livin’, Ira”, he replied calmly.

The short life of the burg once known as Dixon Hollow was primarily due to its geographic location. The city of Rochester was in need of an adequate pure water supply; therefore, a water pipeline was dug from Hemlock lake to Rochester. The city began purchasing properties on Hemlock and Canadice lakes, as well as properties adjacent to creeks and streams that fed the watershed of these lakes. All that remained of the thriving community were a few stone structures and foundations near its winding streams.

Jimmy scratched the underbelly of his canine friend. Canadice lay at the foot of Big Rock, with his one eye closed; he could still acknowledge the pleasure he was receiving from his big savior by rapidly kicking his useless hind leg. Uncle Jimmy knelt on one knee, avoiding eye contact with the mystic white of his dog’s disfigured eye, due to the dog’s early years of altercations. The cold steel of a barrel parted the hairs on Canadice’s forehead, as Jimmy’s oversized thumb slowly pulled back the hammer on the pistol to the cocked position. The trigger was pulled and a shot echoed throughout the crumbling structures. Canadice lay motionless, his tongue hanging from his mouth between worn and broken teeth.

Jimmy grievingly stroked the thick fur of his companion, reliving their many years together. His hand stopped, only to feel a faint heartbeat! Jimmy’s own heart broke when, upon scratching the dog’s underbelly he was answered with the slow responsive kick of a hind leg! Canadice still had the same overpowering will to live as he had when he first met Uncle Jimmy.

Again Jimmy pulled back the hammer on the pistol and pulled the trigger. Another shot rang out, its echoes mocking him. Canadice heaved his last breath and his bodily fluids drained. The pupil of his gaping eye rolled down, indicating his passing into another dimension. Uncle Jimmy picked up a fist-sized stone and violently bludgeoned the gun against Big Rock, bloodying his hands. Finally, he leaned against the huge boulder, exhausted. Manly tears cascaded down, running off his flannel shirt, soaking into a pair of wool pants. By nightfall, he had buried one of the Reed’s own, along with remnants of the gun, at the foot of Big Rock.

Editor’s Note: Ira Briggs is a well digger, writer and Arc Living Skills Assistant and a University of Rochester employee who hails from Hemlock. He writes short stories from his memories of the people and events of Hemlock NY.