(A note from the columnist: Many are still dealing with the aftermath of the natural disaster, Florence, and all of us are having to put up with the manmade disaster in Washington. Maybe it’s time for a smile from the past.)
One of the things my parents really believed in when I was growing up was visiting relatives. And all our kinfolk believed in visiting us. It was before texting and Facebook, so I suppose it was our form of “social interaction.”
If Momma and Daddy went to visit, of course, my sister and I had to go, too. Some of the relatives we enjoyed seeing, especially if meant playing with cousins our own age. Visiting other relatives was OK, because most of the time they would serve you a Coke or some good homemade dessert. But the one place my sister and I hated to go was to my Aunt Lillie’s.
Now let me make it clear, it wasn’t my Aunt Lillie’s fault. She was a sweet old lady, who always tried to make us feel welcome. The problem was her dog, Toy. Toy would put a sense of dread in me the moment we would turn down Cool Spring Street, heading toward her home in Fayetteville.
Toy was the bulldog from, well, you know where. From the moment we walked in the door, he would be barking, jumping, growling, sniffing where he shouldn’t and making life miserable for the entire visit. I suppose Aunt Lillie was used to that crazy dog, so most of the time she didn’t notice the torture Toy was causing. When she did realize it, she would scold Toy, but he would just ignore her. If you’re thinking that sounds a lot like some parents and their kids today, that’s your thought not mine.
When I was real young, Toy would scare me, with his barking and snapping. As I grew older, he just aggravated me, along with everyone else, except Aunt Lillie. She loved that dog, and took him with her wherever she went. When she would visit at my grandparent’s house, we would go by to see her there and, of course, Toy would be there, also. I had learned, that when Toy would come at you, and he would come at you, and if Aunt Lillie wasn’t looking, a swift kick to the nose would bring him to a halt.
But Toy was, for many years, a good companion to Aunt Lillie. When Toy finally died Aunt Lillie called my father to come get the dog and bury it back on our farm at Clement. So Pa went to Fayetteville on his truck and picked up the dog. When he came in that night we asked him where he buried the dog.
“Buried?” he replied. “I stopped when I got to Dead Man’s Curve on the way back and threw him in the woods.” Needless to say, Pa didn’t care too much for Toy, either.
But a few weeks later, Pa’s story would have to change. Aunt Lillie had come to visit. She asked Daddy about where he had buried Toy. Not missing a beat, he told her about the “burial.”
“I took Toy over there across the pond to where the old cemetery is. You know, where some of our old McPhail kinfolk are buried. I buried him underneath the tree in the cemetery.”
Aunt Lillie was pleased and Daddy was pleased with his story. But not for long.
“I want to see it. I want to see Toy’s grave,” she said. Trying to think of a way out, Daddy said something about how it’s hard to get to the old cemetery, but she insisted. Daddy had made it sound so nice, she wanted to see it for herself.
Thinking fast, he told her that he would be glad to take her to see her beloved Toy’s grave. But first he had to check on something on the farm and would be back in thirty minutes. Pa went to the barn, grabbed a shovel, and hurriedly drove to the old cemetery. He quickly cleared out a spot under the tree, went out in field, got several shovel fulls of dirt and made a dog sized mound. He even found a stick and stuck it at the head of the “grave.”
Pa then went and picked up Aunt Lillie and took her to Toy’s final resting place. Aunt Lillie was so pleased with the little grave underneath the tree in the old family cemetery. She went home satisfied, and Daddy went home relieved.
I would sometimes think about Toy when I would see the mound in the old cemetery. And also when I was rounding Dead Man’s Curve on the way to Fayetteville.
Mac McPhail, raised in Sampson County, lives in Clinton and can be reached at [email protected]