Dec and I both knew how explosive my 17-year-old brother was. We’d both been witnesses to his rage one day while he was home for a visit. Mom later said he wasn’t on his meds. Dad broke three knuckles whooping his butt for what he did to me and Dec.
He had made these Balsa wood airplanes that he hung from the ceiling in his bedroom by wires attached to the ceiling with small nails. In a breeze blowing in from the open back door off the porch, those planes would spin back and forth, narrowly missing each other as they swung two foot from the ceiling. Dec just got carried away that day when he started tossing aluminum foil balls up at Richard’s air force that dominated every patch of his ceiling. Several planes collided in midair, and due to those direct hits, several wings sheared off and fluttered down to the floor. I winced even as I told Dec he’d better stop. I winced even more when Richard appeared at his bedroom door.
He came charging into the room, and with more fury and savagery than Old Wilt Mosby’s rapid dog and lit into Dec, slugging him repeatedly in the face and chest. I wasn’t trying to be no hero. In fact, my first thought was to run out of the tornado of flying fists being leveled on poor Dec. But I didn’t. I jumped on Richard’s back, circled my legs around his waist, and wrapped my arms around his neck. I then hung on like a rodeo rider, riding a mad bull. Richard stopped hitting on Dec, leaving him with a split lip and a bloody nose. As I clung to his back, I was terrified of the beating I was going to get if I let Richard go. I choked Richard so hard, he spun around to the right, wheeled back around to the left, tottered off balance, knocking over his dresser. He then dropped down to both knees, wavered there for a full minute, and passed clean out.
Dec did a masterful job of steering us through cross currents sweeping in at the mouth of the Big Indian when we reached the intersections of the two rivers. He guided that motorboat right up alongside a sandbar, and Baxter and Cooper excitedly sprang out of the boat and darted up the river bank to romp in the fields beyond.
I followed the dogs over the side of the boat, a line in hand to tie us off with. Dec cut the engine and it spluttered to an abrupt halt, leaving us in silence for long moments. And then sounds came back to our ears. The smooth hiss of the river passing by. Birdsong from a copse of trees on the west bank. The wind blowing through the leaves high above our heads. And then, Baxster and Cooper let out ferocious barks as they romped through the field out of sight above us.
“Best see,” Dec said, stepping out of the boat, “what those two mangy mutts scared up.”
He landed in deep sand beside me. After inspecting my tying job, seemingly satisfied that it would hold the boat tight to the sandbar, Dec playfully punched me on the shoulder. “Good job, Hawk. You tied a real fine knot there.”
As we climbed the bank, I said, “Well, Tom Sawyer, I should have been the one to drive the boat, too. After all, that’s how the Hawkins’ clan ended up in Beatrice.”
Dec mounted the high bank ahead of me. “What? In a motorboat?”
“No,” I replied, giving a short laugh. “My great-grandpa was a riverboat captain on the Missouri. It’s how he met my great-grandma. There was some flood over in Ohio, right along the route the first Amos Hawkins drove his riverboat. A big steamer that he drove up and down the Missouri. When this flood came sweeping through Ohio, Amos Hawkins rescued Rebecca Bower, who happened to be a Lakota medicine woman. They married, traveled back up the Mighty Mo to Brownsville, then took a smaller boat up the Platte to Salt Creek, then to the Blue River and on into Beatrice. That’s how the Hawkins clan ended up here in the sticks.”
Dec and I stood for long moments, watching our two hounds chasing a rabbit. Cooper, with his longer legs, outdistanced Baxster, the short-legged beagle. Before long though, Baxster changed tactics. Instead of bounding through the thickets lining a copse of elm trees, he stationed himself along the trail that doubled back out of the stand of trees.
In this way, Cooper did all the work. Staying right on that rabbit, running himself ragged as he tried to keep up. Soon, one rabbit springing ahead of my dog, turned into two. And then, three. Those rabbits were having a hay day, springing ahead of Cooper. I think they were confusing the hell out of my dog, leaping one way and then another, able to change directions with split-second consistency.
Cooper worked one rabbit away from the rest of the gang, forcing him to double back toward Baxster. Poor Baxster would have sprang out and nabbed him, too, but suddenly out of the blue, a big dark shape came hurtling out of the hedgerow, and with one mighty chomp, had that rabbit clamped firmly in his large slobbery maw.
It was Dum-Dum, the Catlin junkyard’s one and only guard dog. Though ‘guard’ would be a laughable joke to any who trespassed in the yards after dark. Dum-Dum was a strapping black Lab and he didn’t have a mean bone in his body. What’s more, the dog had once drank a dose of mind-altering antifreeze when he was just a pup, and the poor dog hadn’t been the same since. In fact, most customers who ventured to Catlin’s place, had a good laugh at Dum-Dum’s expense. Especially the days he thought he was a pig, and went rolling in every sloppy mud puddle he could find. Most folks greeted by Dum-Dum, had to shoo the dog a safe distance away, for he was usually always covered head to tail in a slimy coating of black mud.
Dum-Dum spoiled the rabbit hunt, good and proper. He made a slobbery mess out of the hapless rabbit he had just saved, from quite literally, the jaws of death. And although that dumb rabbit didn’t quite realize his luck as he twisted and squirmed trying to escape, Dum-Dum held him firmly by the ruff on the back of his neck.
“Dum-Dum!” called a voice from the small woods between us and Catlin’s junkyard. “Drop him, boy! Let him go, Dum-Dum! Now!”