A Too Familiar Story
“Ronny Eanes wants to see you and Dr. Sam together. I told him to come at 5 today,” Joanne said.
“He say what for?”
Ronny and his father were long-time partners in the bird dog training and field trialing business.
For the next few minutes Ben ran a list of possibilities through his mind, then went back to drafting a will for an eccentric dowager obsessed with her jewelry. Occasionally he called out to Joanne for the correct spelling or the meaning of some jewelry term. In a few minutes she took the dowager’s handwritten notes from him and in ten minutes presented him with a neatly typed list produced on her computer.
In what seemed only minutes it was 5. Joanne announced Ronny had arrived and brought a bowl of ice and a can of Coke into the library-conference room to mix with the Crown Royal she knew Ben would be offering Ronny as he and Sam had their daily drams of The Macallan.
As Joanne departed for the beauty parlor (it was Thursday) Sam arrived and he and Ronny proceeded into the library-conference room where Ben was waiting. The spirits were poured.
Ben asked Ronny how things were going in preparing Hard Times, his and his father’s pointer, for the National Championship, set to be drawn In a month.
“He’s coming along, I hope. Grinding him down to the pace a three hour heat requires ain’t something I like,” Ronny said, expressing a sentiment shared by every handler Ben knew, and he knew them all.
“What can we do for you, Ronny?” Ben asked.
“It’s Pop. I’m afraid he’s losing his memory.”
Ben and Sam glanced at one another for an instant in which the principal shared dread of their long lives passed between them.
“Give us an example,” Sam said.
“He will tell me to get a dog off the truck to work that we just worked an hour earlier.”
Sam did not ask for another example.
“Can you get him in to see me?” Sam asked.
“I can try. Any suggestions how to convince him? You know he hates going to a doctor.”
“I can call him, tell him he needs a shot for flu, shingles, pneumonia prevention and it’s free as a drug company promotion. He can’t resist that bargain if I know him,” Sam said.
Ronny nodded. “Might work.”
Two days later Fred Eanes sat in Sam’s private office surrounded by Sam’s framed photos on the walls of quail plantation scenes. When Sam entered Fred recited the name of each plantation pictured. No need to test his long-term memory, Sam thought.
Then he began his customary series of questions about things Sam had told Fred a few minutes earlier. The answers confirmed Ronny’s observations.
Dementia had many possible causes, a few treatable (like dietary deficiencies), many not. Sam asked about his eating pattern. Typical for an on-the-road bird dog handler, far from healthy. Sam gave him a flu shot and a shingles shot (he’d had a pneumonia shot a year earlier) and some drug company samples of dietary supplements targeted to specific deficiencies that might be affecting his short-term memory.
“Want to see you again in three weeks,” Sam said as he ushered Fred out to the waiting room where Ronny waited. He knew Fred would not likely be back.
Sam told Ronny to call him in a week.
“Any change in his memory?” Sam asked when Ronny called.
“No, Dr. Sam, unless maybe a little worse.”
“He needs to be tested by a neurologist. I’ll set it up. Call me Monday and have him with you. I’ll convince him to go,” Sam said.
Sam told Fred the doctor he wanted him to see was interested in finding a field trial dog to buy and campaign. Ben had suggested the ruse. By the time Fred got to the neurologist’s office he had forgotten why he was meeting the new doctor.
Dr. Patel examined Fred, asked Fred questions, took blood for testing. In a week he reported to Sam. Fred’s dementia was organic, progressive, sure to get worse. Sam explained to Ronny
“Is it Alzheimer’s?”
“That or something similar, no way to tell for sure until an autopsy.”
“What should I do, Dr. Sam?”
“Let me get with Ben Reach about that. We will call you.”
“Ronnie can get a job as dog trainer on a dozen plantations. The trick is going to be finding the right one, where Fred can be understood and taken care of when the time comes,” Ben said.
The Curmudgeons decided to make a semi-surprise (surprise to Fred) visit to the home Fred and Ronnie shared on Fred’s small family farm at Camilla. They arrived at 5:30, just as father and son were finishing up at the kennel. Fred invited them in for a drink, meaning iced tea, sweet or unsweetened. Ben had sweet, Sam unsweetened.
They stayed an hour during which Ben asked Fred about bird dogs whose oil paintings hung everywhere on the walls of the old farmhouse. They were winners the team had campaigned over Fred’s long career as an over-the-road-for-the-public handler. Ronnie had become his scout at age fourteen. Now Ronnie handled. Fred thought he scouted but in fact Ronnie’s scout was always another handler. Fred was seventy six.
On the drive back to Albany Ben said, “The paintings are the key. I think I know a plantation owner will hire them both to get an option on those paintings.”
“That why you had me photograph them with my phone?” Sam asked.
“Yes, will you make an album of those pictures as soon as you can.”
Next morning at Millie’s Diner Sam handed Ben the album. When he got to the office Ben called Paul Wilson, owner of Leaning Pine Plantation outside Thomasville. Paul was in his office in Boston.
“Paul, I’ve got a young man I want you to talk to about signing on as your dog trainer-hunt manager. In a few years I think you will want to make him manager of Leaning Pine. There’s a bonus maybe comes with him. I’m overnighting you something about the bonus.
“No, I’m not going to tell you. I want you to see it first. You will have it tomorrow.”
Ben gave the album to Joanne and asked her to overnight it to Paul Wilson in Boston. Next morning Paul called Ben.
“What does he want for the paintings,” Paul asked.
“Not for sale, except as part of a package deal. When will you be in Thomasville?” Ben asked.
“This weekend,” Paul said.
“When can I bring the paintings’ owner out to meet you?” Ben asked.
“Bring him for breakfast Sunday,” Paul said.
Ben called Ronny. He agreed to pick Ben up Sunday morning. On their drive to Leaning Pine Ben filled Ronny in on why the dog paintings might be key to his employment and a secure place for Fred to live out his days. Ben had told Ronny to bring his notebook listing the field trial wins of the father-son team. Most every dog handler kept one.
Ben had sent Paul Wilson by email the names of owners in the Ronny-Fred string as references. In their conversation over breakfast Paul Wilson asked Ronny questions about dogs of old whose paintings had been among the photos Ben had sent him in Boston. In an hour Paul Wilson had hired Ronny as his dog man and hunt guide.
Fred would be hired too for such duties a Ronny thought over time he could handle. They would have a cottage on the plantation. There were wives and mothers of other Leaning Pine Plantation employees who when the time came might be available as caregivers for Fred — Paul Wilson’s mother had been cared for on Leaning Pine through her decline due to Alzheimer’s.
“Thank you, Mr. Ben. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you have done,” Ronny said on their drive back to Albany.
“When is Hard Times drawn to run in the National?” Ben asked. The drawing had been held last night.
“He drew a week from tomorrow, braced with Eldorado Ed,” Ronny said. “Nice to draw a Monday so the birds will have had a day’s rest, but Ed’s handler is a pain to run with.”
Ben knew Ed’s handler’s reputation for interfering with a brace mate through wild riding and hollering and whistle blowing. “Those National judges will likely send a marshal to tell him to ride close up front, at least they used to,” Ben said. “Hope so,” Ronny said.
Monday morning Ben told Sam of the hiring of Ronny and Fred by Paul Wilson. “The pictures you took of the dog paintings were key,” Ben said.
“How so?” Sam asked.
“Three of the dogs in the paintings had belonged to Paul Wilson’s grandfather. A Continental winner, a Free-for-All winner, and a National Champion. Paul Wilson has an option to buy them for appraised value at Fred’s death.”
“Your worthless knowledge of everything about bird dog trials finally had some value,” Sam said. Ben smiled.
Fabulous new novel by Tom Word!!!
A Novel of Field Trials
A farm boy sneaks his father’s female setter out against orders to hunt alone the day after Virginia’s quail season ends. The hunt turns magic when a strange male setter joins the hunt and the threesome harvests the boy’s first ever limit. At day’s end the setters become playful and lock in the mating embrace. The sole offspring of the mating becomes Halifax Flip and a National Championship contender for the boy and two unlikely companions after the boy is orphaned by a car crash.
The boy, David Burch, his distant cousin Jack Slone, Vietnam veteran, prisoner of war, card reading gambler and West Virginia-based bird dog trainer-handler who becomes David’s mentor, and John Bates MD, skilled surgeon on sabbatical, mount a campaign to make Flip National Champion. On their quest they encounter a rascal rival not above every dirty trick known to the rough and tumble sport of pointing dog field trials, including Flip’s theft.
The story ends at the Ames Plantation in the last brace of the National Championship where Flip is braced with Takeover Bill, his chief rival pointer owned by rascal Norman Klensch, who has had Flip stolen on the prairie the summer before and will stop at nothing to win in business or sport.
To learn how the adventure ends you can buy as a Christmas present for yourself and your bird dogging friends one of a deluxe limited first edition of 500 copies signed and inscribed by the author. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.