A collection of black 3-ring binders given to me by my Dad reveal a glimpse of a grandmother I never met. Each year is documented in her lovely handwriting, of English Shepherd puppies raised and sold, with a simple and concise method designed by Helen. Two simple lines revealed date puppy born, the buyer and the sire, with the second line listing date sold, city and state, name of the dam and price paid.
Growing a business. In 1941, a banner year for the busy couple, lists 353 puppies sold. Their method of doing business was to give females to local families – with an ever-growing list of folks who wanted one – with the agreement they would breed the female a time or two, with my grandparents buying the entire litter to meet their growing orders. Pups, taking a trip in a hand-made wooden crate, left on the railroad with destination tacked to the box. One litter lists North Dakota, West Virginia, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Arkansas as destinations for puppies. Females were priced at $8, males $12.
Multiple dogs sold. People came back for a second or third dog over these years, letters praising the keen intelligence and natural herding ability. A good dog kept an eye on the livestock as well as the children. One postcard tells of a child plucked from a pond, saving him from sure drowning, while another tells of a bull being held at bay after it attempted to charge a youngster. One happy buyer, a traveling salesman, often stopped to visit, his dog sitting in a chair like a person. That dog could do simple math, barking the answer to such things as “2 times 4” or “7 minus 3”, or bark once for “yes” and twice for “no” to any question asked, a treat cleverly given when the answer was reached. My dad, like any little boy, lamented the fact they should have kept that pup to help with homework.
Helen worked endlessly on the farm, growing the dog business, a devoted mother, church member and community club participant. Burning the candle at both ends, she began suffering from repeated bouts of tonsillitis, or quinsy, leaving her exhausted. Her sister, seeing her troubled so often, urged her to get her tonsils removed. She seemed to put it off, over and over, until scheduling the hospital procedure for March 22, 1946.
The night before, family friends visited, and one fellow said, “hardly anybody dies getting their tonsils out.” Helen smiled and went forward with a good attitude.
The next morning, with her youngest son, age 3, at her parents’ for the day, she walked her 13-year-old son, daughters aged 12 and 10, to the school bus and said, “I’ll be home in a few days.”
When the children got off the school bus that afternoon, my father saw his paternal grandfather crying. Helen’s father-in-law was not one to cry, and the memory was emblazoned on my dad forever.
“What’s wrong, Grandpa?” the young boy asked. “Today I lost my best friend,” his grandfather answered.
Helen was returned home in a few days, just as she had told her children, but in a casket. Her oldest son sat beside the coffin, refusing to go to bed, until the body was moved to the church for the funeral. She was 35. A sparkling presence, the light of the family, had been extinguished.
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