I used My Dog Skip by Willie Morris (1995) as a read-aloud in middle school classrooms for about 12 years, which means I read the entire text aloud six times a year at a rate of about 2 1/2 pages a day. Reading the text to the classes would take about 8 weeks. I would pull vocabulary words from each section, would have students write definitions for the words in the personal dictionary sections of their notebooks after an oral discussion of the terms, and would give students extra credit on their essays for effectively using up to ten of the words in a major written assignment. So, I got to know the book fairly well…and never tired of reading the memoir over and over.
Willie Morris began with:
“I came across a photograph of him not long ago, his black face with the long snout sniffing at something in the air, his tail straight and pointing, his eyes flashing in some momentary excitement. Looking at a faded photograph taken more than forty years before, even as a grown man, I would admit I still missed him.”
Of course, Willie Morris was one of several writers who inspired me to write a memoir and sent me in search of old pictures of my first dog.
Note: The shadow indicates I’m using my mother’s Six – 16 Brownie box camera.
From the 11th chapter of Growing Up Floridian:
Timidly emerging from the tree line, the black and white mongrel sniffed the air and peered up the dirt road. I saw him from the picnic table bench that summer day because the small black animal sharply stood out against the white, dusty, shell-packed road that curved away from the trees, split in two just beyond my family’s house, then ran by the ranch’s other two houses, and reconnected in front of the wide two- story barn. Each split ran in front of those two ranch-hand houses separated from each other by a wide flat piece of clover-covered pasture, in the middle of which sat a creaky old windmill that pumped water into a ten-foot long concrete water trough.
The dog started up the road, looking from side to side as if some danger might pop out from behind the mature pine trees populating the pasture on both sides of the road. The mutt, clearly undernourished with visible rib lines apparent under his shaggy coat, had a white blaze on his chest, a white patch on his right ear, and a couple white-stockinged front feet that brightened his otherwise dark wispy form.
I waited until the mutt was almost in front of the house but still a hundred feet from the picnic table before I spoke.
“Hey, boy,” I called in a quiet, soft tone.
The dog looked, ducked around with his tail between his legs, and started back the way he came, but glanced toward the table and paused. His tail wagged twice before he continued down the road.