Bowen: Big brother long ago defined courage

Published 1:13 pm Sunday, February 26, 2017

On Monday’s holiday, the amazin’ blonde and I were blessed to take our two prized grandchildren Connor-man and Pretty Eyes to see the movie “A Dog’s Purpose.” I have to warn you: If you go see it, better take a tissue with you, or – if you’re a big, strong man like me and some of my friends, such as Coca-Cola Mike or Benny or Tony – you might want to work up a little bit of a cold before you go, just so you’ll be able to explain the sniffles.

But even if somebody did catch me sniffling a little, I do have a good excuse. In a word – Chico!

Read on, and you’ll see what I mean …

Growing up, my big brother Wayne taught me a great many things.

He taught me to love the Yankees, although I chose Roger Maris as my idol while he opted for Mickey Mantle.

He taught me to love basketball, too, and laughed when I was too little to get the ball to rim, despite raring back and chunking it with all my little-bitty might.

“Don’t matter the sport,” he’d tell his friends, laughing, “he just rares back and slings it the same.”

He even taught me about the birds and the bees. That was one time his own shot fell short of its mark. It never even grazed the rim, even though, he, too, rared back and gave it his best shot.

Maybe the most important thing he taught me, though, was the meaning of courage, something I still haven’t forgotten. It involves Chico.

Wayne and I grew up with our little lovable mutt Chico. I must have only been three or four years old when we went across town and picked him out of the litter. He was the runt, I guess, and was never much to look at.  He was white – kind of a dingy white, at that – and was part Chihuahua and part I don’t know what all. He probably wouldn’t have brought 75 cents on the street.

But Chico – named after La Grange High football star and later my coach, teacher, and friend Chico Lynch – was a big part of our family, as dogs tend to be. He was always a step or two behind either Wayne or me as we strolled down from Juniper Street to Truitt to play with our Bailey cousins or Coca-Cola Mike or to grab some apple pie at Grandma’s house. Or he’d lead the way down Dallis Street as we jogged down to the Y to play basketball.

He even had a knack for going to church. He followed us there plenty of times when we’d walk the three or four blocks to the church at the corner of Murphy and Fourth. It didn’t take him long to figure out where we were going when we got dressed up and got in the car on a Sunday or Wednesday. By the time they let church out, we’d find him outside waiting for us patiently. There for a while he got to attending church better than some of our regular members. And he never let a headache keep him home or complained about having to go.

Yes sir, Chico was quite a dog. He was the first dog I ever saw get chased by a cat. He got after a cat one time when we were over on Truitt at Grandma’s. The cat ran from Chico for a while, then he must have got to thinking that Chico didn’t look all that tough. So he turned around and started chasing Chico. Chico may not have been a thoroughbred or anything, but he was a quick thinker and knew he didn’t want to go toe to toe – or, better yet, claw to claw – with that cat.  When he saw that cat coming at him, he stopped on a dime, made a 180-degree turnabout, and hightailed it faster than I’d ever seen him move. Fortunately for Chico, cats don’t have an instinct for chasing dogs, so the cat gave up even before Chico figured out a scared dog still can’t climb a tree.

I know being chased by a cat embarrassed Chico, because when the cat went on its way, Chico lowered his head and walked on home by himself and didn’t bother to wait to run home with Wayne or me.

Chico stayed around with us all through the growing up years and was as much a part of the family as anybody. But when I was 10 or 11, he developed some bad health. He’d certainly had a good life, having chased – if I calculated correctly – almost three million squirrels in his life without catching one. That’s bound to be some kind of record.

Still, I wasn’t ready to give him up.

Wayne figured out before I did that Chico’s squirrel-chasing and church-going days were over. Chico started swelling up badly, and a few times he’d be walking around the house and would just fall over. We thought he was dead, but he got back up and made it a few more days. Finally, Mama told Wayne and me to take him to the vet, so we put Chico in Wayne’s big, green ’59 Buick and hauled him to the doc.

I didn’t like the way Chico acted when Doc checked him over. He just lay there not saying a word. He didn’t even complain when Doc poked on him, so I knew he was pretty bad.

Still, I wasn’t about to give up hope.

Finally, the doc looked at Wayne and me and said there wasn’t anything he could do for Chico, that he was suffering pretty badly. He said we could take him home or we could let him put him to sleep.

I knew what I wanted to do. There wasn’t any doubt about that. I wanted to shout out loud: “Doc, we’ll take him home. He’ll be okay in a few days. We’ll just take him home.”

Wayne didn’t say anything for a minute.

I started to speak up and help Wayne out, but instead I just watched him mull over a decision I thought was a no-brainer.

Finally, he said, “Doc, do what you gotta do.”

Wayne and I didn’t talk on the way home, and I don’t know that we’ve ever discussed that day since. I didn’t appreciate Wayne too much that day nor the next few teary-eyed days, either. But as the years have come and gone, I’ve figured out that Wayne taught me a pretty important lesson that day.

I still think it was the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen anybody do.

Even if it did take me 10 or 12 years to get over it.