He was old. A graybeard, he was walking slowly and carefully, but with pride.
You might think he’d seen better days, but you’d be wrong. He was living the best days of his life, and you could tell that by the way he behaved. He was one of about 400 rescued greyhounds whose owners brought them to Gettysburg, and some of them came to visit with Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy at Little Round Top. He and the others had grown too old, too slow or too lame for people to make money betting upon, and kind-hearted humans saved them from being put down.
It’s remarkable, the change that can come over a critter that has been — as they say — run hard and put away wet, being used (and possibly abused), and treated as a commodity, when it is subjected to loving kindness, gentle care and affection.
Doesn’t matter how many legs the critter has, either. The captain and I have a mutual friend who recently developed a girlfriend who loves him, respects him and treats him the way he should be treated — which is not like the old one did. The change in our buddy is remarkable, and the new lady in his life has become our friend as well.
The greyhounds we met were the friendliest, most affectionate and gentle animals you’d want to be around — except for one who was still a bit on the skittish side.
Eventually, he started to make up with us, but I could tell he still was a bit unsure if all the love being thrown at him was real, or if it might suddenly go away.
The old fellow was one of the biggest greyhounds I’ve ever seen. His muzzle was painted with white, and he wore little blue boots on his hind feet. He went from one person to another, leaning up against a leg so he could be petted, rubbed and scratched, as if saying, “OK, it’s your turn.”
He was encased in a big harness that hooked to a soft pad that stretched from the front of his chest to the back of his belly, so his owners could pick him up and save him the trouble of having to climb into their car.
He hated to leave. We hated to see him go.
A lady wearing sneakers that were bright blue like the greyhound’s booties came walking by. I told her she should have been there earlier, when we were visited by a woman whose hair was the same color as those shoes.
An older fellow who spoke with what sounded like a German accent made a fuss over the captain’s boots, which come up almost to his knees. I had the feeling he may have worn similar footgear back in the day.
The captain and I can count on four things happening when we go to Little Round Top: We will meet dogs, we will have our pictures taken (often with pretty girls of all ages), there will be little kids to fuss over (if there are two or more, one will be shy, but the others are eager to visit with the soldiers), and there will be no shortage of people to argue with the captain about the role Gen. Dan Sickles played there.
Sickles led his men out to a place where they were taking fire from both Confederate and Union guns. When he had a leg shot off and was carried from the field, one of his men said, “Bad news for him, good news for us.”
Not everyone sees it that way, including a man we didn’t know until afterward was a professor from the Army War College who thought Sickles’ move helped win the day.
Capt. Gary usually holds his own in these encounters, except that this time he ran into a retired Army sergeant major who had done his homework and described in detail the reasons he supported Sickles’ actions.
At such times, I just back away and watch, reveling in the free entertainment. It’s fun to watch an engagement between two people who know what they’re doing.
Our buddy Reggie, who re-enacts with the 54th Massachusetts Regiment of U.S. Colored Troops in the Union Army, has been promoted by vote of his regiment to sergeant major — so the sonofagun now outranks me.
However, he came to join us in the role of Gravedigger Basil Biggs and was toting a shovel instead of a musket. Biggs, who became very much respected in spite of his color, led a gang of black men who dug up the bodies of hastily-buried soldiers after the battle. They had to open each grave and were paid $1.59 for each Union body they recovered — but if they found a Confederate, they got nothing and had to cover him back up.
My knees aren’t what they once were and, after three days of standing at Little Round Top for four hours at a clip, I could tell it. It helps that we have 1,800 pounds of cannon and carriage to lean against. No way the captain and I could stand unsupported for that long.
So I was gimpy. When we retired to Gettysburg Eddie’s for provisioning, we found that our buddy Andy was back to cooking in the kitchen. He was run over by a train and lost his right leg below the knee, but only about 10 months later has cast his wheelchair and crutches aside and is going about unaided, save for an artificial leg.
Look at him, I told our friends. He’s walking better on one and a half legs than I am on two.
While we were sitting at the bar, he dismounted his leg and held it up for us to look at. It’s hollow, and he asked, “How many beers do you think I could hide in this?”
Here’s a young man who has all the guts and determination in the world. If only we could inject some of it into some of these whining (anatomical exit points) who just want to sit on their behinds and have people give them money and do things for them.
The captain and I actually engaged in some physical labor. Our buddy Bill — the proprietor of Gettysburg Eddie’s — was putting a deck on the back of his rental property near the bar.
He was being assisted by our friend Dave and, seeing as how he and Bill are both younger than we are, we confined our efforts to handing them hammers, nails and screws and helping to hold up posts so they could be checked for leveling.
We also helped by keeping track of measurements. Measure twice, cut once, you know.
“Hundred and twenty-three and a half inches,” Bill called out. When he went to measure and cut the new board, the captain or I would remind him: “123 and three-quarter inches.”
“You (term of endearment Bill calls us),” he snorted, “I said 123 and a half!”
He didn’t understand that we were just looking out for him. We’d much rather have him cut the board too long, than too short.
Next week: Cathy gets her wish.