We met Slippers when we were living in a holler. It’s hard to describe how a place can be so dull and so colorful at the same time. Sort of like lifting a rock. First you only see brown then you realize there is life swirling everywhere. Strange creatures and you have no idea what they are doing.
In the world I grew up in, the meaning of life was clear- to be rich and important. But these aren’t the aims of life in a holler. I’m not sure I ever figured out what the aims were. But certainly not to climb a social ladder because such a ladder didn’t exist.
For starters, the majority of people were animals. And even the animals seemed rather stuffy and affected compared to the principle actor- Nature. Nature was top dog. He controlled plants, mountains, creeks and weather. Humans and animals were both second fiddle to him.
Perhaps this gave humans and animals more in common than they have in cities. At any rate, it didn’t feel much different walking down the street with a goat or a random child. Even the conversations were similar. All beings ran the gamut from deadly (copperheads & criminals) to unbearably cute. There were many involved in crime and many who appeared to have stepped right out of a story book. Sometimes they were the same people.
So on any day’s walk you would encounter chickens, goats, a sheep, children, at least one pedophile, horses, a pony and many many dogs. It was the dogs though who would accompany me up and down the road.
When I first met Slippers, her name was Nasty. She lived on the mountain’s side with a teeny dog named Banjo who was mean as anything. Even when Slippers reached 70 pounds, if 5 pound Banjo came after her she would lie on her back screaming while he tried to bite her and I ran around her immobilized body trying to kick him. Banjo’s owner was a 10 year old boy. He would try to kick Banjo as well but we never succeeded. He kept a long hunting knife in his top overall pocket with no sheath. It would keep falling out over and over again and he’d just pick it up and stick it back in.
I’m sorry I was trying to kick a dog but that’s just the way it was there. Little kids carried guns and shot birds. Pedophiles sat on their porch flirting with kids. Dogs raced cars in the street and sometimes lost in a big way. Kids tried to rob you and so did the adults. I was just one more animal trying to protect my own.
Dog ownership in the holler was not the same as suburban dog ownership. Dogs were considered more or less their own people and it was frequently ambiguous who they belonged to. Multiple houses might claim the same dog. They mostly lived outside and roamed freely. No fence, no leash. They ran the holler together in packs. One or more pack would accompany me on my walks. At first I was scared shitless of them. But soon they became the best friends I had. The only friends really.
There were the Peanuts, Bear, Jax, Jack, Lily, Toby, Nasty, Brownie and Dingleberry who would escort me through the holler. And then a few other dogs- like Banjo and Xena- who would just run down from their houses to attack. It was a world where you needed friends.
Eventually Nasty’s ownership transferred to another family though not much changed since she still ran with the pack. They renamed her Pretty Girl. I continued calling her Slippers which was the name I gave her when we first met because she seemed so refined to me.
Pretty Girl’s new family lived down by the creek which during floods would turn into a crazy river. A bridge crossed the creek leading to their house and when floods came the kids- about 3 and 6 years old- would be tied to the bridge so they could enjoy being tossed in the racing flood waters. Until one day the flood pulled the bridge away. After that it was just a couple of planks over a 12 foot drop. People in hollers are not very safety conscious. Pretty Girl’s new dad would stick his hand down a copperhead nest to show us the eggs and pull up poison ivy with bare hands.
So Pretty Girl played in the road like all the dogs did and one day she got hit by a car and couldn’t walk anymore. This was not an uncommon fate. Few dogs there were more than a couple years old. One day James was driving down a major road in the city and found traffic had been stopped because the dog pack had managed to leave the holler and was standing there in the middle of the road. Luckily they knew James and all hopped into his car and he drove them back home.
After getting injured Pretty Girl just rode around on the back of her owner’s tractor. One day James got a really bad feeling that her owner might decide to ‘put her down.’ Pretty Girl’s family foraged in the dumpster for their own food so they didn’t really have the resources for a dog, much less an injured one. He went to their house one night to ask if we could have her but the owner said she had just been picked up by a rescue group. She was given surgery and renamed Bailey. Eventually she went up for adoption so we adopted her and moved her back into the holler.
Her friends were glad she was back. Lily would come over and rap the door with her paw each afternoon wanting to play with her. They’d go out on the back porch and wrestle together. Until one day Lily got kidnapped. She had ‘prestige’ looks so she’d probably been sold for money. I knew who did it too, but didn’t say anything cause Lily probably wouldn’t have lived much longer if she stayed. Her owner went through one dog a year. His last pony had starved to death. People in the holler love getting new puppies and baby animals but once they become adults their incentive to keep them alive isn’t as great.
So now I’d walk Slippers on a leash while her old gang ran wild around her. Generally she didn’t mind except for when they’d spot a deer and then BAM the dogs would fly up that mountain wall and she’d scream to go with them. They didn’t have long to live but it wasn’t a bad life either.