He lived on a medium sized working ranch, that also was a farm. The oldest of 10, two brothers and 7 sisters, and, of course himself, Sammy took most of the responsibility of the farm. He remembered the day it happened.
His father was a Navy man, and was always off to sea, doing something exciting. He knew this because, every time his Dad packed up his duffel-bag to go away, Sammy would ask him:
“Dad, where are you going now?”
Dad: “Out to sea again, Sammy.”
Sammy: “Do you have to go?”
Dad: “Yes, I have a duty. And I am needed… ‘somewhere’.”
Sammy: “Is that ‘somewhere’ very special?”
Dad: “I am sure that where I am going is both special and exciting. Most Places I go are.”
His dad made every sea adventure sound exciting.
Sammy: “Be safe, Dad.”
Dad: “I will, son.” His Dad stopped packing and looked at the floor for a second. Then he squatted down and took Sammy by the shoulders and looked him in the eye. Sammy thought he saw pain in his dad’s eye, even if it was just a brief second.
Then Sammy’s Dad said: “While I am gone, I want you to take care of Mom and your brothers and sisters. Make sure the horses, cattle and sheep are fed. Don’t forget, it’s almost harvest time. There will be plenty of work to keep all of you busy. And tell your sisters to feed the chickens and gather the eggs every day. Can you do this for me, Son?”
“Yes, Dad, I can.” Sammy said. His dad was always going away, but he always returned. He didn’t understand why his Dad was acting all different, this time. It was just another adventure.
Sammy asked his Dad, “What’s it like, being on the ocean?”
His dad was not expecting this question, but he said, “Well, Sam, it’s nothing like anything you have ever known. It makes you feel as if you are free, and it makes you feel as if you are very small. The ocean is powerful, and it’s soothing. There’s lots of silence, sometimes, then there are mighty storms and loud wind. When it’s like that, a man determines what he believes is true about himself. The sea can be a harsh mistress, but can also be a great teacher. I hope, someday, you will find time to learn these things, son.”
Then his Dad did something he never did before he left for an adventure. He grabbed Sammy and hugged him, and kissed him, and held him really tight, and said, “I love you, Sam.” His Dad had a lot of strong muscles, and Sammy was afraid he was never going to breathe again. His Dad’s part of the Navy was named after some aquatic animal…guppy, froggies, or seals, or some such. He never really understood that part, but it made sense, cause his Dad said they do a LOT of swimming.
Then Sammy did what he never has done before, either; He hugged his dad back, kissed him, and said, “I love you, too, Dad.” Then his Dad got up quickly, grabbed his duffel-bag, and left. Dad was off on a great adventure.
Sam learned a lot from his dad, when his dad was home from adventuring. First thing he learned to do, before he could walk, was to swim. His Dad always told him, “Water is your friend, Sam. Never be afraid of water.” He also learned other things, like; How to hunt, how to camp out, how to make food out of almost everything on the land. How to make medicines, how to ride a horse and rope.
Sammy especially loved it when his Dad took him way off to the edge of the land, where there was an empty, dried out pond, and they got in the middle of the dried out pond, where it was lower than all the rest of the land. It was there that his Dad taught him how to shoot almost every kind of weapon he could imagine. He learned how to use a knife, and even learned how to throw almost any kind of knife at a target, and hit the target. He even learned how to make a blow gun, a cross-bow, and his own bow and arrow set, complete with a quiver for carrying arrows.
It was their secret.
His Dad made him promise that he would NEVER tell his mom or siblings. Sammy always kept that promise. He also promised that, when it was time, he would take his brothers and sisters and teach them everything his Dad had taught him. Sammy promised. Sammy ALWAYS kept his promises. His Dad taught him that. “If a man gives his word, he must keep that word. You only get one reputation, so don’t ruin it.”
His Dad was always telling him, “Son, when you get really tired, or afraid, or just plain ‘don’t want to’s”, remember, you always have 10% more in you than you believe you do. You just have to reach for it and use it. Never quit. Never give up.
Never “ring out”, whatever that meant.
Sammy’s favorite books were “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis. He liked them because he felt they were true to life, full of adventure, and they gave him hope that, one day, he would get to go on his own adventures, like what happened in Narnia, and what his Dad did. There even used to be a king in their land who was called “Aslan”. But that was probably a few thousand years ago. No one had ever seen him again, after he left, one day. Sammy just figured the guy got tired of being king, and went on his own adventure.
I guess this is where I mention that, just like Narnia, but without all the sense of being a fairy tale, Sammy’s world was the same. Animals and people lived together, and could talk to each other. Sammy and his family were all Dogs, of the Beagle variety. Sam was exceptionally tall for a beagle, just like his dad. When he walked on just his back legs, Sammy was almost as tall as a teen-aged human boy.
Sammy, at the ripe age of 15, was older than his siblings by about 5 years. His mom always called him “Big Sweety”, because Sammy was big for his age. Sammy called his Mom, “Momma Sweety”. It was their favorite names for each other. But when his mom had to scold him, it usually started with, “Samuel Thaddeus Snardfarkle!…” That was when he knew he was in really big trouble. He promised his Dad, that, while Dad was away, he would be the “Man of the House”, what ever that meant. I usually meant more chores than his brothers and sisters had. But Momma Sweety was always there, by his side, helping with the really tough chores.
One day, while Sammy was driving the tractor down to the South part of their land, to pull stumps, he saw an official looking car drive all the way up their drive way (About 2 miles of caleche. Caleche is not ordinary dirt. It is hardened Calcium Carbonate. It is hard and dry, most of the time. It also powders to a fine talcum when it gets really dry, and you ride your car over it a lot. And when it rains, it turns into the most difficult mud you can imagine. Sometimes, when it rained, you could get your car stuck in it.)
Sammy watched the car drive slowly. His keen eye could see that the people riding in the car wore Navy uniforms. He turned the tractor around, and drove as fast as that tractor could go. Which was not really fast, but faster than he could jog.
By the time he got near the house, stopped the tractor, and ran the rest of the way to his house, the car had gone, leaving a large dust cloud of fine caleche powder in the breeze. He saw his Mom sitting on the porch, in the swing, holding a letter. She was crying really hard. When she saw Sammy come up to her, she grabbed him and held him, and cried and cried, and cried.
Sammy managed to pry the letter out of his Mom’s hand. It was from the Department of the Navy. It had all kinds of flowery language on it, but the bottom line was, his Dad had died on his adventure. They said they were “Sorry for your loss.”
Sammy was 15 when this happened. And it hit him that his Dad was never coming home, and now, he had to be the Dad. He was scared. He held on to his mother and cried, too.
And he started looking for that extra 10%.
He knew he would need it.