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Curly the River Dog

by Tom Paré

It was one of those squeak-snow days. You know the kind. That’s when you can’t sneak up on anyone because they can hear you coming from a mile away. It’s the coldest time of the winter. It is when your cheeks burn and you can’t 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 don’t 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 don’t 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 country’s neighbourhoods. Never in Russia. But they didn’t 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 wasn’t 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 gang’s 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 wouldn’t 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 didn’t 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 ice riding.

On the way to the river, the gang saw a kid they didn’t 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.

“Don’t know,” answered Phil Power. “Probably from the Dougall Avenue gang.”

“Nah. He wouldn’t be here alone. Not in our territory,” said Romeo.

Kid Paré joined in. “Let’s follow him and see what he’s up to.”

And off they went, keeping a safe distance behind and hoping the snow-squeaks didn’t 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 that’s why he’s 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. Don’t 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 Phil’s house taking turns holding the puppy under their coats to warm him up.

Later on that day, the gang sat on the floor of Phil’s 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 didn’t 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? That’s 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 gang’s 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.

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