A Day With Rusty

by Jack Foster Mancilla

Rusty was my dog. We loved each other. Though we had other friends of our own species. Our favorite friends were each other.

When I rode the bus home from school, the driver was supposed to let me off in front of my house so that she knew I got home safely. If I asked her, she would let me off at the corner of Mission road and Santa Margarita drive. I always asked her if I could when it was not raining because the bus took another half hour to get back to my house, and I could walk from there in five minutes.

Rusty always knew when the bus was due and he stood waiting on the little hill that our house was on. It was not really a hill; it is described a little better by saying that it was just a little higher than the road. Rusty would be looking down the road to where the school bus would stop if I got off. No one else would get off there, so if the bus stopped, it was me. He would jump the instant I stepped down from the bus and run like a bat out of hell down Santa Margarita drive to meet me. As soon as he got to me, he would take my hand in his mouth and drag me home. He knew that we would usually go for a walk. If it were close to summer, it would be a long walk.

We would start out the door and head further out Santa Margarita drive away from town. The sun would be shining as we walked past the Enander’s pomegranate tree, I would maybe take a ripe one with me to eat as I walked. I loved picking out the juicy red morsels and shoving a wad of them in my mouth, explosions of flavor. We walked on past the Serry’s white donkey that stood fenced in front of the little house just off Hillcrest lane, right next to the Masonic Cemetery with its pepper trees and the big pine tree next to the flag pole. My dad is buried in that cemetery now. The Serry’s house was the last house out that way then. Sometimes there were ripe tomatoes for the picking. They would never miss one or two if we took them on our little walks to the river. Little Peggy Serry, she was nice. I liked her and her brother Allan.

Usually, we continued on the ridge of the hill that was the end of Santa Margarita Drive far as we could. There was an old fire break along the ridge that was easy to walk on. When we could almost go no further, there was a little very old and unused dirt road that started to the left of the ridge and curved around the face of the final hill and ended up down to the right of that ridge. I once shot a squirrel right there. Kids with guns, go figure where my brain was then.

We were all the way down to the river now. If we turned to the left we would get to the place on the road towards De Luz Canyon where the river crossed over the road and people went swimming. If we turned to the right we just wandered on up river for a while through pools of deeper water and across fallen trees close to the rivers edge. Usually, the river is more like a creek running slowly and calmly towards the San Clemente. After a big storm though, it could break trees and wash cars off that road.

I was on my way to catch snakes, Rusty was on his way to chase rabbits, squirrels, or any little critter. He caught only one rabbit that I know of. It was the day after I finished reading a dog book “White Fang” or one of Jack London’s other dog books. I read about this dog chasing a rabbit and the rabbit, while running full speed, did a quick 180 degree turn around a bush and the dog in the story was a smart dog. The dog in the story took a short cut in front of the bush to snap the rabbit just as the rabbit came flying back out from behind the bush. That very day Rusty chased a rabbit across the path right in front of me. The rabbit did a 180 around a bush right beside me. Rusty took the shortcut and caught the rabbit on the way back. I have never decided if Rusty was just a smart dog (he was smart anyway) or if I somehow told him to take the shortcut with my body language.

I liked walking with Rusty. He liked walking with me.

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