Pepper loved food. No, he was obsessed with food. He didn’t just eat until full. He ate until it was gone – regardless of the quantity. One of our neighbors started dumping their dinner scraps in a ditch behind their house. Who knows why, but they decided this was better than the garbage can. Pepper liked this arrangement, and soon he was making nightly trips to their house for an after dinner snack. Sometimes he would come home so full it looked like he’d swallowed a basketball.
His love for food was also an asset when we had something yucky for dinner. Mom would make us sit at the table until we ate all our supper. This would have been an eternal punishment if not for good ole Pepper. Pepper would eat anything. If it was from the table, it had to be something good. If we slipped him too much at once, he’d smack. Then my mother would say, “You better not be feeding that food to the dog.”
“Oh no! We’re eating it. He is just smacking because he wants what we have.”
Then we’d slip him smaller bites. The goal was to let him swallow without having to chew.
His food obsession was also a great temptation for teasing. If he was eating, we’d act like we were going to get it. The word ‘food’ meant little to Pepper, but the word ‘nummy’ was golden. Saying, “Nummy, nummy,” would get the dog’s juices flowing. It would also send him into a frenzy if you said “Nummy, nummy,” while wiggling your fingers over his dog bowl. He would bounce between snarling to chase your hand away and eating as fast as possible.
If you held food over him, he’d start drooling. That was funny in itself, but if he was really lusting after it, two bubbles would form on each side of his mouth. Drool would ooze over the bubbles and puddle below his face.
One day we discovered that feeding him peanut butter was quite entertaining. Me and my sister would take turns giving him a spoonful of peanut butter. He’d lick it off the spoon and it would lodge in the roof of his mouth. Pepper would lick the air profusely for about three minutes while we cackled with laughter.
On another occasion, I came home to see my sister sitting on the floor with a bag of potato chips. I didn’t put two and two together. She had been offering Pepper a chip. When he snapped at it, she snatched it back and ate it. I don’t know how long she had been doing this when I sat down beside her. I grabbed a chip and popped it into my mouth. Pepper saw opportunity. Before I could close my mouth, Pepper leapt to my face and swooped the chip out of my mouth with his tongue. The next thing I knew, I was laying on my back, wet-faced and stunned. The chip was gone, Pepper chewed happily, and slimy dog slobber was in my mouth. I shook the stars from my vision and rushed to find the mouthwash.
Pepper was my best friend. I took him on many adventures. We fished, explored the woods, swam in creeks, and did many things boys do. After a heavy rain, I went to the creek to swim in the swift currents. We tromped around in the water for a while and came upon a sandbar. I stepped on it and my right foot sank. I pulled my right foot out and my left foot sank deeper. I struggled for a while, but each time I moved, I became deeper still. Before I realized what was happening, I was mired above my waist. And I was still sinking.
I stopped struggling and tried to think what to do. There were nearby branches, but none were within reach. Finally, I decided to try to get my body flat. I called Pepper and he timidly approached. I grabbed his legs and started pulling myself toward him. Pepper didn’t like this strange game, but each time I needed him for leverage, he obliged and came close enough for me to grab. It was fortunate that I was on the edge of the sandbar. There were rocks in the shallow creek for Pepper to stand on.
Forty-five minutes to an hour later I rolled into the water, muddy and exhausted. After a short rest and quick wash in the creek, we were off to a new adventure.
Firecrackers are for more than audio enjoyment. Every boy knows this. They were designed for little boys to blow things up with. A neighborhood friend went on a demolition adventure with me. We had packs of miniature explosives and set out to find things to blow up. As usual, Pepper was with me. Most of my childhood was spent in the cow pastures behind our neighborhood. My friend came up with a great idea. “Let’s blow up a cow pie,” he said.
We found one, poked a firecracker into it, lit the fuse, and got back. Bang! There was a beautiful crater in the middle of the pie. After a few more bangs, the excitement wore off and we decided to up the ante. “Let’s blow one up with a whole pack,” I said.
Another great idea if I do say so myself.
This would take some engineering. We unraveled a pack and placed them in various places in the cow pie. Then we carefully connected them with a fuse that we tied off to light them all at the same time. We stood for a moment, admiring our work. It was an engineering masterpiece. Then we lit the master fuse and ran back to get out of blast range. Pepper wondered what had fascinated us, so when we ran off, he ran in. “Pepper!” I called. “Get away from there.”
With a look of indifference, he glanced my way. There was a series of rapid bangs. Pepper’s indifference gave way to panic and he fled the blast area. He decided that I was the source of comfort he needed. The smell arrived before Pepper did. “No,” my friend and I cried in unison. We fled and Pepper gave chase. He was covered with cow pie stench and wanted a hug. I loved Pepper like a brother, but love only goes so far.
In his latter years, Pepper was overweight. I know that’s hard to imagine given his eating habits, but it’s true. In the fall, his favorite spot was to lay in the warm sun in the middle lot. And that is where he died. My sister sneaked up to him for his daily scare, but before she could yell, “Yah!,” she noticed he was too still. She knew before she checked him. Pepper was gone.
The whole neighborhood mourned his passing, for he never met a stranger. Pepper was truly a neighborhood dog. But he passed as he participated in his favorite sport – a morning siesta in the rising sun.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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