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Ol' Blue & Me

My pa was a rancher with a big spread and lots of money. He was tight fisted with his money except when it came to Ol' Blue. Nothing was too good for our favorite huntin' dog. Blue could flush quail, pheasant, razorback hogs and whatever else lived on our land or in the water. He could attack a alligator and drag it to shore by himself. Ol' Blue was a wonder.

When I grajeeated from high school Pa told me, "Sonny. Pack you up some duds. We going to enroll you in Texas A&M."

Pa didn't never make it through high school so he was mighty proud I did. Now he wanted me to go to college? I didn't wanna go to no college. I liked it fine on the ranch. But Pa insisted so I went.

The college people wasn't all that excited 'bout lettin' me enroll, cuz of my grades and all, but their endowment fund was a little short and Pa said he would help with that. Pa gimme a thousand dollars, told me to study hard, and come home for Thanksgiving.

I felt rich but I soon found out a thousand dollars don't' buy as much fun as I was wantin' to have with some of the pretty young thangs on campus. I went to a class a few times but didn't care much for it. Mostly I hung out at the student union sweet talkin' some might sweet country gals.

Trouble was, we was all livin' in dorms. I had three roomies and none of them was willin' to vacate our room for the night. After a couple of motel room rentals I learned real quick how far a thousand dollars won't stretch. Then I hit on a idea.

Come Thanksgiving I rode the bus home. At the dinner table my relatives were all excited about me bein' in college. Uncle Claude wanted to know all about the math curriculum. Math was not one of the classes I had dropped in on so I had to think fast making stuff up. Like Pa, he didn't have no ejucation neither so it didn't matter much what I said.

Aunt Martha asked me about the veterinary program. That's when the idea hit me. I explained how fine the program is. I said they even had a laboratory there where they were teaching dogs to talk. You shoulda seen the expressions on the faces around the table.

Pa allowed as he didn't think dogs could learn to talk. And if they did, what would they talk about. I knew the hook was in but I had to play this real careful like. "It's only exceptional dogs Pa; really smart ones they can teach. Not no ordinary dogs; just special ones like uh, like, ... why like Ol' Blue here."

Pa passed his hand over his chin a time or two and said, "You think Ol' Blue is that smart?"

"Well, course he is Pa. He knows stuff we can't even imagine. You seen it yourself. We go out in the brush and Blue knows right where them quail are hidin'. If he could talk, he would just whisper it to you so we'd be ready when he flushed them suckers." Pa's head was bobbin' up and down like his brain was agreein' so I shut up.

Aunt Martha chose that time to say, "Ain't that sumpin' Oscar. You could have the only talkin' dog in Leroy County." I coulda jumped up and kissed her.

Pa said, "Sonny, how we go about getting Ol' Blue in that talkin' program?"

I figgered the hook was in deep enough so I yanked hard on the line, takin' a chance it might break. "The top man in the program, Doctor Razmussen, said if Blue is as smart as I told him he is, bring him on in for testing. If he passes, and we pay the fees, Ol' Blue is as good as in."

Big smiles all around; family saying how proud they'd be if Ol' Blue could talk. Pa shakin' his head up and down real fast now and sayin', "If Ol' Blue wants to do it, let's go on and do it." Ol' Blue was in his usual dinner time spot under the dinin' table, sleepin'. All it took to wake him up was the sound of some food hittin' the floor.

Pa leaned back in his chair some and said to the under the table area, "Blue! What about it? You want to go to college with Sonny and learn talkin' ?" Naturally, Blue, sleepin' or not, wasn't going to answer the question so I did what I had to do. I stomped my foot down right smartly on his tail and he let out a "YELP!"

I said, "Listen to that Pa. Blue sounds real excited about going to college." I near wet my pants waitin' on him to say somethin'. "Sonny. You're right. I never heard him that excited about anything. Blue." he said, "You goin' to college."

The next two days were crucial. I needed a lot of stuff. Problem was, if I gave Pa a list he might start backin' out, so I had to work it so they were his ideas. First I explained the housing problem.

"Pa. I just thought of something that ruins all our plans."

"What's that Sonny?"

"The college won't let Ol' Blue live in my dorm room. He'll either have to be caged up all the time or there needs to be a place he can live when he's not in classes."

I could see Pa was thinkin' on this. He said, "Lemme think on this." After a while he said, "I know what!"

"What Pa?"

"We'll rent you a apartment where you and Blue can live."
He smiled big, real satisfied.

"Pa! You're a genius", and we clapped each other on the back.
Then I said, "Uh oh."

Pa frowned. "What do you mean uh-oh Sonny?"

"I'm sorry to say Pa, there are no apartments close to the veterinary building. I wouldn't have any way to get Blue from a apartment to his classes. He can't ride the bus unless I pretend to be blind and him my guide dog."

"Is that all? Shucks boy. You just take one of the pickup trucks."

"Pa! You are the real genius. That way, Blue can ride in back like he always does and there won't be any strain on him. He'll be able to focus", I said. I was in for a dime so I figgered I'd go in for a dollar. "You know what else Pa? If I take a rifle and shotgun with me, Blue and me can go out huntin' so his skills don't get rusty from livin' in the city. What do you think about that?"

It was his turn to compliment, "Sonny! You're the genius boy. That's what we'll do. Now how much you figure this is gonna cost?"

I had my numbers all lined up. "Here's how I figger it Pa. The apartment will run about $800 a month. Then we gotta have food cuz Blue can't eat that stuff they serve in the school cafeteria. I'm gonna need gas for the truck; some ammo; just the usual stuff. I figger around three thousand should see us through Christmas break." I held my breath.

"Hmmm. I'da thought it might a bit more than that.
You sure three thousand is enough?"

I gulped. I acted like I was studyin' the matter. I knew if I said anything I would stammer and he would get to thinkin' somethin' might be off. After a bit I said, "Yes. That will do for Blue and me. Then, of course, there's the tuition for his classes. It's a little higher than classes for regular students cuz he has to have a lot of personal attention." I rolled my eyes and stared at the ceiling while he took this in.

He didn't say anything more on the subject and resumed eatin'. I thought it best to keep quiet. Ma, Uncle Claude and Aunt Martha all stared at Pa until he raised his head and noticed. "What?" he asked.

"Well Oscar, we're waiting to hear what you're going to do", Uncle Claude said.

"Do? I'm gonna finish my dinner then get the money from the safe. Is that what you're all waitin' to hear?" There was a great sigh of relief all around ... the biggest from me.

On Sunday Pa gave me the truck, a rifle, a shotgun, and $5200 in cash; $3,000 for expenses and $2,200 for tuition. Ol' Blue and me made a clean getaway and headed out for College Station, Texas. I am ready to party.

I rented a really nice one bedroom, second floor, with balcony overlooking the pool. Blue liked it too. He could sleep in the sunshine on the balcony, or when he was awake, he and the poodle next door could lick and sniff each other through the railin'.

Between the co-eds I met at student union and the babes who liked to sunbathe by the pool, I had a daily supply of hot lovin'. No doubt about it ... college was great. There was only one wrinkle I needed to iron out before they kicked me out of school. What to do about Ol' Blue not learning to talk.

Christmas break was comin' up fast on us. About a week before the break Pa called up to find out how much progress Blue was makin'. The conversation went fine until he told me to put Ol' Blue on the phone so he could talk to him.

I hoped and prayed Blue wouldn't decide to bark while I explained how he was in class right now and couldn't be reached except for me to go there and get him at four o'clock. Pa said, "That's fine. When he gets home have him call me." Pa hung up.

This was my worst hurdle yet. I was a nervous wreck trying to decide what to. I decided to play it to the hilt. At five o'clock I had to make the call. I put Ol' Blue on the patio and closed the door. I went into the bedroom and closed that door.

Hands shaking, I dialed the phone at home. Pa answered, "Hal-lo."

Gulping and sweating, I said, "Arrrooo Okkkr."

I listened to Pa's response, "What? Who in tarnation is this?"

"Grrrbbbruuu." I said and waited.

Pa must have been stunned for a moment, then Pa said
"Blue? Is that you Blue?"

I switched to my own voice. Holding the phone at a distance, I said, "That's enough for your first phone call Blue." Then I said to Pa in my normal voice, "He's just learnin' Pa. It will take some time for his voice to sound more human than dog."

Pa said, "Sonny that is fannnntastic! If I hadn't heard it I wouldn't believe it myself. When you and Ol' Blue comin' come?"

"Well Pa, that's the thing. I was planning to come home for Christmas break but Blue's professors want him to stay here. They figure he's close to a breakthrough and they do't want him to lose the momentum he's got built up."

"I understand Sonny. But what about you. Can't you come home for the holidays?"

"I could Pa but Blue would have to stay in a kennel for the whole two weeks. It might break his spirit or somethin' bad like that."

"You're right son. I know you have his best interest at heart. Maybe me and Ma will come up there for a day or so between Christmas and New Year. Thanks for everything Sonny. Talk to you later."

"Bye Pa." Crap. How am I gonna deal with Ma and Pa showin' up here. I gotta think up somethin'. This worried me so much it was all I could do to have sex twice a day. It was in the afterglow with one of my sweeties that she happened to mention her cousin in New York was in quarantine because there was an outbreak of meningitis on their campus.

After that, a plan came together in my head. I called home on Christmas day during what I knew was dinner time. Ma answered the phone.

"Merry Christmas Sonny!" her sweet voice rang out. "We're having a lovely dinner. Uncle Claude and Aunt Martha are here. And the Yardleys from down the road with their daughter Ginny Boy home from college. You remember Ginny Boy? She's all growed up and real pretty."

"That sounds swell Ma. Merry Christmas to you Ma, and all the family. Now I don't want you should worry none or get excited but we have a little problem here. Maybe you read it in the newspaper. We have a outbreak of somethin' called meningitis, so the campus is locked down until it's over. Maybe a week or two, then everything will be fine."

I could hear the panic in her voice, "Are you okay Sonny?
You didn't catch this meninthing did you?"

"No Ma. It's somebody who lives in a dorm. Good thing I have an apartment off campus. Ol' Blue was at school when it happened but he's safe. He's staying at the vet lab. It's real nice there. They got a play yard where he can sun and snooze between classes, and his friends are there too. They can all practice their talkin' with each other."

She held the phone away from her mouth while she related all this to the family. I could hear Uncle Claude exclaim. "You tell that boy to stay home Martha. That's some bad stuff."

I heard Pa say, "Well shucks. Ain't that sumpin'. We was planning on driving over there tomorrow or next day."

I held my breath waiting to hear the verdict I wanted to hear. "I'm sorry Sonny. Pa says we'll have to cancel our visit until it's safe to come see you and Blue. You take care now."

"Bye Ma."

It worked like a charm. I pretty near fell down in a faint from relief. To be on the safe side, just in case they changed their minds and showed up, the next day I put Ol' Blue in a nice kennel in the neighboring town of Bryan. It was kind of a relief to not have to worry about him but it was eating into my stash of cash.

I spent the Christmas break in bars or in bed with somebody. Had a fabulous time. All the coeds who didn't go home were at loose ends and ready for fun. I was spendin' money like crazy and I needed to do somethin' about gettin' more out of Pa.

On New Years Day I called home and spoke with Pa. I allowed as how everything was gonna be fine in a day or two. Meanwhile, I had talked with Blue's head professor and he told me Ol' Blue was the best student they ever had in the talkin' dog program and he suggested we take the next step.

"What next step", Pa asked.

"Readin' Pa. They say Blue is so smart they can teach him to read. Can you imagine havin' the only huntin' dog in the county who can talk and read? Maybe the whole state. Wouldn't that be sumpin' ?"

I could hear Pa take in a deep breath of air as the very thought of it swelled him with pride. "I bless the day I let you take Ol' Blue to college Sonny. Who'd ever thought it would come to this? How much will it cost?"

"It's normally $3500 Pa but they said we can have a $500 discount because Blue is such a fast learner" I lied.

"How do I get the money to you Sonny? You gonna come get it?"

"No Pa. I'm too busy with school work to spend the time drivin' round trip. How about you go over to the Wal-Mart and telegraph it. I can pick it up at any of their stores within a few hours after you send it."

"Okay Sonny. They're open today. Got a big sale goin' on. Ma and me will head right over there now and send it off to you. Say hi to Blue for me."

Back in the chips and the good times rollin' again. Along about the middle of February Pa called up and wanted to talk with Blue. I had to think fast. "Thing is Pa, I can't disturb him right now. He's closed up in the bedroom readin' the Wall Street Journal for a test in Economics tomorrow. How about if he calls you tomorrow?"

Pa said, "Well I don't want to interfere in his studies none so let him be, but you and him be sure you come home for Spring Break, you hear? No excuses."

"We will Pa. I promise we will."

I hated to do it but I knew I had to so I got it done and over with. I packed up all our stuff first day of the break. I figgered I wouldn't be comin' back to college. In mid march we headed out for home. About half way there I found a nice piece of woods and pulled over to the side of the road.

I grabbed the rifle, loaded it, then Ol' Blue and me walked into the woods. This was very familiar activity for us both. Blue held his nose up in the air and sniffed, then he trotted off down a trail.

After a bit he stopped, stood stock still, and raised his elbow to point. He was one hundred percent concentration. I put the muzzle of the rifle just behind his head and pulled the trigger. I cried a few tears. Didn't seem no point in digging him a grave in this remote place. The vultures would take care of his mortal remains. I drove on home wearin' a real sad face.

Ma and Pa was really glad to see. After the welcoming Pa said, "Where's Ol' Blue?" I said he and me needed to talk real private about that. We went out to the barn and set ourselves down on some hay bales. I shed a few tears for effect. "C'mon Sonny. Tell me about it."

"It's like this Pa. All that education made Blue turn kinda uppity, you know. Livin' in the city and hobnobbin' with upper class dogs and all. This morning while we were packin' up to come home he was readin' some magazine and I said to him, 'Blue. You excited about going to the ranch?'

"He give me a smart aleck look and rolled that blue eye at me and said, 'Why would I be excited about going back to live with them hicks and all those stupid animals they have living there?' "

"I was shocked.

"Then he said, 'There won't be anybody to talk to about the news or politics or anything worth discussing. About the most excitement will be when I tell Ma about all the times Oscar took me to the feed store with him.' "

"Why would that be excitin'?" I asked him.

" 'Because every time he made me wait in the truck while he and Miss Lilly went up in the loft and had sex. I could hear them up there just fine, only I didn't know how to talk then.' "

All the color drained from Pa's face.
"He said that? Why I hope you shot that ungrateful sonovabicth."

"I did Pa. I sure nuff did."

[ Retelling, with embellishment, by Wayne Hepburn,
of a joke that formed the core premise of this story. ]

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