News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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April 1, 2013

LUNSFORD: A different kind of resurrection story, no foolin’

TERRE HAUTE — If you’ve had pets in your family long enough, it’s likely that you’ll see a miracle or two — a dog that couldn’t possibly have lived, but did; a cat that grew to 20 pounds after being born the runt of the litter; a goldfish that had been belly-up too many times to believe it could have survived another day. But, I have to admit that when I learned of the resurrection of a dog named Bullet, I don’t think I’ll ever hear a pet story that will top it. Before reading on, please, disregard the fact that today is April 1, but remembering that Easter was only yesterday is appropriate.

This has not been a good year for pets around my place, and after we lost our little white-and-black barn cat — a squeaky, homely orphan named Lilly, who was unceremoniously dumped out of a moving car here years ago — my wife and I didn’t think we could take on any new pets for a while. Joanie has been the tireless nursemaid to the feline sick for years, patiently caring for the sore-footed, the spayed, and the paralytic. She has spoon-fed them by the gallon, poked pills down their throats by the bottle, administered shots like a registered nurse, and emptied litter boxes by the dump truck load. In her last year, Lilly needed a lot of attention, but when it became apparent that nothing else could be done for her, we had to have her put to sleep.

Not a week after I buried Lilly — John Carradine played fewer undertakers than I have — on a hillside behind our barn, I came around the corner of our house one day to see a small black-and-white cat sniffing around our cats’ food bowls.

For a second, I thought it was Lilly, for in fact, the cat was a tiny, starving stray, a Lilly clone with prettier eyes that walked right up to me as if she’d always lived with us. The look on Joanie’s face when she came out of the garage door and saw me holding the cat was almost frightening; for a moment, I think she felt she was in “The Twilight Zone.” Anyway, Belle is now a household fixture, whether we wanted it that way or not.

When I told that story to Katie Ferrari, a teacher friend of mine, she related a tale to me about Bullet, a small, black “Heinz 57 Varieties” kind of pup that once belonged to her mom, Velann Dorfmeyer. I knew I had to get the whole story, and Velann obliged me.

“We actually had three dogs named Bullet…,” she told me. “…Bullet 1, 2 and 3. Our family home was on Highway 163, just east of Blanford, in a little area known as ‘Old Jacksonville.’ The highway was a very busy one, and our dogs just didn’t last very long. My dad went to ‘Bogleville’ (another ‘suburb’ of Blanford) to the Davis home, and got our first Bullet. My brother was a big Roy Rogers fan, so he named the dog. Well, when the dogs met with their demise on the highway, my dad would just go back to the Davis home and get another one. Apparently, Bullet’s mom was always delivering a litter,” she added.

Velann can’t remember whether it was Bullet 1, Bullet 2 or Bullet 3, but she assures me that one spring day she heard the screech of car tires, heard the tell-tale thud, and saw whichever Bullet lying alongside the road. Her dad (I got the impression that he was the family mortician, as well) placed Bullet in a cardboard box and buried him in the soft soil of a garden plot near their house.

“I’m sure that my brother and I cried ourselves to sleep that night, because no matter how many times it happened, we were still heartbroken,” Velann says. But this is where the story got, well, downright spiritual.

“The next day was Easter Sunday (Velann’s mother, who carries the rather melodic name of Carmelita Giacolleti, and who is a woman of great faith, verified the date), and we were all standing on the porch getting ready to leave for church, when we saw Bullet coming from the garden through my grandma’s yard to our house. He was wagging his tail.”

Velann went on to add that although she and her brother were ecstatic that Bullet had sprung to life and had dug himself out of an early grave, the dog kept a healthy distance from her dad for a good while. I imagine he kept away from the highway, too.

Although we haven’t had nearly as remarkable a resurrection story to tell as Bullet’s, we do have another one about mistaken identity. Years ago, at a time when our local cat population was rivaling that of the Chinese mainland, we took two cats down to my in-laws, who wanted a few mousers for their barn. So, off went Bert and Ernie, a pair of gray-and-black brothers who had also been strays.  

One day, my father-in-law, Gib, found Ernie along the road, like Bullet, the victim of a hit-and-run. He dutifully buried (I guess he was doing his best John Carradine, too) Ernie behind the barn and went to the house to tell my son, Evan, who spent most of his day with his grandparents in those pre-school years. The next day, however, as Gib stepped out of the house to feed the lonely Bert, he found Ernie waiting for his breakfast. The cat Gib had buried the day before, no doubt a transient, had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Ernie’s days of using extra lives were far from over, though. Later that year, after Gib and Evan had driven to a Terre Haute grain elevator with a load of corn, they found Ernie in the undercarriage of Gib’s old grain truck, a bit scared by the 25-mile ride into town, but very much alive. His trip back to Parke County in the cab proved a bit more comfortable.

You know, most scientists tell us that re-animating the dead, that resurrection, is a scientific impossibility. The Easter story, that I hope we’ve all heard this past weekend, and those of a “Heinz 57 Varieties” kind of dog and a scrawny black cat should convince you that it’s already happened.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at hickory

913@aol.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. You can learn more about his writing and speaking by going to his website at www.mikelunsford.com. His new book, “A Windy Hill Almanac,” will be released this fall.

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