Pets and Their People
Remembering Friends and the Company They Kept
by Mary (Bowling) Graybeal
After reading and enjoying Henry Friedl’s, Cars and Their People, I was inspired to reflect on my Athens through recalling the people of the community and the pets they kept. Luckily, both of my parents were true animal lovers and they passed their love and appreciation of pets to my sister and me.
I think it is more than fair to say that the Bowling family had as many, if not more pets than anyone. My father always said, “Life isn’t worth living without a dog,” and he never did! In fact, he was laid to rest with the ashes of his beloved dog Wrinkles and Norman the kitty. I’m sure there isn’t a citizen of Athens that doesn’t remember “Boney” and his faithful canine companion cruising around town in his truck. His first birddogs were Lady Luck and Petey.
The first dog we had as a family was a little black cocker spaniel, named Inky, followed by beagles named Dinky and Elvis. Christie-Bell was a small collie mix with infinite patience, which Sallie Friedl and I tested on a regular basis.
The Bowling family spent the school year in Athens at 101 Center Street, but in May the entire family and pets packed up and moved to the farm. We were blessed with land and a barn and we did our best to fill it with a variety of animals. The farm came equipped with a sway backed workhorse named Topsy, and the brunt of her workload was carting Rose Thornton and me around.
Fairchance was a contrary horse who we tried to ride with only a fair chance of staying on. She’d throw you soon as look at you! We found her temperament more suited to our father and she became his horse.
Our first pony was called Fran, followed by Bourbon King. Bourbon King was intelligent, gentle, and talented. He counted, bowed, and performed several tricks. Chief and Tony were big red sorrels and Dusty was a beautiful black horse that I remember fondly.
Rodchester, the crow, was one of our more unusual and mischievous pets. He terrorized the college girls of the neighborhood, especially the brunettes, by swooping down and snatching their barrettes and bobby-pins right out of their hair. He also delighted in prying the tops of the Clover Dew Dairy milk bottles and licking the cream off the top. In fact, Garland Elmore refused to set foot on our block because of our “attack crow.”
If an animal was lucky enough to join our family of pets, it was guaranteed a lifetime of love and security. Once inducted into the brood, it was a lifelong member, free from rejection, relocation, or expulsion. However, there was one exception, which was a stray kitten from Roanoke. My sister successfully smuggled the sickly kitten from the streets on a shopping trip with my mother. A small scratch on my nose from her quickly turned into an infection, which Dr. Gatherum treated with a series of penicillin shots. However, it was the vet that diagnosed both the cat and me with ringworm. Unfortunately, much to the humiliation of my mother, I had already spread it to many of my classmates and neighbors. That cat was relegated to the care of my Aunt Mary and to this day, is the only animal we ever released from our custody. This is only a brief synopsis of my childhood pets and of my friends in Athens.
When remembering my neighborhood friends, I can’t help thinking of their pets as well. The Friedl’s were my closest friends and neighbors with their trusty dog, Scamp. The Caruth’s were right up the corner with their precious Pepper and the Robertson’s were right across from us. They never had their own pets, except for some borrows, but they shared time, food, and affection with our animals. In turn, we adopted their burrows and took them to the farm for a summer retreat. The Scyphers’ were enthusiastic feline owners having far too many cats to name.
Lestoil is another pet from the neighborhood that was very special to all of us. In fact, he was a real communal pet. I found him on Main Street after being injured by a car, he had a terrible hole in his stomach. I made it my personal crusade to save him, drawing support from the neighborhood. I went door to door with a jar collecting money to cover his veterinary bills. Armed with my donations, I descended on the doorstep of dear Dr. Hambrick with Lestoil. After accepting the meager contents of my jar, he tended Lestoil’s wounds and gave him a rabies shot, which made him a legal dog. Luckily, Ginny Scyphers’ grandmother, Mrs. Cooper, adopted him. She definitely gave him a happy home and life, with much less toil than he would have had on the streets of Athens.
Rose Thornton had a rat terrier named Mack and a resilient yellow cat named Sandy Boy. Sandy Boy disappeared for over a week only to be found locked in the backyard shed. Even after a week of captivity, malnutrition, and dehydration he bounced back better than ever. Brownie came after Mack, and was quite the man about town. You would expect to see him at all the usual hotspots, like church, the post office, and the main drag. Brownie was also a known hitchhiker; but don’t worry, he only accepted rides from family members.
The Fudges were the proud parents of the first poodle in town. She was elegant, black, and quite pampered. The name Zsa Zsa said it all. The Fudge family also had an unusual family pet named Lilac. However, her name wasn’t as appropriate as Zsa Zsa’s for, you see, she was a real stinker. She wasn’t really, but she was a skunk!
Betty Mae McCulloch’s first dog was also a black cocker spaniel named Patty and later a terrier named Terry. Forget the Beatles, beagles were all the rage in Athens! Alice Jane Hutchinson, Phyllis Mays, and Barbara Coburn all had one. Alice Jane called hers Beans, Phyllis had Kate, and Barbara had Peanuts. Otis Mann owned a cute Benji look alike with the moniker Girl. Why you ask - because she was a girl. Garland Elmore had a mixed breed Chihuahua that went by Kitten Candy. She enjoyed sixteen sweet years of life with his family.
In a town as small Athens, people tend to share everything from secrets, clothes, meals, wins and losses, and even pets. I have fond memories of my friends, neighbors, and the many pets we shared. I learned a lot of important life lessons from my friends and pets. I learned about responsibility, unconditional love, friendship, and about love for all living beings. I have passed down my affinity for animals to my own children and am confident they will do the same. My father was only partially correct when he said, “life isn’t worth living without a dog.” What he should have said: Life isn’t worth living without a dog/cat/or animal of your choice and good friends.