Seventy years ago, I’d just celebrated my fourth birthday when my father told me we’d be heading to Webster City for the weekly livestock auction.
The old auction barn on the west edge of town has been gone for many years now, I suppose. However, it provided an early life lesson for a lad still a year away from beginning grade school.
We lived in a square farmhouse north of Stratford, just at the top of a hill above the well-known and quite scenic Vegors Cemetery, known today as a haunted spot very near the county line separating Webster from Hamilton County.
In those years after World War II had ended, life was beginning to return to normal for countless families whose lives had been upended by World War II. The economic boom that was to follow was still in the future and many, if not most, American families still struggled to make ends meet. Most had been involved, one way or another, in the World War II effort and those not involved in fighting or in jobs at home had lived under the strict rationing of many daily necessities, doing without many things that are taken for granted today.
Rationing included things like gasoline, vehicle tires and many foods.
It was during those strict times in America that a stray dog happened upon our farm home, finding shelter in one of the old out buildings where she delivered a litter of puppies.
Puppies were like a gift from heaven for a 4-year-old lad, especially when his brother was a toddler, too young to roam the farmstead and explore all sorts of hidden treasures there.
So, I spent lots of daylight hours outside, discovering this broad “new” expanse called Iowa.
I heard the sounds of tiny pups, although I didn’t recognize the sound then. Hearing that new sound sent me scurrying back into the old farmhouse imploring my mother to help me investigate. Naturally, she knew immediately the sound of a litter of puppies and she smiled at my naivety.
Naturally, I began feeding the large litter of pups as soon as they were weened and began their ever-increasing bravado in leaving their mother. It didn’t take long for the pups, seven of them, to begin feeling at home around the farm. In fact, I think they actually anticipated mornings when, after my bowl of cereal, I’d head outside to play.
Alas, the joy of my newfound playmates was only temporary as I soon discovered.
I was sad when my dad told me we couldn’t keep the pups, that we’d have to try to find them new homes.
Dad obviously could see how disheartened I was to learn we couldn’t keep the puppies. He knew I enjoyed being with him the couple of times he’d hauled me along to a livestock auction, so he devised a plan that would not only get rid of the unwanted family of dogs, but just might keep me happy, as well.
So, one day, we loaded the puppies into a large box and headed off to the livestock auction in Webster City. Dad stationed me right inside the door beside the box of puppies and under a large hand-made sign that read, “Puppies for Sale.”
I felt so much older than my four years as one after another, folks stopped to look at my box of puppies.
“How much are they?” one roly-poly man asked, his thumbs inside the straps of his bib overalls.
Well, that’s one thing my dad hadn’t told me. He’d only said to sell them for what I thought they were worth.
“Well,” I stammered, “this one here is a nickel, this one over here is 20 cents and the one here in the corner is a dollar.”
I didn’t know that wasn’t the best way to sell puppies. I did know, though, that the pup in the corner was the one I really didn’t want to sell, hence the hefty price tag.
With the auction progressing in the background, I had a pretty steady stream of visitors to my boxful of puppies that day.
By the end of the day, they were all gone, too. Well, all except for the one little pup in the corner of the box. Every time anyone would ask about that dog I’d raise the price from the time before. I think by the time dad was ready to take me home, I was asking $2.50 for that little rascal.
And, I took him home that day. We thought about a name and settled on “Tippy,” because of the stub of a tail he had. Tippy and I became fast friends and it was a traumatic experience for me when he ran into the road and was hit by a car.
The dog was gone. But the name stuck. For the next 14 years, every new dog that joined our household was named “Tippy.”
None of them was as good a dog as that first one, the little guy shying away in the corner of a big cardboard box at a livestock auction in Webster City.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.