Little Orphan Annie

My Brother Making a Fort

My Brother Making a Fort

We lived on four acres. Not large by country standards but a whole universe to a child and her dog.

My father worked in the city but wanted his children to have the country experience that he had growing up in a small town in east Texas.  So, braving the commute, he moved us out into the “boonies” where we would have the opportunity to build forts, create mud pools, maintain an aviary, and know what it feels like to run bare foot through the field that you, a child by others standards, mowed with your John Deere tractor that morning.

My siblings and I loved tramping through the woods claiming forts and tree houses that the other gender was not allowed to cross.  The girls made homes with rolls of toilet paper and transplanted cacti.  The boys made watch towers with tire swings and snake skins.  A paradise of wood and mud – and we loved it.

Little did my father know that the creature he would most influence with his desire for open air would be a little dog that my sister brought home from work one day.  It was 1997 and there were a string of tornados that tore through the Central Texas hill country.   One of them had been the F5 that killed 27 people in Jarrell, TX, just 7 miles, as the crow flies, from our home.

One of the smaller tornadoes in the chain, however, had managed to throw a newborn puppy from her litter into a stranger’s backyard while sparing its life. The owner of that backyard found the pup cowering in the bushes the next day and brought her to the Anderson Mill vet clinic where my sister worked as a technician.  They bathed the three inches of mud, fleas, and leaves off of her and determined she was less than 24 hours old and would need to be hand-fed.

That evening my sister walked into our house with a sly smile.   “It will only be until she is weaned.  We can put her up for adoption after she can eat on her own.”  She pleaded with my father as she revealed a silent, little puppy underneath her sweater.

“Annie,” as we dubbed her, won an eight week reprieve.  Of course, little orphan Annie ended up staying with us for over 12 more years.

With such a traumatic beginning Annie grew up with a few quirks of her own.  She didn’t speak until she was three months old and when she finally found her voice it’s strength scared her back into silence .  Never a fan of too much noise she decided that she would try not to use her voice unless absolutely necessary; choosing visual and physical communication over barking.

Annie was prone to other neurotic behaviors.  She knew a storm was coming before any of the TV networks did.  Always our little guardian, she would herd us inside, away from any danger when the clouds grew dark.  She would pace, pant, and cry for the duration of every storm and then sleep like a baby when we all got through it alive.

The first Sunday we let her stay outside while we went to church she decided to explore one of our many woodpiles and wound up with a bump on the head and a runaway eye.  Annie now had a cone collar and a new nickname, Popeye.

Despite these traumas at such a young age, Annie discovered a love for nature that few humans can really grasp.  Forgiving the lumber, wind, and clouds for their abuse of her, she would set out for an adventure in the woods every afternoon.  Sometimes I would follow her just to see if I could catch a glimpse of the alternate reality she embarked on every day.

Of course, as a girl with a rampant imagination, I would create all kinds of stories behind her daily disappearances.  She had meetings with the woodland creatures about current issues in the ecological climate.  Her best friend, a deer, would wait for her in a thatch behind our neighbor’s fence.

She taught a pack of wild wolves about living with the humans.  What I couldn’t understand at that age was something more than a fairytale.  It was the beauty of a scented wind that spoke of mice and crickets.   A crackling of leaves that told the story of an escaping squirrel.  The luxury of lounging on a bed of soft, decaying grass and leaves beneath the awning of an ancient oak tree.  These were the adventures our dear Annie enjoyed every day that the skies allowed it.

rattle snake on rock with visible venom dripping

Rattle Snake (Click Snake to Enlarge)

Annie’s entire life revolved around the next time she could escape to her private universe.  One day, when the winds had changed and the world was starting to cool down, she escaped for an adventure and met the creature no man wishes to cross paths with, a rattlesnake.  She came home with two puncture wounds on her nose.

The vet said that she would be fine thanks to some anti venom they had given her with their annual shots.  We breathed a sigh of relief and forbade any more outdoor adventures.  As the months went on we noticed her joints starting to stiffen.   She began drinking more water and her fur took on an oily, clumpy appearance.   Her gait was slower and she no longer jumped up and ran to the kitchen with every crinkle of her treat bag.

The poison had done its damage.  One Sunday, a year after she met the snake, she didn’t get up for breakfast.  Her legs could not support her anymore. My family, all of the children now adults with houses, families, and careers, gathered at our parent’s house to share our last moments with our sweet, neurotic adventurer.  We did what any true country family would do; fed her some great barbeque and took her outside for one last adventure.  We sat with her in that big, soft field smelling the mice and listening to the escaping squirrels while we watched the clouds scuttle by – whispering their thanks for her gentle friendship over all those years.

She may not have said much in her twelve years but she managed to show at least one little girl the simple beauty of a bright, windy day.

Annie Glancing at Camera


This post was submitted by Beverley Strong.

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