the River Dog
It was one of those squeak-snow days. You know the kind. Thats
when you cant sneak up on anyone because they can hear you
coming from a mile away. Its the coldest time of the winter.
It is when your cheeks burn and you cant rub them because
your eyes are leaking and the tears just kind of freeze to your
face. And your fingers are so cold that you roll them up inside
your gloves and let them warm each other. If you wore mittens, it
would automatically keep your fingers warm, but gang-guys dont
wear mittens. At least not around other guys. And these are the
days when you think your ears could break and fall off although
you dont remember ever hearing about anything like that except
that Phil Power said he knew about a guy whose right ear fell off.
He said the guy was a soldier at the Russian front and that his
dad knew about it from meetings of the Air Raid Wardens. The gang
always wondered how Mr. Power would have known that, because as
far as they knew, the air raid wardens were only located in this
countrys neighbourhoods. Never in Russia. But they didnt
question it because Phil would get mad.
Anyway, this was a perfect day for ice riding down at the foot of
Bridge Avenue where the old cement sewer was. There was a beach
there but it wasnt used for swimming anymore because the current
was so strong. The last time anyone went in that water was when
the Methodist Church had their baptism there, and the minister dunked
a whole bunch of them and one drowned. Back in the rumrunner days,
that was where the bootlegger gangs used to cross the river on sleds
bringing hooch over to Detroit. Ron Ruta said his dad used to walk
over on the ice almost every day. He said that back in the old days
the river would freeze all the way across. That was around the time
when the gangs dads used to walk 20 or 30 miles to school
and snowdrifts were right up to the rooftops.
Ice riding was something that all guys did if they wanted to belong
to the Josephine Avenue Gang and you never told your parents about
it because they wouldnt understand. All you did was jump up
and down on an ice floe until it broke off from the shore and then
you pushed off into the water and kind of rode the ice towards the
current. Usually you had a long stick or pole to push off with,
and you had to make sure you didnt go out too far, because
if you got into the main current, you would be in the middle of
Lake Erie before you knew it, and then you would drown. None of
the gang had ever drowned so they must have been pretty good at
On the way to the river, the gang saw a kid they didnt know
cutting through Riverview Park with a small black and white dog
on the end of a clothesline. The guys sat in the pavilion watching
as the guy and the dog crossed the street and went down the bank
to the riverfront.
Who the heck is that? asked Romeo Beauparlant.
Dont know, answered Phil Power. Probably
from the Dougall Avenue gang.
Nah. He wouldnt be here alone. Not in our territory,
Kid Paré joined in. Lets follow him and see what
hes up to.
And off they went, keeping a safe distance behind and hoping the
snow-squeaks didnt alert him. Just as they started down the
bank toward the old beach, they saw him running west along the shoreline
without the puppy.
Where the heck is his dog? asked Phil.
Maybe thats why hes running, answered Romeo.
Could be it ran away from him.
Jeez! Look over by the sewer, yelled Phil.
There, half paddling, half clinging to the edge of an ice floe,
was the little dog, wide-eyed and barking, as the frigid waves splashed
over him forcing his head down into the river. Each time he came
up he yelped and howled. He was about 20 or 30 feet away from the
cement sewer and the gang knew that once his ice floe cleared the
mouth of the structure, it would be curtains for the poor little
guy. That river current would suck him right out to the middle,
and he would be dead in a minute.
I got to get him out, yelled Phil and he started hopping
across the ice, trying to reach the puppy.
Suddenly, Romeo called to Phil that he found the rope that had been
tied to the little dog.
That rat threw him in, Phil, yelled Romeo. Be
careful. Dont you fall in.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when all of a sudden, Phil
screamed and he slid off his ice floe and right into the river.
Now there were two lives to save. The gang scrambled to the shore
and started out to the boy and the dog, with Romeo carrying the
clothesline. By this time, Phil was within reach of the puppy, which
was losing strength rapidly. Tom Beauparlant and Kid crawled out
on the ice as close as possible to the two struggling in the water.
With Kid holding one end of the rope, Tom threw the looped end out
to Phil, who put his arm through it and then reached out to the
wide-eyed dog. He scooped him up and yelled to the others to pull
him in. Screaming and hollering encouragement, the rest of the gang
towed the boy and the dog to shallow water, and Phil waded ashore
with the whimpering puppy cradled in his arms.
They ran the two blocks to Phils house taking turns holding
the puppy under their coats to warm him up.
Later on that day, the gang sat on the floor of Phils living
room explaining everything to his mom and dad including what they
would do if they ever found that rat-kid who threw the little puppy
in the river. And maybe they would throw him out on an ice floe
and see how he likes it. But the main thing they talked about was
adopting the dog. After all, he didnt have a home, did he?
And they all would team up to feed him and teach him to fetch sticks.
And since you all will own him, where will he live?
asked Mrs. Power. Would he stay with all of you? A week here
and a week there? Thats not good for either man nor beast,
she said. A body has to have his own home.
The gang thought about that for a while and then they decided that
since Phil was the one who went into the icy river to save him,
the dog should belong to him. But always he would be a member of
the gang. Well, that suited everyone, and it now came down to naming
him. Mr. Power recollected that when he was a boy he had a fine
dog named Curly, and he even looked a lot like this one. Now that
settled it. The gang decided that they would train that dog to do
a lot of things. Maybe even save folks, and of course help blind
people across the street.
Well, Curly lived quite a long time, and although he never saved
anyone, and to the best of the gangs recollections, he never
helped a blind person cross the street, he was still a good and
loyal member of the Josephine Avenue Gang. He went with them wherever
their escapades took them. He even liked to go down by the sewer
at the foot of Bridge Avenue and romp in the water along the shore.
Yes sir, Curly was a good old river dog.
Article: A Winning Combination