Smiley just showed up one day, out of nowhere. It was 1956 and I lived out in the country off of Houston Road, south of Macon, Georgia. My father had 14 acres of trees and weeds, out of which I helped put together a small trailer park named Shady Acres. I was 11 at the time and I did a good part of the work, cutting the grass and weeds, digging ditches and whatever else I could.
A dirt road ran beside our property, back into the woods and up a tree-covered hill. Bill Rondel and his wife lived there, along with three African lions that he had recently acquired. I could hear them roar at night. They seemed to be outside my door. The neighbors finally got together and had the authorities order him to remove the big cats. Which he did.
Across from our trailer park my friend Sweetpea Jones lived with his mother, father, two sisters and two brothers, both in their 30s. There were 17 children in the family (the rest were married and lived elsewhere) and they rented a house that was in need of repair. I saw a picture of Sweetpea sitting on the back of an old car when he was in diapers, smoking a cigar while his brothers laughed. He was also 11 and stood 5 feet tall. He never got any taller.
I spent a lot of my free time at their house where we played horseshoes and baseball. Sometimes we piled into their 53 Buick and drove downtown. The oldest sister, Laurie, wanted to keep the windows up, even in the hot summer so people would think the car was air-conditioned. After a few minutes we overruled her.
While visiting one summer day, I met a young dog in their yard. He came over, wagging his tail and snuggling up to me when I knelt down to pet him. He looked up, smiled, and kept pressed against me.
Sweetpea came out and told me someone must have dumped him off. I was surprised because the dog was in excellent health, his coat shiny and he was alert. I think he was a cross between a Beagle and something else. He had floppy ears, fairly short legs and a tail that he kept in motion. His body was white with large areas of brown and black, including his ears.
As I patted and rubbed his head, he would look up at me with those eyes and smile. Then he would put his head on my knee and gaze. He didn’t want food or water, although Sweetpea gave him after dinner leftovers and water was available. He just wanted to be with me. But he treated every person the same. No one was a stranger and there was no hate in him at all. I decided to call him Smiley.
Anytime I came on the property, Smiley would run up and greet me. That always gave me a boost. If he were a person, he could have been a holy man, reaching out to everyone with a message of love and peace. And the world would be a better place.
But all of that changed a few days later. I started talking and reached down and gave him a hug. He just looked up with that glad to see you grin. I decided to give him a little workout so I jumped up and said, C’mon Smiley. Let’s go. I took off running around the house with Smiley trailing behind on short legs. I made a turn at the corner, a few feet from the road and heard a loud explosion. Smiley give a little yelp and I saw him roll over in the grass for a few seconds.
I looked up and saw Mr. Schwartz, one of the residents of our trailer park, staring coldly, a German lugar in his hand. I turned back to Smiley as he struggled to sit up. He had a puzzled look on his face. He looked up at the man and gave him a smile, the best he could. His tongue hung out and he tried to crawl to Mr. Schwartz, to make friends. He had no idea what was causing the pain.
Another explosion and Smiley fell over on his side once more. He struggled harder and finally made it to the point that he could set up with all four paws stretched out. He looked up at the man with the flattop haircut and tried once more to smile for him but the pain was too much. Then Smiley looked at me and two explosions put him on his side. This time there was no more pain.
The warm wind turned cold and I felt empty inside. I thought somehow the whole world had been hurt by the death of an innocent, even a dog like Smiley. A dog with nothing but love for the human race.
*This is a true story and I’ve changed the names of the people. And yes. The image of that last moment is firmly embedded in my mind.
NOTE: This is my added remembrance for a truly remarkable creature, who only wanted to give love to all creatures. (4/1/2016)
I remember the day I gave Smiley that name when he came to our neighborhood because he was everywhere, greeting the children. He loved the children, he would go to each child or adult, putting his head next to the person and look up and grin at each one who approached. I looked in to his eyes and I saw nothing but love for all humanity.
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I watched, too, when the man with the gun came over and shot Smiley a number of times as he crawled to the gunman and Smiley kept crawling toward him, once again, looking up, trying to greet the gunman with a smile and be his friend. His last effort was when he looked up, then lay down and slept forever.
I couldn’t go without giving my deepest love and admiration for this most beautiful creature, who was truly one of God’s most beautiful work. And, once again, Smiley had nothing but love for humanity.