My name is Mr. Chickenfoot. I am a teller of tales, a seeker of fortune and a traveler by whatever means available. I have been called a liar, a cheat and a rake all of which are false, except for the parts that are true. Thus, one afternoon as I was making my way on the Santa Fe, I was quite surprised when a dog flew through the door of the boxcar that was my abode of opportunity. It skidded across the floor until it found secure footing, then barked twice before wagging it’s tail and laying down. It was quickly followed by a carpet bag which sailed past me and landed against the opposite door, which was fortunately closed or else the container would have gone right out the other side. It occurred to me that the same had been true of the dog. Neither one seemed chagrinned by the acrobatic feat and I surmised that both had accomplished it in some fashion many times before. Noting however, that it is not often you see a dog with its own luggage.
As the train was rolling slowly out of the yard at Topeka the arrival of the owner of both was anticipated. I therefore was not at all surprised to see the hands of whom I assumed to be the thrower of both the dog and the bag make a grab at the door frame. These were accompanied by the sounds of feet struggling in loose ballast to get enough momentum to jump on board.
“Little help please”, the voice was southern, mild and pleasant. Certainly not the gruff tones of a railroad dick prone to cursing and vocalizing outbursts of threat or ill will. Seeing no reason to hesitate in lending aid. I leaned out and grabbed the man by the upper arm and while bracing myself against the car’s wooden frame swung him in as he jumped. His weight was less than I expected and he rolled to a stop against the door next to the bag and the dog, which licked his face in friendly admiration. Meaning of course the dog not the bag. The bag was wholly indifferent to the man’s wellbeing and simply laid on the floor where it had landed. Once again, I must make mention of the luck of the far door being closed or the hapless traveler would have gone right out in the same manner that I have proposed of his belongings.
“Most obliged” The man pulled himself over and shaking back his clothes all around he sat up producing a flask from his coat. Then raising it in acknowledgment he took a pull and offered it to me. Not wanting to be rude I accepted and downed a gulp of what had to be pure battery acid. Fortunately, I am not a picky man and helped myself to a second swallow before returning the flask. The man laughed and leaned back against the wall of the boxcar, the dog laying down next to him for an ear scratch.
My fellow traveler was not much to look at, worn out shoes and silvery hair with a ragged shirt and baggy pants. Not to different from myself except I wear a hat. A fedora in fact. A man ain’t nothing but a common git without a proper hat so I make a point of always having my chapeau. Never the less he seemed a decent sort of fella even without a hat and since we had a long run ahead of us I put forth the effort to strike up a conversation.
I pointed at the flying dog, “Whatcha call that pup”?
He rubbed her head and she growled playfully, “This here Melody. She just an old mutt I picked up bout…hmm must be 15 years now. We performs at minstrel shows and county fairs. I dance and play the harmonica. She mostly just eats and sleeps but folks don’t pay to see a dog do that so her real job is just being my friend.” Melody rolled over on her back demanding a belly rub. The usual currency of “dog loyalty” worldwide in my experience.
We passed the miles away late into the night as he talked of life. He spoke right out with ease and openness as if we had been lifelong friends, expounding on his misadventures with Melody. They made quite a pair, always on the move but often as not behind bars in some one-horse town for drinking a bit too much. The man I mean. I assume Melody was a teetotaler as I did not see her take a single drink the entire time.
We were just crossing the New Mexico state line when the whistle sounded. Water stop. I motioned toward the end of the car away from the door. “Cinder Dick may walk the train, we better be out of site. Will Melody stay quiet?” I did not ask about the actions of the carpet bag. It had said nothing all night and I was pretty sure it would remain silent.
“She be fine, this ain’t our first ride”. He grinned widely as we moved into the shadows of the car.
The train clanked and banged to a halt as the cars slacked up in the couplers. We could here the rattling of the water spout and some distant talk. Long minutes crept by and we were about to relax thinking we were in the clear when we heard the sound of footsteps followed by the smack of a brake club against the side of the car.
“COME OUT! ANBODY INSIDE BETTER GET CLEAR CAUSE I’M LOCKING THIS DOOR!!!” My heart sank. We were found out in as much as we did not want to get locked inside a boxcar. I moved to the door and dropped my kit to the ground and climbed out. A very angry brakeman met us. Scowl, dirty clothes and a dirtier hat. No wonder all railroad bulls sound the same. They got no proper hat and I think they eat to much boiled meat. Gets them all bound up you know. I grinned sheepishly and picked up my belongings. My Fellow traveler dropped his carpet bag and climbed out as the engineer blew the whistle. “Come on old man I got a schedule to keep”.
He grabbed the old guy pulling him out and throwing him on the ground. It knocked the wind out of the man. Gasping he raised his hands as if expecting a beating to follow. The brakeman bent over him cursing and waving the staff when Melody came through the door teeth bared. She jumped on him knocking him off balance and biting his ear. He cursed again and brought the club over hitting the dog in the side of the head. It was a solid blow and knocked her to the ground.
“Don’t hurt her, she just trying to protect me…” the man crawled over and covered his pet. I pulled my knife from my boot and pointed it at the bull. The whistle sounded again, the train banging as it lurched forward like a giant worm, slack running out from front to rear. He raised his bat like he wanted to hit me too but instead he just glared at the three of us for a minute then reached up to catch the grab iron as the boxcar moved by. He swung up onto the stirrup and in a few minutes, he and the train disappeared into the dark.
Melody tried to get to her feet but couldn’t. Every time she stood-up she whimpered and fell over again. Even in the dark I could I see blood running form her ear and mouth. After a while she stayed down. The man held her, gently stroking her fur and talking softly. She looked at him with her big brown eyes not understanding what had happened. After a short while she went limp and moved no more. The man sat next her and cried. I thought about chasing the train down and bashing the brakeman’s head until he could wear a tin can for a hat. We sat there next to the tracks for a long time.
It was early morning when the man got to his feet and picked up Melody’s body. He looked at the ground as if ashamed to speak to me, “she was a fine dog mister…would you mind helping bury her?” without waiting for an answer he walked toward a small hill with some oak brush and short trees growing on top that was just off the right of way. I grabbed the carpet bag and followed without response. We found a couple of old fence boards and together we dug a hole. The man said nothing the entire time.
We laid Melody in the hole and covered her up. “I know she just a dog but would you say some words for her, I got no voice for it right now”. I started to object fearing that anything I said to God would probably do more harm than good but decided better of it. I nodded and took off my hat as any man of respectable nature would. I thought for a minute not sure what to say as I have never been asked to eulogize a dog and wondered if speaking on behalf of the carpet bag wouldn’t have been easier. With my thoughts gathered I cleared my throat and began.
“Lord, tonight we lay your gentle creature Melody to rest. She ate when she was hungry, slept when she was tired and never bit anyone that didn’t deserve it. She will be missed. If it is not too much trouble could you see that she has a grassy field where she can play in the sun and a big pile of bones to chew on. Amen.” I put my hat back on my head. In the distance I could hear the whistle of an approaching train.
I looked at the man, “we should try to jump that westbound, probably walk right up to it in this dark easy as pie”. (Note that I like pie….all kinds)
He shook his head, “No, I needs a refill of whiskey, Think I will head down this road. Got to be a honkytonk where I can dance some soft shoe for tips. I appreciate what you said for my dog. You are a decent sort of fella …… (how could I not be with such a proper hat?) I am sorry I never got your name.” He stuck out his hand.
“Folks call me Mr. Chickenfoot”. I took his hand and gave it a firm shake.
“Bojangles my name,” He returned the shake and nodded his head then turned and walked toward the road. I watched him for a minute and then headed for the tracks to catch the rambler. I always hoped I would meet up with him again but never did. Once in a while I would run across somebody who had. They always said what a decent sort of fella he was even if he never wore a proper hat.
My name is Mr. Chickenfoot, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.