Conley is a writer from the Midwest (now living in Tucson). He spent some time teaching in Alaska and his travels have the flavor of The Land of the Midnight Sun.
“The Doodenville Men’s Club”
Conley Stone McAnally
They don’t talk about who has the best dog in town anymore. No sir, not since last December.
It was the middle of December and cold, gosh it was cold, and snow, I mean you couldn’t see from the window of Jessie Miller’s General Store to the street side of the wooden planks that make up our sidewalks here in Doodenville. Everybody’s always said that it was the worse snow storm ever to have hit these parts.
Even though it was plumb miserable out, we all showed up about the same time we always showed up at Jessie’s place. We had what you might consider a men’s club. We didn’t call it that, but every Saturday about sundown, or perhaps a little later, Steve Branson, Digger Johnson, Judge Johns and myself would get together and play checkers, tell stories, and more or less just brag to one another – which some might say was stretching the truth.
This one December evening, the bragging turned to our dogs. No man in Doodenville went anywhere without his dog. A man is judged somewhat on what kind of dog he has and how he treats it and it him. Now everyone cannot see how one is treating his dog all the time nor he him so we felt like it was our duty that night to tell one another. That is where the others always get into trouble because they exaggerate a mite and this night they exaggerated a lot. Not me, of course.
The checkers match had gotten over and we began to sip a little of the stuff behind the counter that Jessie kept for snake bite. Jessie was always there but he seldom joined in because he was too busy keeping track of how much we were sipping and eating from the cracker barrel. Anyway, we were doing what we always did when Steve Branson popped up and said during a lull in the conversation, “Now we have been talking about our dogs for nigh onto three hours and Lord knows how many nights we have been doing the same. Let’s settle who has the best dog once and for all”.
Everybody seemed to think it was a pretty good idea because each man thought he had the best dog and would win any type of such a contest. We all thought a little and tried to come up with some sort of criteria that could determine who had the best dog.
Steven Branson suggested that we could have them run a race but that idea was scuttled because there was too much snow on the ground and too cold. “And besides,” Digger Johnson said, “being fast don’t mean nothing anyway”.
He was right, of course. We all knew that Crazy Jimmy Twofoot’s oldest boy, Jimmy J., was the fastest thing on two legs in three counties and the boy couldn’t find his way to the outhouse without someone helping him. At least that is what Crazy Jimmy always said.
Then Steve came up with another idea (he was always coming up with ideas, being an engineer and all.) He suggested that we have the dogs bark real loud and whose ever dog barked the longest and loudest would be declared the winner. (I didn’t say all his ideas were good, though.)
That idea was ignored because everyone knew that Jessie’s wife was sick with the virus and noise would wake her and cause some discomfort. Steve must have gotten the point also because he snapped his fingers like something had just occurred to him and mumbled, “oh, yeah!” and sat back down. It seemed as though in all the years that I had known Steve he was always snapping is finger about something.
We all sat around the stove and thought some more. Then Judge Johns cleared his throat. Now when a man clears his throat, those in hearing distance don’t pay much attention, but when Judge Johns cleared his throat you knew he had something important to say. He was also real smart so naturally we all started paying close attention.
“It seems to me,” he began, “that we want to find out which one of us has the smartest dog. The smartest dog, gents, not the fastest nor the loudest, but the smartest. Intelligence, friends, is the true test of greatness”. Judge Johns could always be counted on to get right to the heart of the matter. “So it seems to me,” he continued after grasping his lapels and clearing his throat again, “that each dog ought to be judged on his reaction to a single command and whose dog reacts in the most intelligent manner will be considered the best dog in Doodenville”.
We all thought about that for a while and by and by it seemed fair enough. But then Digger said, “You know each man here might think that his dog done the best no matter what the other three dogs did. If that happened, we would all be in a stalemate and be right back where we were.”
That sounded kind of correct. We knew we were all men of integrity, but we also knew each other and understood how sometimes a man’s judgment could get clouded in important matter like this one.
“Well,” Judge Johns said after he cleared his throat, “it seems to me we need an unbiased judge”. You know, to this day, I get plumb amazed on how the Judge could always grasp things and have a solution so quickly.
The natural judge, of course, was Jessie. I say ‘of course’ because Jessie didn’t have a dog. At least not since last spring when Old Clem Thurman’s horses kicked Jessie’s dog Cracker in the head.
Jessie agreed to act as the judge and took charge right away. “Since there are four of you,” while grasping his suspenders, “one of you will have to go first and one will have to go last, and two of you will have to go in the middle, one ahead of the other”.
I sat there and blinked because he had lost me at first. I did not think that was possible because we always thought Jessie was a mite slow. He continued: “So it seems to me we ought to go by age, starting with the youngest man. I will give you all five minutes to decide what you want your dogs to do”. He fixed his one good eye on the clock that hung over the Buster Brown sign that hung behind the counter.
The contest would soon begin.
Conley is on Facebook & Twitter (@Stone639)
Janelle Meraz Hooper
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