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Best pal Penny brightened all our lives

By Jerry Kirk, Contributing Editor 2/23/2017


Jerry Kirk, Contributing Editor
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Every kid should have a good dog to grow up with. And I know what I’m talking about because I grew up wih the best — “Old Penny.” I couldn’t have been more than 4 years old when Penny literally “staggered” into the yard of our house in Whitesburg in East Tennessee, so I don’t remember the actual day that we got him. I just know he was a wonderful companion and important part of our lives for the next 13 years.

At the time, Daddy had started what would be a lengthy career as a truck driver with Mason-Dixon Lines, which was headquartered in Kingsport. For many years, he drove out of the Knoxville terminal, living in a boarding house and coming home on weekends.

Mama told me more than once how Penny came to land at our house, which stood on a shaded corner lot alongside busy Highway 11-E, right across from Whitesburg Roller Mills (which, by the way, produced the flour she used in all her baking). “He was staggering along the highway because he was so hungry he could hardly walk,” she said. Fearing he would be hit by a car, she coaxed the frightened young dog into our yard with a hunk of cold cornbread. Long story short, he was taken in, fed, bathed, and made comfortable. And he became a treasured member of the family.

Penny wasn’t registered or anything. He was just all dog — white with large spots about the color of a copper penny. That, Mama said, was why she gave him his name. Short-haired and long-tailed, he showed his affection by just wanting to be with us — to be our pal. Not long after he arrived, our family bought and moved into the house “down on the railroad” where I spent my wonderful and happy growing-up years. It wasn’t far from the house where Penny “found us.”

From the start, Penny was committed to doing whatever was necessary to protect any of us Kirks from what he perceived to be a threat — whether it be a stranger walking down the gravel road in front of our house or the big, mean Chow dog that roamed the neighborhood, “bullying” kids and canines alike. As Wayne and I grew up, Penny spent as much time as he could with us. He’d walk with us to church at Whitesburg Baptist and wait outside until service was over to walk back home with us. While we were in earlier grades of elementary school, he would be waiting at the edge of our yard — lying in the same spot — when we came home every day.

Indeed, Penny proved his loyalty to Wayne and me as well as other kids in the neighborhood over and over again. One thing about him, though, was that he never liked riding in a car. He much preferred trotting alongside or behind the vehicle on short jaunts the family took on rural gravel roads near our house. An example: Wayne and I always went along on the occasional summer Sunday afternoon jaunts that Mama and Ma Kirk took to visit close friend Flora Fawbush at her home on Old Stagecoach Road, a couple of miles from where we lived. Mama didn’t exactly burn up the road getting there, but Penny would eventually lag behind in his effort to keep pace with the car. Shortly after arriving at Mrs. Fawbush’s hilltop home, we’d see him tiredly trudging up the gravel driveway, that leg of his journey complete. While the kids played in the yard and the adults visited on the front porch, Penny would lie in the thick grass beside the steps, resting up for the return trip home.

I’m not exactly sure when we started calling our beloved canine companion Old Penny. Maybe it was when the years started to wear on him and his lifestyle became more sedate. His pace slowed significantly in his latter years, and I was still in high school when he died peacefully in the hallway of our barn. Though we grieved in giving up Penny, we were consoled by the fact that ours had been a wonderful and happy life together. We made him a part of the family from the start, and he responded with love and devotion that knew no bounds.

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