RainDog, our big black chow got pregnant. We had bought her in Missouri just after we moved into our second trailer home. Chows are very protective dogs, so she helped us feel a little more safe living in a sketchy neighborhood of the big city—especially the times when Kim was alone. RainDog was a fantastic pet, but one night while she was doing her business in the grass behind the apartment complex—she met another black chow. It seems unlikely for two AKC registered Chows to find each other behind a dumpster in Houston, but it was love at first sight. RainDog was going to have a fluffy little family.
As the birth day got closer we became concerned about her making a mess on the carpet, so while we slept or when we left the apartment she was confined to the tile floor of the kitchen. One morning we woke up hearing angry squeaking sounds coming from the other room. As I entered the kitchen I saw RainDog in the corner with four little black pups happily nursing on her. In the middle of the floor was a fifth pup—It had managed to crawl away from her and she couldn’t reach it because of the chain. The fifth puppy was furiously screeching at the top of its voice. I reached down to slide it over to its mother and the poor thing became vicious—growling and biting at me like a tiny demon—It was simultaneously hilarious and frightening.
As the puppies grew, they were the cutest things we had ever seen. They looked like little fluffy bears made from magic clouds. We gave one of the pups to the father’s owner in exchange for AKC papers and were able to sell the other puppies for a few hundred dollars each. Obviously this money was an amazing blessing. We sold all of them except for demon puppy—no one wanted the evil spawn lovechild of RainDog. Kim was the only person DemonPup would allow to touch him.
My dad found a buyer for DemonPup if we could get it to Illinois. We had now lived in Houston for several months and were ready to visit home, so we thought this was a good excuse to go—the trip would pay for itself. We hopped in the van with the two dogs and started driving north, but we didn’t make it far. We were barely two hours into the trip when the motor started running hot just outside Corsicana. I pulled off the freeway and into an Exxon station. I was freaking out a little since I had just rebuilt the engine, and I opened the hood—steam was shooting out the front of the radiator.
I should have known better, but I used a rag and twisted off the radiator cap. It shot toward my face like a bullet—cutting my forehead—and hot antifreeze and steam exploded all over my arms and face. I ran away from the van screaming. Kim got out and came over to me, I was hunched over and covering my face with my hands—I could taste the hot coolant, and water was dripping off me. My face and arms felt like they were on fire.
Kim was praying, “Oh, God! Please let him be alright!”
“Franki, are you alright?” She is trying to look at my face and I’m afraid to show her.
“I think so,” and I was—amazingly. I recently searched Google images for “a radiator explosion burned my face” and what I found was not pretty. It should have melted my face to look like wax, and sent me to the emergency room with bleeding blisters and a need for plastic surgery—but that’s not what happened. This is another one of those annoying miracles just begging for a skeptic to dismiss, but God protected me. My face was a little red—partially from embarrassment—and I had a small cut where the metal cap hit my head, but otherwise I was fine.
It was late and the station was closed, so we were going to have to wait until they opened in the morning. We locked the doors, got in the back of the van and went to sleep.
The hot July sun woke us up pretty early. As the manager of the station was unlocking the doors I followed him inside and told him our situation. His name was Deward, and he seemed like a nice enough guy. He came out to have a look at the problem and said it was obviously a hole in the radiator, but he wouldn’t be able to get a replacement for it until Tuesday. It was Saturday morning and Monday was the Fourth of July—we were stuck for a few days.
We went for a walk, got some breakfast at Waffle House, then returned to the van. I opened the windows and the sliding side door, then we sat in the back with the dogs. DemonPup would leave me alone as long as I left him alone. In the late afternoon, Deward came over to talk to us.
“You planning on just staying in the back of your van until Tuesday?”
I said that was pretty much the plan, we didn’t have money for a hotel, and didn’t see many other options.
“You’re welcome to come stay at my place if you want to.”
I didn’t like the idea of going to a random stranger’s house—Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all. Even if he didn’t want to kill us and make us into sausage, it was sure to be a few days of extremely awkward conversation. Then again, it was unbearably hot in the van and he was the manager of an Exxon station. If you can’t trust the hospitality of the manager of an Exxon station, who can you trust?
So before I knew it, my pretty wife, two dogs and myself were climbing into the pickup truck of a perfect stranger and headed into the mysterious outer limits of Corsicana Texas—probably to never be seen again.
We traveled on farm roads for a while, then he slowed down to turn on an unmarked dirt road, which we continued on for quite a distance. We had put the dogs in the bed of the truck like I have seen a lot of people do—but they were never my dog. RainDog had never ridden in the back of a pickup truck and I worried that she was going to jump out. As we slowed down to go over a bumpy patch of dirt road—that’s exactly what she did. She jumped out of the truck while we were going thirty or forty miles an hour and she rolled several times as she hit the ground. Fortunately, I was keeping my eye on her, otherwise we wouldn’t have noticed.
I yelled, “Stop, the dog jumped out!”
I was worried that she was hurt, but she was fine. She ran over to me when I called her, and I attached a leash to her and the spare tire so she couldn’t jump out again. DemonPup snarled and growled at me, as usual, but he was too small to jump over the side.
We finally got to Deward’s house, a little farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. We went inside and he offered us something to drink. Kim and I had a cola and he poured himself a glass of whiskey—then he poured himself another. Within twenty-five minutes he was slurring his speech and rambling on about how dangerous it can be out here in the country—how you just can’t trust people anymore.
He had a wire kennel on his back porch where we put the dogs for the night. Deward muttered something about coyotes and foxes.
He insisted that we sleep in his bedroom and he would take the couch. He showed us to our room, gave us another pillow and left us alone. It was eerily quiet except for the sounds of our host shuffling things in the other room. Kim and I were pretty creeped out by this time but didn’t say anything, not wanting to freak each other out. There was a bathroom inside the master bedroom which I was thankful for, and I went inside and shut the door. As I was sitting on the toilet I noticed that against the wall, stacked waist-high, was a collection of porn magazines—adding the jeebies to my heebies.
As we were laying side by side in this strange man’s bed, looking at the ceiling, quietly talking about how we wished we had just stayed in the van— suddenly Deward busts into the room. He is standing beside the bed and he has a pistol in his hand. Kim grabs my arm and squeezes it tight—our eyes opened wide and we hardly dare to breathe.
I’m thinking, “Oh, God! This is it. This is how we are going to die.” I’m wondering how sick and twisted this night of torture is going to get before he finally kills us—how many other young people have come to the Exxon with car trouble and fallen prey to his hospitality?
He speaks with sleepy slurred speech, “It can be pretty dangerous out here at night—you really have to be careful these days. I thought y’all should have this gun to protect yourselves.”
Then he carefully places the gun on the nightstand beside Kim. “Good night. See you in the morning.”
He leaves the room shutting the door behind him. Kim’s eyes are still as wide as saucers, my heart is racing—she looks at me and says, “I thought that was it.”
It was a long time before we were both asleep.
In the morning he fried eggs and served us breakfast. He asked us questions about DemonPup and RainDog. He said we could stay at his place until the van was repaired on Tuesday, but we opted to go back to the Exxon station. We stayed in the van the next two nights until Tuesday morning when they replaced the radiator and we were back on the road. I’m pretty sure he was hoping we were going to give him the puppy for his hospitality, but it was already spoken for.
We sold DemonPup to a coal miner friend of my dad’s for $300, which paid for the radiator repair. They say he turned out to be the sweetest dog, was gentle with kids and was loved by the whole neighborhood. I also heard that one day he attacked a kid and had to be put down—I don’t know which story is true.
It felt good to be home and with family again, but under the surface of all the conversations was “it doesn’t sound like things are working out for you in Texas, maybe it’s time to come back home.”
After a few days we headed back to Houston for round two.