The regret of never having had the opportunity to meet my paternal grandmother has always been with me, but the sense of loss has become stronger as I have grown older.
The few things that my father shared with me about his mother, limited because speaking of her remained so emotionally-charged, even years after her sudden death at age 35, remain with me. His words painted a picture of a mother who would carry the lantern to the upstairs bedrooms at night, tuck her children into bed with a story and a prayer.
“When she walked away, you just can’t begin to picture how dark it was,” he said, prompting us to consider no lights anywhere in the days before electricity. He said he could recall his mother sitting at the little desk where she did all of her correspondence, pounding away at the old black typewriter.
“She did letters, postcards, advertisements. It seemed she worked endlessly at building the family dog business,” he once told me, sharing this with me as I was designing fliers of my own English Shepherds to post in various agricultural locations.
Taped to the front of the 1944 ledger book is a letter my grandmother, Helen Myers Young, certainly composed, though it is signed by her husband, R.H. Young. It is typed on stationery that carries his name only along with “breeder of Aberdeen-Angus Cattle, Poland China Hogs and Black English Shepherd dogs, the same purebred strain for 20 years.”
The letter reads in part, “I have selected only the best dogs for breeders, and my dogs today are natural born heel drivers that are hard to beat. They will go a long distance after stock. Can be trained to bring just what you want and leave the other stock in the pasture.
Many of them go to the Northwest to herd sheep. The cattle ranches of the West and Southwest continue to buy them for work with large herds of cattle.
I do not keep a pup for a breeder that will not drive stock at the age of four months. A man in Alabama, whose name I can give upon request, paid me $100 for a pup six months old. At that age he could do almost everything but talk.
Several of my customers have told me of escaping injury from cross stock by the quick work and fighting ability of their dogs. They make good playmates for little folks, and will fight for the ones they are raised with. They make good hunters when trained for it. They are supreme as a watch dog.”
The letter goes on to describe the quick work, protective nature, supreme intelligence and loyal attributes of the English Shepherd.
“I have sold over 3,000 of these dogs, and shipped them to every state. This year I will sell more than 300. Each year they are easier to sell and a good number go to my old customers, which proves the worthiness of my Shepherds.”
My grandmother’s annual ledger books support these facts. Expenses listed in the back include her recipe and cost of making dog food back in the days when commercially bagged dog food did not exist. My father could remember his mother stirring up huge batches of dog food, beef tallow the starting ingredient.
The cost of shipping a $15 female or $20 male is worth noting. Express charges to ship a pup by rail to 200 miles was 75 cents; 200 to 500 miles, one dollar; 1,000 miles about $1.50; west coast states from their Ohio farm, about $2.
Now a rare breed, there are a few who are trying to protect this line of working dogs from extinction. My grandmother, if still here, would be one of the working warriors to see to it that this line continues.
In the letter, Young dogs were described as “so well bred that the pups look as nearly alike as peas in a pod.” I love to stand watching my litter of 10 wrestling and playing at 6 weeks of age.
It’s even better to see my daughter, now 22, taking such an interest in this litter that she cannot stay away. I watch her pick each one up, look it over, hold it close, train each to sit, roll over.
“They are so smart!” she says with a great smile. I feel an echo of the past and a vision of a future. It does the heart good.
Next week: notes from annual ledgers worth sharing.
Read Part I