|John and Jim Vanderpool and Junior Babe -- the family's "Guard Dog"|
The police squad car pulled up to the curb in front of our house; a back door opened and out leaped Junior Babe — the family dog. The policeman waved at mother. She waved back and opened the screen door for our wandering pet, who often hitched a ride home with the local Garden City cops. Dad was the mechanic who serviced their squad cars and one of the perks of living in a small town is that everyone knew everyone — and their dogs.
Junior Babe was a mixture of boxer, bulldog, and lots of “other.” We are not sure about the other that his canine pedigree contained. He was a puppy that mother obtained from her best friend, Opal Edwards, when her dog presented her with a variety of pups. As best I recall, mother had the pick of the litter and choose him. Mother had an enormous soft spot for dogs and so did dad.
Why on earth was the dog named Junior Babe? That’s something that has slipped my memory, if I ever knew. He was never “my” dog and being a self-obsessed teenager at the time, and busy with my life and friends, I don’t recall asking. Junior Babe belonged to my parents and to James and John, my twin brothers, who were four or five years old when the puppy arrived. Mother spoiled him rotten, and of course, he adored her. He tolerated me — I suppose because I had the “family scent” — or whatever it is that dogs can identify us humans by.
Eventually Junior Babe would weigh about 50 pounds as he hung out in the kitchen with mother and she was always slipping him a bite or two of tasty morsels while she prepared meals. By the time the twins started to kindergarten, Junior Babe had established himself as alpha dog and had the humans whipped into shape. In the summer of 1954, we moved to a big old rambling house on a corner lot in town — just a block from Nolan Motors Company, where dad worked.
When the twins started to first grade we were in walking distance of their school, so Junior Babe assumed the responsibility of seeing to it that they got there. The morning routine was that I walked with them to the corner where they turned and went another half block or so to their school, then I hiked about a mile north to the brand-new high school.
Junior Babe went with us — and much to my dismay, he hiked his leg and watered every object he encountered. He also participated in the endless butt-sniffing ritual that dogs do.
I plead with mother to keep him in the house until we got to school, but Junior Babe would ignore mother’s call when he knew it was time to go to school and refuse to come into the house. Usually, he would go home after the twins had made it safely to their school. But, sometimes, he would escort me all the way to high school, constantly butt-sniffing and a-watering. I’d pretend I didn’t know him.
Junior Babe patrolled the backyard where the twins played. James was easy to watch because he usually had a hammer and nails and was pounding on an apple or orange crate, but John was the challenge for the dog — he often had friends over and then eventually tiring of games, would go into the house to read. That necessitated that Junior Babe go to the back door and bark to be let in so he could check on John, then he’d want out to go back to the yard to watch James and thus it went — in and out.
The Christmas of 1955 was not good for Junior Babe. That’s the year the twins received brand-new bicycles. Junior Babe hated them (the bikes) because once the twins learned to ride, they were off in different directions — around the block and up the alley. Obviously, Junior Babe couldn’t follow them both at the same time. However, he figured out if he grabbed a jean leg while they were trying to get on the bikes and held on for dear life, he could prevent them from being able to balance on the bikes and ride away. As my brother, John, later recalled, trying to ride a bike with that 50-pound dead weight of canine hanging on your leg was mission impossible for a little guy.
Mother and I often watched the spectacle from the kitchen window. The twins tried to outsmart Junior Babe and leap on their bikes at the same time. But, the dog always managed to get one of them. So whichever twin could get on his bike first and pedal like crazy might manage to escape the death grip of their self-appointed guard dog — at least for that day. It was an endless challenge for boys and dog.
Junior Babe had a long adventurous life and when he died, the entire family mourned. We had lost our furry friend who had been the twins’ constant and faithful companion for many years. It was like a death in the family.