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Dad's Last Dog

 

 

By: Dan M. Kalin



Dad's Last Dog. Copyright © 2017 by Dan M. Kalin

Published by Feral Cat Publishers, Melbourne, FL 32940

www.feralcatpublishers.com

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior express written permission of the publisher, except as provided by USA copyright law.

Version 1.02, July 2017

Cover Art by Tatlin.net

eBook ISBN-13: 9781970087031

 


CONTENTS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

FOREWORD

SHOT IN THE DARK

IMPERIAL VALLEY

TRAPPING SANTA CLAUS

BOMBING THE HEATHEN

CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE

SHAOLIN DAD

CLASH OF THE TITANS

THE THINKING MAN

WALL STREET WIZARD

BELLE ÉPOQUE

I DON'T HOLD WITH OMELETS

DEATH AND AFTERMATH

BELLE RUN

VIRGINIA BELLE

FINAL BELLE

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This project is the work of several years, with multiple starts and stops due to conflicting work obligations. Eventually other obligations diminished and the final manuscript was completed. Manuscript completion was only the beginning of the process. In order for the book to have arrived in its current state, a number of different people had to weigh in with their own bits of wisdom.

First and foremost, I want to thank Margaret Kalin for the support, both in providing additional background details about Dad which I did not know, as well as her clear desire to see the finished work. Her wanting to see it finished, is primarily what fueled my efforts.

I must thank my wife Michele, who had the dubious honor of seeing the very first chapter drafts with all warts still intact. She used up much of my red ink supply making suggestions and corrections.

To my editor, Sarah K. Fields (www.dreamlined.com), who turned around a final manuscript in record time, and is largely responsible for what integrated structure exists in the final version. Sarah, I could not have done it half so well without your work, thank you.

To the extended family, who expressed interest in the project and responded with comments when asked, thank you. To my children, Sarah and John, whose inputs were very helpful during the final stages, heartfelt gratitude. To the former friend whose sole piece of useful advice was to "Embellish", my thanks. I'd also like to thank my agent, Swiftus Lazarus. Swiftus, your 15% share of my social security check is in the mail. Honest! To my publishers, Feral Cat Publishers, who have helped me do everything I wanted to do, and very little I did not. All errors and omissions are mine alone.

FOREWORD

In 2009, I discovered for the first and final time that my father, Ron Kalin, wasn't immortal. Oh, I knew on an intellectual level that his lifestyle wasn't conducive to longevity, but still somehow I saw him as the force of nature he had always been in my youth. There wasn't anything particularly unique about that discovery. I suspect it is a fairly widespread phenomenon among the offspring of outsize characters most would consider to be strong-willed or even eccentric. Dad was all that and more, no matter what anyone thought of him, he always left a vivid impression.

When he abruptly passed, one of the things I immediately noticed, as we sorted remnants of his life into disposal and things-to-keep piles, was that there were very few physical mementos of his life we cared to keep. That struck me as wrong, somehow, and it certainly didn't do justice to his story. Dad's life wasn't best characterized by material possessions, although I think he would have liked to explore that road more than he was able. Dad did have a lifetime of behavior, very little of which can be characterized as normal or boring. However, Dad's untold story left no lasting tangible mark on the world, and I could feel the forces of entropy pulling the edges of my remembrance. As we boxed up Dad's life, it felt as though his prior existence started to fade. I could envision a future time, when he would simply be reduced to a genealogy footnote and a solitary gravesite marker.

This book is an attempt to capture as much of what I can remember, so that his stories can be told in perpetuity. I have relied mostly upon my own memories, augmented by those of my siblings and various relations. Almost all of the events related occurred during the decades of the 60's and 70's, when I was a child. As such, the telling is what I/we recall as true, but also understand that even the most perceptive children seldom have the full story when it comes to their parents' lives. The memory perspective is that of children, retold with the metaphors of an adult.

One thing that didn't fit onto the things-to-keep pile, was Dad's last dog, Belle. Belle was an enormous black Labrador Retriever with stories of her own to tell. Belle had helped Dad at the end of his life, and then helped me at end of hers. This account is about Belle as well, since her story and Dad's are intertwined with my own.

While the Foreword may seem to indicate an impending maudlin or overly sentimental reading experience, I maintain that the bulk of the book is relegated to humor. The best kind of humor, namely stories that are so preposterous that they cannot possibly be real, but were in fact. But enough about why the book was written, and on with the stories!

SHOT IN THE DARK

A dark room, illuminated solely by a lit cigarette. Oppressive heat, but the dry kind. With each inhale, if you were to watch, you could barely discern a masculine face. The subsequent exhale had the cigarette fading away to a small ember. The afterimage of the face persisting until the next inhale. Three wild children asleep within their bedroom.

The persistent drone of an overworked swamp cooler drowned out the buzzing of hungry mosquitoes, mostly outside, looking for a square meal. Waiting, smoking, without kids - without distractions.

"Gotcha!" he cried and the room was fully lit by the flash and crack of the .22 caliber rifle's discharge.

Lights came on, children and wife boiled out of the bedrooms; to find Dad holding what remained of a small field mouse, by the tail, as a testament to Dad's in-home firearms mastery.

"I put out some cheese as bait and just waited 'im out." he said with pride.

Once the general admiration for superb marksmanship had been fully harvested from his subjects, he turned to me, the oldest son, and said "Here, boy, give this to your cat" as he handed me the mouse tail-first. I, in my pajamas, went outside to feed both my cat and the ever-present mosquitoes.

If you had occasion to ask why he was shooting in the house, somewhat in the direction of bedrooms occupied by his wife and children, he would have given you the "stupid question" look and explained that he had used the .22 caliber for precisely that reason. A deer rifle or shot-gun would be too much of a risk. At the time, of course, no one had the temerity to ask the question.

Dad had a great "stupid question" look. His eyebrows would move lower and closer together while his eyes would become mere slits. Sometimes there would also be a sneer, but not always. Regardless, you just knew the world was going to end every time he deployed it.

When I tell this story, people tend to be appalled and judgmental. But they are using today's child welfare standards, which are dramatically different from those of the early 1960's. In fact, he probably thought that he was protecting the family by eliminating disease-bearing vermin in such a decisive manner. Furthermore, he was setting a fine example to his own pack. There is a lot of evidence to support this theory.

You see, in our family, marksmanship was a virtue. When Dad shot that mouse, we all were amazed, not because of the danger we had just missed, but because it was such a damn fine shot! Now, clearly, we couldn't say "damn fine" then without triggering other things we really did fear, but we certainly understood the concept. I am sure he knew we were impressed; I didn't understand until much later that he needed our admiration.

Dad came by marksmanship skills honestly. Both Grandma and Grandpa were accomplished shooters with their gun of choice. One of my earliest memories of Grandma Kalin was watching her stalk a lawn gopher from her kitchen door. She turned ‘round to us, "Quiet you kids!" she scolded, with Dad's stupid-question look on her face. We shut right up. She talked to the gopher under her breath, holding her own .22 caliber rifle, as she waited. The gopher broke the building tension by sticking its head up one too many times. Gram dropped the hammer.

I'm not sure why gophers kept coming back to her lawn, but they always did. I don't remember Grandma cursing, but the closest she ever came was when the topic of gophers came up. In all of the times I saw her shoot, I never saw her miss once. That was hugely impressive to us kids and we respected her for it. I think she would much rather have had us respect her for being a church lady, but that wasn't in the cards. There were lots of church ladies in our life, but not many that could regularly hit a dime-sized target from 50 feet. We knew that having that level of marksmanship was not trivial, Gram must have practiced a lot, but she made it look easy. We're still impressed to this day.

Grandpa was in a whole other category. He was a working ranch-hand on one of the last remnants of the Spanish land grants in California. His weapon of choice was a 30-30 lever action rifle, both for day-to-day needs on the ranch as well as when he went deer hunting. He routinely made shots of several hundred yards with that weapon. We didn't get to see much of his work, as we kids were too damn noisy, but the few times we got to ride along provided a glimpse of where practice could take us.

Much like Dad's own childhood, we were shooting all manner of things from a very early age. We had an unlimited license to kill snakes of any kind, rattlers preferred. Dad didn't restrict us to guns either. After all, sometimes you needed to be able to kill things on a budget. A regular part of any Christmas would be the gifting of new weapons to hone latent abilities into finely tuned critter-killing skills.

Product Testing:

When Dad would gift us a weapon, he always made sure to use it first, to ensure it was suitable for our use. Looking back, it wasn't just weapons; most holiday toys had to be tested by Dad.

At the time of this story, Dad was in his mid-twenties, scarcely more than a child himself. Fathering three children by the time you are 24 puts a crimp in anyone's lifestyle. We were lucky, in that regard, as he had a discerning eye when it came to toys and weapons. Using them only after he tested them extensively was a small price to pay for toys and tools that could reliably put a pellet or other projectile into a rabbit's backside.

Pellet and BB Guns:

My brother Rex and I had pellet and BB guns early in life. We spent much of our free time in pursuit of things to shoot. Shooting a stationary target was fun for a short time, but eventually it got boring.

Dad was on-hand as range instructor. The range, in this case, a target pinned up on a tree stump. The only time Dad ever touched us was if he were teaching us how to do something or if he were administering frontier justice to the seat of our pants.

"Center the sight on-target and exhale, squeezing the trigger as your last breath leaves." Dad said more than once. He moved our arms around to proper form, like an old army drill instructor. In fairness, he didn't have to do it much, as we emulated what we saw him doing for the most part.

Dad saw us through the target shooting phase into the taking of birds, after which he declared us ready and turned us loose to hunt. It was almost like being blessed by the Pope, "These boys have learned the basics and are ready to hunt!" My sister Jeanne was a fair shot too when she wanted to be, but usually she had other things to do.

When we were rolling in cash, through one of our many spare change scams, we could afford to use lead pellets in the guns. During leaner times, we had to lower ourselves to mere BBs. BBs could actually be recycled and reused whereas pellets were a one-use soft lead affair. BBs aren't supposed to be reused, and I am pretty sure Mom didn't appreciate our use of her kitchen strainers to sift through dirt from the target range. We also would tie a string around a powerful magnet and drag it through the dirt in areas where we had been shooting -“Fishing for BBs,” we called it.

Bows and Arrows:

One Christmas, all three of us received a bow and arrows. Since we had been teethed on Cowboy and Indian stories we were elated! We had always thought it was more fun to play the Indian role and, having no sense of history in those days, didn't understand that the Indian team, like the lamented Chicago Cubs, was slated to lose. It caused no end of dispute when playing with other children, as we saw no reason why past results should influence the day's game.

Dad made it very clear on Day 1 that horrific, unimaginable consequences would await for the child caught using the bow and arrows in games with other children. We didn't receive blunt arrows, you see, we got ones with pointy ends. We were in elementary school.

Dad stumped for a bale of hay, clipped a target to it, and practice began. Jeanne had a real talent for it. Dad always hollered, "Danny, hold your arm straight!" which confused me, as the first rule was "Lock your arm!" I have very flexible joints, so when I locked my arm, my elbow overextended into the space normally traversed by the bowstring. Predictably, I would learn where to stop my arm lock only after some extensive string burns on the left forearm. Even so, my skills never rose to the level of Jeanne's efforts.

To my knowledge, none of us children successfully extinguished any vermin with the bow and arrows. A lot of the issue stemmed from the fact that bows and arrows are difficult to use in desert scrub. By the time you untangled the bow from the local flora for a shot the vermin, after having laughed their asses off, were long gone.

So when the hay bale target and vermin-hunting pursuits paled, we tried something we had heard of in passing: the shooting of fire arrows. If you can't use a weapon to kill vermin, at least you could use it for widespread property destruction instead. At that point, I had watched any number of movies and read numerous books where fire arrows were used to great effect. I could do this! It took some trial and error but eventually we learned how to tie a cloth bundle to the end of an arrow. Our first effort involved dousing the cloth with gasoline from Dad's shed, lighting up the end and letting fly at the target bale of hay. It was trickier than it sounds, as it involved judging wind direction and timing your release so the flame wouldn't burn the bow or yourself.

Unfortunately, gasoline in a pure state tended to extinguish itself as an arrow flew; not exactly the visual effect for which we were striving. Luckily, I had learned from somewhere how to make do-it-yourself napalm by mixing gasoline and dish soap. I can't remember exactly where I learned it but I suspect it was Uncle Leroy. I definitely tended to remember how to do anything with that much potential for mayhem. We didn't have a lot of channels on our television so, if we weren't reading, we pretty much had to come up with our own entertainment.

Gasoline was not in short supply, nor was dish soap. I promptly made up a small batch, applied it liberally to the cloth knot tied to the end of an arrow, and had Rex light her up.

It flared beautifully and maintained the flame just like in the movies! So I took aim for the hay bale, let fly and watched as my flaming arrow streaked towards its destination. The arrow made a great flame flickering sound as it flew, which added significantly to the coolness of the overall effect. It landed nicely into the target, with the thunk that a well-flown arrow makes when hitting something like a bale of hay, then promptly set the hay afire.

Panicked, we scrambled over and threw dirt onto the fire until it finally extinguished. Alas, our scheme had worked too well! Now we had a bigger issue as, upon reflection, we realized that Dad might not be amused by our pyrotechnic strivings.

The bale had a very large burned spot that was perfectly obvious when viewing from the house. But the Kalin kids were skilled at covering their tracks, so we turned that hay bale around, put a new target on it, shot a few holes in the new target, and hoped for the best. Dad never mentioned anything about it. If he noticed, it didn't rise to the level of him making it an issue. We knew we had dodged a major whipping.

One thing that came up over and over again in our childhood is a lack of foresight when it came to imagining how Dad would feel about our latest great idea. We didn't get many whippings for repeat offenses, other than those for engaging in parental insubordination. Somehow, we had tunnel vision when we got involved in a project and consequences were seldom considered until after the fact. We had a naive optimism about us which was never quite extinguished by belts or switches.

Boomerangs, Blowguns, Spears and Bushman Throwing-Sticks:

Dad had a weakness for stories of the marksmanship feats of indigenous peoples, spanning the globe from Australia, Africa and, of course, the Americas. He would see some documentary or read an account of such exploits and tell us about aborigines hunting with the damnedest things. Of course we had to try all of them at one point or another.

Dad made us a spear and we practiced throwing at targets attached to the aforementioned bale of hay. Throwing a spear was trickier than it looked - it had to follow an arc that would promote sufficient impact in order to embed itself in the target. It wasn't much fun throwing the spear at a bale of hay, and we were never sure what desert creature would require a spear's stopping power, but we practiced anyway.

The spear-chucking got to be much more fun when Dad acquired bushman throwing sticks. These attached to the back of the spear and created additional leverage on the throw, making for a much greater distance of travel. While we weren't the world's best tacticians, we did understand how much better it was to engage prey from a longer distance. But, like the spear alone, it took more skill than we were prepared to cultivate, especially since there were so many other options at hand!

Boomerangs were actually a possibility that we could see working, and we did make efforts to dispatch local fauna with them. The bad news was that sometimes the boomerang would, well, boomerang. That called for kissing the ground quickly. The old comic book trope of a super hero throwing a boomerang and then catching it upon return was soon shown to be impractical since we were not granted any super powers that manifested itself in an ability to catch a speeding, rotating blade in flight. At the end of the day, the boomerang was relegated to non-hunting use; it was still fun to throw one, though, and try to avoid having it come back and hit you.

Blowguns were one of those weapons that we found could be very accurate at close range and, since the Kalin children were blessed with massive lungs, the darts were easily capable of embedding or sticking on impact. The only problem with blowguns was that the darts required a poison of one sort or another, preferably one that causes paralysis, in order for it to be fully useful in hunting situations. We had access to any number of slow-acting poisons around the house, but the key limitation was "slow". Shooting something with a dart without any stopping power would just piss it off. We would have much preferred a fast-acting poison but, since we were a continent away from a rainforest, that wasn't an option. It's probably a good thing we didn't think of milking the omnipresent rattlesnakes. So, while we knew how to use a blowgun, we never tried to use it for anything other than target practice.

Slingshots:

Dad gave us a variety of different slingshots over the years, the primary examples of which were the Wrist Rocket and the Whammo standard slingshot. Slingshots had a lot of potential once you learned the tricks of the device. The Wrist Rocket wrapped around the wrist for stabilization and used surgical tubing for the draw. The draw release wasn't a straight line due to the tubing, so it wasn't particularly accurate, but it did have a fair amount of power. It worked well for someone who didn't have enough strength to use the Whammo properly. The Whammo consisted of a piece of wood in the shape of an open "Y", with what could only be described as half inch wide rubber bands providing the weapon's ample power. The user typically would brace their thumb and forefinger on the uprights with the rest of their fingers holding the handle. The draw release was a straight line for this design, but it required good strength in the wrist in order to hold it steady.

Dad would line us up, examine how we held the slingshot, and correct us as needed.

"Danny, brace the frame with your forefinger and thumb. Don't just hold the handle! If you brace, it won't turn on you, ruining the shot. Extend your arm and pull the shot back at a 90 degree angle to the frame pointing at the target. Release like an arrow."

"Not like that - here, give it to me! Like this, see? You try again. That's it, release! Good!"

The lessons paid off, both Rex and I were pretty deadly with a Whammo slingshot as long as we were shooting ball bearings. I know we both had hunting success with it. Of course you had to spring for ball bearings as shot, rocks wouldn't do as they could be erratic coming out of the slingshot. Like BBs, we fished for ball bearings as well.

The best slingshot hunting story came in the early 70's when family friends came to visit us for a day or two. One was a boy a little older than me, and a girl Jeanne's age. We had hunted together in the past and decided that was the best way to spend our time during his visit. We had only one working pellet gun at the time and, since he was the guest, it was to be his weapon. I took the slingshot.

Part of the fun of hunting with friends is the one-upmanship that is always present. For me, the pressure was completely off, as no one expects the guy with the slingshot to have any success. In fact, we agreed in advance that the slingshot was the shot of last resort once pellet gun had failed.

The two of us walked through the brush quietly until we spotted a bird within range. My friend carefully aimed and fired. A complete miss. So much so that the bird didn't even fly away. He waved at me to take my shot. In one motion I aimed, drew, and released: a snap-shot.

I was expecting to have the shot hit somewhere close to the bird and startle it into taking off. But no, the bird dropped in a puff of feathers, without even a flutter.

That was the shot of the century: a hunting hole-in-one. There was no way I was ever going to top that shot, that day or any other. I acted nonchalant, as though that was an everyday occurrence, knowing full well that my hunting credibility had just rocketed into the stratosphere with my friend. I was not fool enough to try once more. It is always best to stop when you're well and truly ahead.

Slings:

Since we were raised in a fundamentalist Christian household, we had ample opportunities to read and hear stories about King David as a boy. As a shepherd, David's weapon of choice was the sling and, if you believe the Biblical version, he killed things ranging from lions to Goliath the Philistine using one.

One Christmas Eve, I open up a flat box that looked like it held a tie. I was certain we were talking clothes of some sort. At first glance, it looked like a leather thong with an eye patch, and I thought it was an eye patch. It wasn't black with skull and crossbones, though, so it clearly wasn't a pirate costume accessory. We did play pirates sometimes, sailing the high seas of the desert; but this wouldn't work for that.

"Naw, Danny, that's a sling like King David used in the Bible to kill Goliath!" Dad said after discerning my confusion.

Initially, I was underwhelmed but determined not to let that show. "How do you use it?" I asked.

"I'll show you tomorrow after breakfast," he promised.

Bright and early on Christmas morning, we went out to our firing range in the field next door and set up an unblemished tin can atop a tree stump. We kept all of the used cans separate from nominal household garbage as they made fine targets. An unblemished can was one without any dents or holes.

Dad made a big show of picking out just the right stone, placed it in the pouch, got the sling swinging very fast and let fly. In fairness, it did head in the general direction of the tree stump, but completely missed. Not even close.

Dad muttered to himself as he looked for another perfect stone. None of us dared say anything; we could smell a Christmas Day disaster in the making.

"Got to work on my release," he said while swinging once more. It flew better this time, but still not close to being in King David's league. After a few more efforts, he got to where he could consistently hit the tree stump, or where the tree would be if it were still intact. Vertical control was pretty much random.

The sling even resisted Dad's efforts when loaded with large ball bearings, so the aerodynamics and balance of the stones could not be blamed. Finally, he managed to kiss the can with one shot and immediately declared victory.

"OK, now you kids come have a try!"

We lined up and took our turns. Having watched all of Dad's previous efforts helped a great deal; we were able to get the rocks more or less headed in the right direction out of the gate. However, we were a long way from ever being a threat with a sling, except perhaps by pure accident. Jeanne again proved to be the best of us, having superior overall control.

Dad watched us long enough to confirm for himself that no budding King David's had sprung from his loins, then went back inside for some Christmas refreshment.

The sling ended up being one of those odd weapons we pulled out for visiting cousins and houseguests as a curiosity, but we seldom used it on a day-to-day basis. It was just too much work to gain any measureable skill. We concluded that only a job like being a shepherd would provide one with the boredom needed to develop slinging skills.

Throwing Knives:

Yes, I did say "Throwing Knives". On another Christmas Eve, Dad handed over a bundle wrapped in a leather skin holder bound with a tie: a full set of throwing knives. Now these we were very eager to try given all the black and white movies we had seen where a bad guy throws a knife to deadly effect. We weren't put off by it being a "bad guy" weapon in the least. We did understand, without being told, that throwing knives weren't for hunting critters. Dad gave us a lengthy speech on the subject regardless. The next day, we gathered up the Christmas loot and sallied forth to the target range.

Dad was way ahead of us; he had already taped the outline of a person to our much-abused bale of hay. He opened up the knife set and started the lesson.

"The key is to make sure the blade rotates into the target if you want it to stick." he said. "It has to be thrown with force, but with enough rotation that it drives into the target. This isn't a spear. If you throw it point-first, it won't have enough force to penetrate. If the knife hits handle first it will just hurt and upset whoever you threw it at. Spinning the knife too much reduces the force when it hits the target, and is just showin' off." Very little was worse than "showin' off" to hear him talk, but it hadn't escaped our notice that a lot of what he did was showing off, especially around us kids.

Although Dad probably didn't realize it, he was giving us an excellent physics primer on inertia, angular momentum and force. He, of course, demonstrated all of the things mentioned. It didn't take Dad very long at all to get the feel of the knives and reliably put them where he wanted. The crotch shots made all of us laugh, but Rex and I had extra involuntary winces, too; Jeanne was entirely too gleeful on those occasions.

"Danny, why do you not want to aim at the target's head when you throw these?" Dad asked.

"Umm, because the knife might bounce off the skull?" I ventured. That response was a reuse of some of Dad's previous advice on where not to shoot a bear. We didn't have any bears in the desert, but it was useful information nonetheless.

He looked at me as though I were a space alien. "That's true, but the main reason is that the head is a small target. Always aim for the middle of the torso, that way even throws that miss can have an effect."

It is probably a good thing that we didn't have the means to put together the spinning human wheel that you often see in carnivals. Regardless, we had a lot of fun with those knives. Sometimes a thrown knife would hit one of the baling wires point-first and bounce back with a twang, which always was good for a laugh and a dinged blade. We eventually wore those knives out throwing them at things we shouldn't: the ground, tree trunks, drywall in our bedrooms, etc. At one point, we thought we were doing so well with the knives we should probably try Dad's hatchet. That didn't go nearly as well, even though the throws were exciting to watch. It was also risky as Dad had not given us hatchet-use privileges.

Dad must have seen something in the avid way we took to throwing knives; one day he just scooped them all up and put them away. We weren't punished, but we were not allowed to use them anymore. Of course, skills like that could not be unlearned or unused.

We found that heavy flat-head screwdrivers served as a ready substitute for the confiscated knives. Screwdrivers have almost the same feel and sound as throwing knives when they land true. In later years, my grandfather's back yard was aerated naturally by hundreds of screwdriver flips into his lush turf.

It's probably best that we do not have access to throwing knives to this very day.

Cattle Catching Stuff:

This brings us to the cattle-catching stuff.

Dad always complained about the life of a cowboy and how he didn't want to end up like his father: old and physically broken with little to show for it other than stories. That must have created some conflict for him as he possessed many of the skills to be a cowboy. Even if he didn't want to do that work himself, it was something he was good at when he made the effort. Dad did take the time to teach us a few things and, while they are not strictly hunting skills per se, elements of marksmanship did apply.


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