Steve Bowen: Nubbin bites off more than he can chew

Published 5:56 pm Thursday, January 5, 2017


A lot of water has flowed beneath the bridge of time since we laid our pen down temporarily a few years. Included in life’s flow was our saying goodbye to LaGrange’s longtime native son and daughter, my auburn-headed Uncle Alton and Aunt Florence Bailey. We’ll say more about them I’m sure as we go along in 2017, but this week we want to share a classic story about these two special people whom many of you knew well. It truly falls into the “Jus’ when you thought you’d heard it all!” category. From 2004:
The amazing story you’re about to hear stars my auburn-headed, preaching Uncle Alton, along with Mama’s baby sister Florence, and their nasty, mean, irritable, temperamental, jus’-as-soon-bite-cha-as-to-look-at-cha, poodle-looking dog Nubbin.
The sad thing is, sometimes I think those are Nubbin’s good qualities. Everybody who knows the dog knows that to be a fact, except Uncle Alton, who’ll say, “Aw, little Nubbin wouldn’t hurt a flea,” which – theoretically – is true, because Nubbin prefers bigger objects than fleas, such as a thumb or finger.
Even though Nubbin is a mean one, he isn’t big. He looks a lot like a woman’s black, fuzzy house shoe. Just add a scrawny little tail and a couple of button-eyes – maybe include about 30 little-bitty shark-like teeth – and you’ll have a fair image of this little bundle of growls and snarls.
Not that Nubbin is mean to everybody, just everybody except his daddy, my Uncle Alton. He is the only one who can reach down and pet him and come away with five good fingers. So, naturally, my auburn-headed uncle spoils him worse than he would a real baby. But without saying “I told you so,” that spoiling about killed the little black wonder.
Recently they were up in Mountain Home, Arkansas where Uncle Alton was holding a week’s revival. One afternoon they went to the local KFC for some of the Colonel’s cooking, but they left Nubbin – yes, he went with them – out in the car. When they were finished eating, Uncle Alton gathered a portion of scraps to take to his little black-haired baby, who was waiting impatiently in the car scaring babies and anybody who walked by.
Once back in the car, Uncle Alton spread a little napkin over the ice chest that separated the two front seats and put Nubbin’s scraps on the napkin. Nubbin wasted no time digging right in. I’ve seen Nubbin eat, and, ironically, it’s one of the few times he doesn’t use his teeth. He just swallows everything straight down. But that little irritating habit would come back to bite him.
As Nubbin began devouring his food, Uncle Alton cranked the car and began to back out. He hadn’t backed more than five feet when a car pulled in behind him. Immediately he had to slam on his brakes, which shocked little Nubbin who was inhaling those chicken scraps. When the car stopped a chicken-bone stopped, too – right in Nubbin’s throat.
In an instant Nubbin was gone.
We’re talking about “gone” in the sense of “nice knowin’ yuh.” It happened so fast his life never even had a chance to pass before him. Aunt Florence, as she related this story to me, said the poor boy just stiffened up like a board – all four legs and the rest of him – and just fell over into the floorboard by Uncle Alton’s feet.
It took Florence a second to realize that Nubbin had not just fallen off the ice chest but that he had taken the big plunge; but when she realized it, she told Uncle Alton to grab him.
“Something’s bad wrong with him,” she said, and Uncle Alton jerked the car into park, grabbed the stiff fella, and got out of the car, while Aunt Florence jumped out and ran around to the driver’s side. When she got to Alton, Aunt Florence said, “Do the Heimlich on him!”
Uncle Alton must have thought the same thing you’re thinking: How in the world am I supposed to do the Heimlich on a dog? So he froze, just for a moment there in the middle of the KFC parking lot, holding that stiff dog. Then he did the only thing he knew to do. He handed Nubbin to Florence and said, “You do it!”
My Aunt Florence grabbed their sweet little jus-as-soon-bite-cha-as-look-at-cha dog who was already at least halfway to the big dog-KFC in the sky, brought him to her chest, yanked down on his stomach, and – sure enough – a piece of chicken two inches long flew out of Nubbin out into the KFC parking lot.
I’m not making this up, couldn’t if I wanted to.
But even that didn’t do it. So Aunt Florence did it again, and another piece of chicken flew out of the poor dog. With that thrust, our sweet hero limbered up, closed those bugged eyes, and collapsed limply in Aunt Florence’s arms.
It took a while before Nubbin could walk around, but after an hour or so, the little house shoe was almost back to normal. My uncle and aunt didn’t recover quite as quickly.
Nubbin, I don’t think, ever wanted to recall that journey. In fact, being here in LaGrange the past few days, I got to spend some time with him, and he seemed to take to me better than before. I thought maybe he was mellowing some. So I decided to try to be really nice, and I went to the KFC and bought him his very own kid’s meal box, with the toy and all. But when I laid that box down for Nubbin, he took one glance at it and reverted to his same old bad habits as before. He started snarling and growling and went straight for my right hand with every one of his little-bitty shark-like teeth, even before I had time to pull it away.
I guess, despite that little relapse, this amazing story ends happily, all in all.
Nubbin, as you can tell, is back to his normal little ornery self, except for his fear of chicken.
As for me, I still have four good fingers. – July 10, 2004