Dogs were as much of the ambience of Ed Briscoe’s barber shop as were the human members of the club. The day Reg Keetering told his story about his cousin Maynard and how he invented dinosaurs, there were three.
Old Tom lay at his master’s feet in the corner near the stove. Ed Briscoe’s constant companion Tex, a mid-size collie mix, dozed in the corner on the other side of the chair. On the rare occasion of Darrell (known to everyone as Duryl) Campbell stopping in for a trim, he brought along his Heinz-mix named Pete. But today there was a very different dog curled beneath Duryl’s chair.
Red Schaeffer sat shrouded in the barber chair, Ed Briscoe’s scissors busy snip-snipping around his ears. From time to time Red would look at that dog like he was somebody he’d seen before but couldn’t quite recognize. Finally, Red said to Duryl:
“That’s a right interstin’ pooch you got thur, Duryl. Looks like a cross twinxt a sheepdog and a goat. Just what would a dog lookin’ like that be good fer?”
“Well, Red, I’ll tell ya,” says Duryl, in his slow, drawl, hitching up and leaning his elbows on the arms of his chair, so as to best tell his own yarn. Duryl was an older man with a full head of wavy gray hair and a clean shave he’d just got in Ed Briscoe’s chair. Like most of the farmers in Tehama County, he wore bib overalls with a plaid shirt underneath. All eyes and ears in the room turned toward him; everyone knew Duryl could tell as good as he heard. “Ole Charlie, here, is a decen’ent of one of the finest lines of herd dogs thur ever was.”
“That so?” chuckled Ernie Nance. “What’s he s’posed to herd, goats? Looks to me like he’s got some goat in him, fer sure.” All the men chuckle at the observation.
“Yessir,” licking his toothless gums to get his story going. “He comes from a line of esceptional goat herders, but it was camel herdin’ they was noted fer.”
“Camels?” I piped up, “There aren’t any camels around here.”
“That’s absolutely right, Freddie. But thur is in Egypt. Charlie here’s ‘gyptian, ya see?”
At this, Reg Keetering snorted his approval of Darrell Campbell’s yarn-spinning technique. Reg had been heard to speak admiringly of the way Duryl captivated his listeners. He felt he was getting a lesson, now, as every face in the place was staring open-mouthed at the older man.
“Oh, not him directly, you unnerstan’; nor his folks, fer that matter. But, it’s true, ole Charlie here’s a rar’fied purebred ‘gyptian goat and camel herd dog,” he said with believable conviction. It was a sure bet some of the men sitting there didn’t know whether to believe him or not.
“Yer sayin’ that dog’s got one of them, whatcha callit, pedygrees?” asked Amos Cleary.
“Abs’lutely he does,” replies Duryl, as if implying otherwise was offensive. “His sire comes from a long line of fine goat ‘n’ camel herd dogs down in Fresno, and his dam sprung from a real nice family down to San Looey Abispo, down by Frisco, that is.”
“What I don’t unnerstan’,” says Ernie, leaning way over close to Charlie so as to study him up close, “is how he come to look so danged much like a goat and where he got that cocked up ear and screwy looking eyeball.”
“Whadya call this here kind o’ mutt, anyway?” asks Amos, the most contrary of those present.
“Wull, Amos, to answer yer question, we orta go back to the beginnin’. That thur that yer lookin’ at, gennelmens, is a genu-wine ohsweetlLordy goat and camel herd dog. Legen’ has it the ohsweetLordy breed was brung about one day, long ago, after a loomin’ catistrophy on the ‘gyptian desert.”
At this Reg Keetering let out a booming laugh. “I knowed it, goldang it, I knowed it.”
“Just what was it y’all knowed,” asked Ernie.
“Soon as Duryl mentioned goats and camels an’ sech, I knowed we was going to Egypt, yep, I knowed it. Go ahead, Duryl,” regaining his composure, “sorry I disturbed ye.”
“Seems this ‘gyptian family was trekkin’ ‘cross country on thur way to Cayro to visit kin. It was stiflin’ hot, as it usually was on the desert, so they pulled inter one of them oh-ay-susus to cool off a mite and have lunch. An oh-ay-sus, ya unnerstan’, is a spot whur thur’s a bit of water and a few date or cokernut trees, whatever it is they got o’er yonner, grow. They had a couple of camels, a batch of goats and a couple of young’uns with ‘em. And an old dog.
“Anyways, whilst the feller and his missus was unpackin’ the camels – distracted they was, not payin’ no mind to the kids – I mean, whur could they go? – see what I’m sayin’?, stuck out yonner in the middle of nowhurs, the way they was. Nex’ thang they knowed, the younges’ one of the kids done clumb up a tree; yep, clear to the top of one of them date or cokernut trees. Got hisse’f up thur and couldn’t git hisse’f down. Got stuck.
“Now, the purents was right stocky folks, ‘gyptians unfit fer climbin’ trees, ya unnerstan’, and the other youngster was too slight yet fer sendin’ on such a terrifyin’ rescue mission. Thur seemed to be nuthin’ they could do to fetch thur baby down from that date or cokernut tree, whatever it is they got o’er yonner.
“Now, them poor ‘gyptian folks was beside theyse’ves, they was, bein’ stuck on the ground whilst they young’un was up a tree. And they commenced to howlin’ somethin’ fearful. They was howlin’ so loud, they could be heard all the ways to Cayro or Puris, Fraince or sumwhurs far off like that. But all they could do, the purents that is, and the dog, which had taken perticular interst in the perceedin’s, was jus’ look up inter that tree and pray to the Lord – some ‘gyptians prays the same as we do, ya unnerstan’- and ask if’n He’d take it on Hisse’f to save the little feller from bein’ stuck in that thur tree. Thur was no claim the dog was prayin’, ya unnerstan’, but he truly had taken an uncommon interst in the sitchyation.
“The purents taken to kneelin’down holy like, chantin’ prayers and such; the dog was a-sittin’ thur puzzled like, wonderin’ how the dickens the little critter got up thur in the first place; and the goats and camels standin’ aroun’ chawin’ they cuds , jus’ like cows do, ya unnerstan’, like thur was nuthin’ they could do to he’p the little feller and wouldn’t bother iff’n they could. Goats ‘n’ camels, like bovines, are like that, ya see – jus’ refuse to git thurselves wrapped up in human goin’s on.
“Like I said, them ‘gyptian folks was a-kneelin’ and a-hollerin’ up to the Lord to please he’p ‘em git that youngster out’n the tree. Wull, nex’ thang they knowed that ole dog sashayed o’er to that tree and commenced to shinny up it! And that’s the truth! Yessir. ‘Parently, the critter straddled the trunk of that tree and arm and legged it right on up to the top. Durndest thang them ‘gyptian folks e’er seen, the dog scootin’ up thur the way it did, intensifyin’ thur prayin’ as they was thankin’ the Lord fer lettin’ the dog git up thur, but inside they was wonderin’ what the dog was gonna do now.
“But that dog had a sing’lar mind about what he was gonna do and he went right into action. He grabbed a mouthful o’ that young’uns back pockets, tugged on ‘em a time er two to loosen his hold on the tree, then slud down the trunk of that tree like a fireman slidin’ down a fire pole. And that thur’s the dad-blamed truth. Yessir.” While we sat and mulled that over, seein’ in our minds a dog sliding down a date or coconut tree with a kid in his mouth, Duryl unloaded a shot of tobacco juice into the spit can at his feet, worked his chaw around to the other side of his mouth, then went on:
“When he reached the groun’ the dog walks o’er nonch’lant like and plops the young’un down right in front of his mama and papa. Wull! That wuman and her husban’ was so deelighted to have thur baby back safe, they commenced to praisin’ the Lord all o’er agin. “Oh, my Lordy! Thank ya, Lordy!” they was a-chantin’, bowin’ and a-praisin’ all round the oh-ay-sus, they was. “Oh, my Lordy.! Oh, sweet Lordy! Thank ya, Lordy, fer savin’ our baby from that tree o’er yonner.” They kep’ it up till they figgered the Lord was plumb tired o’ hearin’ ‘em a-chantin’ an’ a-praisin’ – which kin be quite a time, ‘cuz, as y’all know, gods have a consider’ble hankerin’ to be chanted at an’ praised about whilst they git ‘round to performin’ a mur’cle.
“Wull, it was indeed a mur’cle an’ them ‘gyptian folks was just a-brimmin’ with appreciation, they was. The rescue also showed ‘em this was a real special dog they had, and that s’prised ‘em ‘cuz he never showed he was good fer nuthin’ before. They got him to pertect thur animals and themse’ves, of course, from lions and tigers and bederins – them’s rustlers on camelback, ya unnerstan’ – and other pesky critters roamin’ the desert sands, but he’d ne’er showed no talent fer such. Lazy he was and chicken, too, I reckon, ‘cuz they was always losin’ goats to varmints, and the dog had nary a scratch on him.
“But them ‘gyptian folks was mighty prideful of thur dog now, after seeing ‘im shinny up that tree then slide on down with thur baby in his mouth; they seen sumpthin’ in him they ne’er seed before. They figgered to take advantage of the talent they seed in him and decided they’d start up a whole new breed of dog, one that could climb a tree and with a little luck, maybe they’d end up with somethin’ that’d pertect thur goats and whatnot from them pesky felines and bederins that’s out roamin’ the desert sands. With the recent mur’cle in mind they decided to call the new breed ohsweetLordy, out of respect to God fer heppin’‘em rescue thur young’un.
“So they gets ‘em a female o’ sim’lar breed, whichever kind it was don’t matter, and coupled ‘em lotsa times, but ne’er had no luck with thur breedin’ program. After several batches of pups, they still hadn’t got one that was perticularly inter’sted in herdin’ goats or climbin’ trees or showed any inter’st in pertectin’ thur persons or that of thur kids.
“Wull, they got to thinkin’ and come up with an idée that maybe the breed was too genteel fer dealin’ with goats. They began lookin’ fer somethin’ less s’fisticated, and they did; they mixed the strain with a goat.
“Now, a lotsa folks believe thur’s a mite of problems arisin’ when it comes to crossin’ breeds of anymal that-a-way; in fact some say it cain’t be done, but the truth of the matter is it kin, if you pay close attention to detail. Just how them ‘gyptians got it done ain’t knowed, but the result was the durn finest goat herder anybody had e’er saw. Took to his job real quick and soon had ‘em dancin’ to his tune, he did, and that’s a fact!
“But that thur ohsweetlordy – they keepin’ the same name they started out with, ya unnerstan’ - goat dog had a shortcomin’ when it come to pertectin’ things. Seems he was feisty ‘nuf all right; he’d git right in thur and tussle with felines and bederins that tried to burgle a goat. Trouble was, he was gittin’ snuck up on by the predators – wudn’t seein’ ‘em comin’ and they was always gettin’ in the fust lick, shanghaiin’ him, and whilst he licked his wounds, the predators was off some whurs stealin’ goats.
“The ‘gyptians figgered thur problem was all that sand o’er yonner – it being soft underfoot, like it is – made it difficult to hear the buggers approachin’. Theys a quiet lot anyways, them felines and bederins, an’ the ’gyptians figgered ‘cuz they sneak aroun’ at night the dog wudn’t seein’ ‘em neither. What they needed was an ohsweetlordy that could hear predaters creepin’ through all that soft sand and had night vision. Yessir.
“Try as they might, thur breedin’ program ne’er perduced a dog with any of them traits, but in one batch thur was a pup with a cocked ear an’ a crossed eye. His left ear was stuck straight up and his left eye was always lookin’ out across his nose at what’s goin’ on o’er yonner. This gave the ‘gyptian folks an idée. They trained the dog to circle the herd o’ goats to the right – clockwise, ya unnerstan’. Thataway, he could hear anythin’ sneakin’ in across the desert sands, watch straight ahead with his good eye and, at the same time – with that eye lookin’ out across his nose, the way it did - keep an eye on the goats, makin’ sure they ain’t wanderin’ off inter the night and gittin’ burgled. Appurently, that thur mew-tay-shun perduced the hot-dangdest burgler-proofin’ goat dog in ‘gyptian history. Yessir, and them ‘gyptians was ‘zooberant. They didn’t know why those traits appeared – one of them mew-tay-shuns, they figgered – that’s somethin’ that pops up when nature ain’t lookin’ – but after that, ever’ litter that ohsweetLordy sired had at least a couple of pups lookin’ thataway.
“Them ‘gyptian folks was so pure-dee-loo tickled o’er thur new dog they broke out the goat yogurt and the camel jerky and had ‘emselves a big ole celybration – partied way inter the night, they did, stayed up till all hours slurpin’ yogurt and jawin’ jerky. Yessir, them folks was wild with ‘zooberance.
“But they had some ways to go yet, in gittin’ what they was lookin’ fer. That ohsweetlordy was a mighty fine goat dog but would have nuthin’ to do with camels, ya see. As fer as they was concerned them felines and bederins could pilfer all the danged camels off’n continental Egypt, and they’d be glad to see ‘em gone.
“But them ‘gyptians was mighty enterprizin’ folks and they thunk up another idée. What they done wuz begin to presentin’ camel meat to the ohsweetLordy at chow time. ‘Stead a chowin’ him down on goat or desert rats or whate’er it is they feed ‘em o’er thur, they took to feedin’ him big, thick, juicy camel steaks. Wull! Them ohsweetLordys wuz pur-dee-deelighted and right ‘preciative. As you might espect, them ohsweetLordys munchin’ on camel steak din’t go unnoticed by the other camels. No sirree, them other camels wuz wide-eyed in their observation of such.perceedin’s and shur didn’t ‘preciate what they wuz lookin’ at. Seein’ thur relatives ate up that-a-way made ‘em right edgy ‘round dogs, as y’all would espect. And, as you might espect, them dogs wuz takin’ especial inturst in whur thur fancy new vittles wuz comin’ from and commenced to eyeballin them camels in a special way. They’d lay ‘round starin’ at them humpbacks, lickin’ thur lips, and that made them camels right nervous and they’d go on and move away from them dogs.
“Now ohsweetLordys is particularly intelligent anymals and it din’t take long fer them to note that the camels would move away when they wuz nearby. When an ohsweetLordy wuz sittin’ to the west, them camuls would scoot east; when the dogs wuz to the east, the camels went west. That in mind, it din’t take long fer them perticularly intelligent anymals to figure out that when they walked around them camels they’d knot up in a bunch an’ stay put.
“Wull now, them ‘gyptians had been watchin’ the perceedin’s all along and they agin wuz zooberant. Not only wuz the ohsweetLordy the gosh-blamed-a-mightiest goat dog thur e’er wuz but a camel herder par excellence –that thur means he wuz real good at it. This wuz especial pleasin’ to the ‘gyptians and they broke out the yogurt and jerky and partied all o’er agin.
“The ‘gyptian folks wuz so durn-tootin’ happy with the perceedin’s, it took ‘em some time before they recollected they plumb fergot thur original intent – perducin’ a breed of dog that could climb date or cokernut trees and save young’uns which had clumb up ‘em and got stuck. And that thur’s why you’ll ne’er see ole Charlie here shinny up a date or a cokernut tree, ner will he show any inturst in that sort of nonsense. Them ‘gyptians plumb fergot to give him the means for such and the lack don’t seem to bother ole Charlie atall.”
Toward the end of Duryl’s yarn, his brother Dan entered the barber shop and, as there were no empty chairs, leaned against the wall. Dan was visiting from the Bay Area of San Francisco and wasn’t known to any of the other men. He had driven into town to surprise his brother for his birthday, and take him to lunch. It turned out Dan enjoyed Duryl’s yarns as much as anybody and was up for a good joke when the opportunity arose.
Dan listened to Duryl long enough to get the point of the story. Then, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest and looking like he’d just discovered the Hope Diamond in his mother’s attic, he asked, “You mean to tell us that dog lying there is a genuine ohsweetLordy herd dog? I’ve heard tell they’re the dad-gummed finest goat and camel herd dogs in the world. There ain’t very many left, neither. How much you want fer him,” Dan reaching for his wallet.
“Oh, gosh, mister,” Duryl said keeping the ruse going, “I could never sell ole Charlie. Had a lot of offers, though, but I just couldn’t part with him.”
“Ah, shucks,” says Dan, sounding real disappointed. “Everyone that has an ohsweetLordy just won’t part with them,” hanging his head in sadness.
“Hey, wait a minute!” blurted Ernie Nance. “Yer sayin’ that’s what that dog really is? An ohsweet … whachamacallit? And It’s really a ‘gyptian goat and camel herd dog? Wull, dang it all the hell, Duryl, I thought y’all was shinin’ us on!”
“Yeah,” says Amos Cleary, doubt fading from his eyes. “I’ve had hunting dogs all my life and I never heared o’ any such anymal.”
The rest of the men in the room sat shaking their heads, not knowing whether to believe the story or chalk it off to the pure bull, for which Duryl was known all around Tehama County. Heck, maybe further off than that.
One man said, “Duryl, if anyone else told that story, I might believe it – but it’s you, Duryl, and I done swore I’d ne’er believe anythin’ you told me.”
Dan started toward the door, saying, “Well, mister, if you e’er change yer mind about sellin’ that dog, let me know right off, would ya?”
With only a trace of a smile working the corners of his mouth, Duryl got up and, with a wave, said “See you gents later,” and walked out of Ed Briscoe’s barber shop, the greatest ‘gyptian goat and camel herd dog in the world right on his heels.