The following is true. I swear it, despite what my daughters may have recently alleged.
Doc walked through the doors of Doreen's 24 HR Eat Now Gas Cafe with a concerned look on his face. At first I thought his distress was due to another group that had taken control of the large corner table that we typically call our own.
This time it was full of Yankees wearing loud shirts and baggy shorts. Sometimes they're called tourists. Since there are no other tables in the cafe that can seat more than four people, the Hunting Club members were strung out along Doreen's counter, like castaways on a long, thin island.
The only issues with the counter are that our backs are to the door - something that worries most of us - and the shoulder-to-shoulder linear positioning forces conversationalists to lean forward or backward. When a conversation is hot and heavy, the participants sometimes rock so much that it looks as if we're eating at the lunch counter on a North Sea crab boat in severe weather.
I was leaning backward to see behind Jerry Wayne as Youngster pontificated on the lack of good trout water within a short driving distance locally when Doc's frown caught my attention. Youngster finally stopped talking to take a sip of Dr. Pepper (he's not much of a coffee drinker these days), and I asked Doc what was wrong.
"Old Duke is in bad shape," he said.
Duke is a mix-breed mutt that appeared at Doc's lake house one day after someone had most likely thrown the dog out.
"Well, he's old," Wrong Willie said, turning toward Doc as he slid onto an empty stool at the end of the bar beside Jerry Wayne.
"Yes, he is," Doc agreed. "He wakes up cranky. He's nearly deaf. He isn't really happy, and he doesn't want to do his business outside anymore. And when the kids are around, we really have to watch him. He's so grumpy."
"Sounds like you're describing Woodrow," I said, leaning forward and looking to the left to see him. We laughed, and one of the Yankees frowned at Woodrow.
"Who are they?" Doc asked, rocking backward.
"Yankees," Woodrow answered, leaning forward to see down the row since his position was at the counter's far end. "So you gonna take Duke to the vet?"
"I don't know," Doc said, leaning forward. "It's six of one and half dozen of the other. Duke is out of food, and I guess the biggest dilemma is whether to buy a new 50-pound sack of dog food or to put him down tonight."
Conversation immediately ceased among the Yankee tourists, proving once again that you can't trust strangers not to listen to talks of a private nature.
Of course, Doc's statement caught some of us Texans by surprise, too.
"Uhhh, that's a little cold, Doc," I said hesitantly, looking at him over Jerry Wayne's back.
"Not really," Doc said. "Do you guys know how much a 50-pound sack of dog food costs?"
"That's not the point," Willie said, leaning forward. "If you're not sure about Duke's long-term plans, you might just stop on the way home and get a can or two of dog food then just wait and see."
"And I'd be out two cans of food if he passes in the night," Doc said.
"George is in bad shape, too," Woodrow said, just to deflect the conversation somewhat. He leaned backward to see down the line. "My old Blue Heeler is deaf, blind and diabetic. We're giving him shots, also, just to keep him alive. Hey, how about you buy the dog food, and if Duke gives it up, I'll take the food off your hands."
Doc sipped at the coffee Doreen placed in front of him. For some reason, she wasn't taking part in the conversation at all. I think she was getting seasick.
"Well, I reckon I could buy a couple of cans, and then if Duke has to move on tonight, we won't be hauling a full sack of dog food all over town," Doc said.
"You might feed the wet food to Patrick," I said, talking about an old cat that had taken up residence under Doc's front porch. "Cats will eat dog food."
"That reminds me," Youngster said, brightening and leaning forward to see Doc around me and Jerry Wayne. "I really need to bury my cat."
Doreen stopped on her way down the counter.
"I really hope you mean it's dead," she said.
"Oh, he's dead all right," Youngster said, leaning forward. "He died in his litter box on Christmas Day."
"It's June," Doreen said.
"That's right, but he's just fine. See, we didn't want a funeral on Christmas. It would've made the kids sad, so I just wrapped him in a plastic trash bag, then put him in an empty box left over after we wrapped presents. It's kind of a pretty box with snowmen all over it. Then I put the box on the bottom shelf of the deep freeze out in the garage. I've just been too busy to bury him, and I keep forgetting."
"Does your wife know he's out there?" I asked.
"Kind of. I really think that she thinks I'm hiding next year's present in there. I just hope she doesn't get nosy. You know, I better get started. My uncle who likes to do woodworking made a cat coffin just the same size as the present box, so I need to get busy digging, but ...."
The Yankees hurriedly paid their tab and slid quickly out of the booth. All the swaying we'd been doing at the counter had them walking kind of funny, like they were on the deck of a ship, but they managed to hustle out the door and disappear in a cloud of exhaust.