Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Man's Best Friend

Harry Denton was talking suicide again.
“What’s the use?” he asked. “I’m all crippled up; stuck here inside. Might as well put a bullet in my head.”
“Now Harry, don’t talk that way,” I said.
I volunteered for a church-affiliated charitable organization that called shut-ins to find out if they were okay, listen to their problems and frustrations, and offer a sympathetic ear. I’d ended up with Harry on my call list. Sometimes I dreaded calling him. What do you say to someone who feels that life isn’t worth living anymore?

Today, Harry sounded more discouraged than usual, and that was saying something. It turned out he’d fallen at the doctor’s office.
“For crying out loud,” he said. “Rode rodeo all my life. Never got broke up like this.”
He moaned. “Might just as well be dead.”
“Tell me about your rodeo days,” I said, changing the subject.
“I won three all-around cowboy titles,” he said, his voice picking up a bit. “Pendleton, Lewiston, and Calgary.”
“That’s really something,” I said. I'd heard the story numerous times, but this was better than talking about suicide.
“Yes, sir,” he agreed. “Back in the Forties. The Roundup, the Roughriders, and the Stampede.”
“Hmm, hmm,” I said, scanning my call list.
“The other riders called me a ‘wolf,’ Harry said.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“A rider’s that good,” Harry said. “Bareback and saddle bronc riding, Brahma Bull riding, calf roping; I could do it all. That’s why. I was a wolf. ‘Was’ being the operative word.” Harry put a verbal break between ‘oper’ and ‘ative.’
“Well that’s--,” I started to say.
“Now I cain’t hardly walk, let alone ride.” Another moan.
God don’t let’s start talking suicide, I thought. I glanced at my notes. Harry had a dog named ‘Sugar.’ “How’s Sugar?” I asked.
“Sugar?” he said, his voice rising and taking on a reverential tone. “Why she’s right here by my side. She’s just the best damn dog a man ever had. Best thing God ever done was make the dog.”
This is good, I thought. We’re not talking suicide.
“But then God made man,” Harry said. “That low down, cheating, greedy sonofabitch who’ll call you friend one minute and write you a bad check the next.”
“Did you take your medications, Harry?” I asked.
“I took ‘em. Don’t know what for,” he said.
“Someone has to take care of Sugar,” I said.
“Well that’s the truth. One of God’s greatest creations.”

That was the last conversation I had with Harry. The next time I checked the call schedule, Harry wasn’t on it. I called the church coordinator.
“I notice that Harry Denton isn’t on my call list,” I said.
“Denton? Just a minute.”
I had a bad feeling.
“He died last week.”
“Oh…” I said.
“He’d had a fall at the doctor’s office.”
“Hmm hmm,” I said.
There was a pause.
“What about his dog, Sugar?” I said.
“Oh that old dog of his? They found her lying at his feet. She was gone, too.”

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