American Field
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The Bond

By Robert Franks | Feb 15, 2019
Photo by Petie Brown

It was a cold December day in 1940 when Bill Prior and Don Henry met on a fencerow between two cotton fields in the Arkansas delta. Bill had a pointer who had been loosed on the south end while Don had turned his setter lose on the north end.

The dogs were located on point almost simultaneously by their youthful handlers. “My dog’s got the point,” said Bill. “You don’t know anything, my dog was here first,” demanded Don.

What started out as a fun Saturday afternoon turned into a few punches being thrown and rolling around on the ground until their youthful exuberance flushed the covey. The wrestling match ended as the covey took flight and disappeared without a shot being fired.

Bill looked at his counterpart and asked, “Where did you come from, I’ve never seen you before.”  “We just moved here from Mississippi,” Don replied, “my dad’s foreman on the number nineteen canal project. Hey, is your pointer any good?” “As good as any setter I reckon,” Bill replied in a lower tone.  “Let’s turn ’em loose and see.”

From that not so auspicious beginning the two boys were inseparable.   During bird season they could be found hunting during any spare time. On hot summer days they fished for bream in Cypress Creek.

During high school, Bill and Don played basketball, ran track and always double dated together. At the end of their senior year they entered the same college with, of course, the same major. They were soulmates in college and were the other’s best man. Settling down after college to a successful business, each had two children, a boy and a girl.

After their families, bird hunting and running dogs was their passion. The only differentiation between the two, that friends and family could see, was Don’s passion for setters and Bill’s for pointers. Many a winter day was spent in the field with one or the other

bragging of the superior traits of their breed of dog. Bill would boast that his pointer could cover twice the ground as Don’s setters, while Don fired back that his setter could find twice the birds.  These friendly exchanges would go back and forth between the two whether in the field, at home or in the coffee shop.

Throughout the years, where Don was Bill was sure to follow or vice versa. The friends were there for each other during the sickness and death of parents, as well as the joy connected with the birth and weddings of their children.

As retirement neared, Bill asked Don one day, “Have you ever thought of retiring to Florida where the winters are a bit kinder to old folks’ bones?”   “It’s strange that you would bring this up,” Bill replied. “My wife and I

discussed the same subject last night.”

So it came to pass that both friends ended up in Southwest Florida living as next door neighbors. They found the Florida winters kind to their constitution as well as providing a new game to play — field trialing.

Training together they learned the intricacies of field trialing and finding birds in South Florida. They trained every opportunity possible from September to March becoming even closer friends as father time progressed.

Don would never forget the date, October 7, 2014. They had dogs draped over the saddle and were heading home in the late twilight of a comfortable Florida evening after a few hours of training. Bill said, “Don I’ve got something to tell you. As you know I went to see my doctor yesterday and he informed me that tests confirmed an aggressive untreatable cancer. He gave me no more than two months to live. I want to spend as much time with you and my family as possible in the days I have remaining.”

Don, not knowing quite what to say, nodded his head and after a few minutes silence said, “You are like family to me, we will run dogs and trial as long as you are able.” Pausing another long minute he continued, “Besides, you have yet to prove the advantage of a pointer over a setter!”

The men looked at each other and smiled. The remainder of the ride was spent with each man silently recalling the good times with their best friend.

 

In late November returning from a short training session, Bill turned toward Don and thoughtfully said, “I think this will have to be my last trip running dogs. I can feel my time is growing very short. Will you take care of my wife and dogs after I am gone?”  “Of course, my friend.” Bill then said, while admiring the beautiful Florida sunset through the scattered pines for the last time, “Even after my passing I promise to always be with you when you ride and train in this special place.”

No more needed to be said as both friends enjoyed the beauty of the early evening and their last run together.

Two weeks later Bill’s ashes were scattered at the field trial grounds he loved with his loving family and friends present. Bill had picked a favorite place for his final resting place.  Stories were told with both laughter and tears and good-byes said.

Don’s field trial club had their largest and most prestigious trial scheduled for the New Year’s holiday.   Bill and Don had sculptured some of their most special memories at this trial. After Bill’s death, Don told his wife that he just didn’t have the heart to participate this year. However, at her urging he decided to take his pointer and Bill’s setter out for a run just before Christmas to see how the dogs would do, and more importantly to see if he had the heart to run without his dear friend.

The late afternoon was typical Southwest Florida December weather as Don headed the dogs back to camp to conclude his training session. Just a bit of a chill from a northwest breeze tickling the palmettoes to both sides, a beautiful blue sky, and a sunset so stunning surely an artist had painted the masterpiece. Don could not help thinking of Bill as they had enjoyed many evenings such as this. There was no question things were just not the same as before. Time had taken a part of his soul which could not be filled again. He recalled the promise of his friend and wished it could truly be so. The memories of a lifetime passed

before him, as well as the beauty of the day. He knew he would not return as things were just not fun, life, unfortunately, would never be the same.

Suddenly, nearing the area where Bill’s ashes were scattered, a strange feeling of happiness and wellbeing filled him. Giving a deep sigh, and adjusting himself in the saddle, he looked for the dogs and there it was.  Don stopped his horse, rubbed his eyes and stared in utter disbelief. The image was very plain, there was absolutely no mistake. Bill’s shadow was cast upon the ground not far from his. Don had seen this same shadow hundreds of times while training with Bill. The promise had been kept and the friendship renewed.

Don continued to train and trial, making a point to always look for Bill’s shadow, which would often accompany him when working dogs. Upon Don’s death, both families agreed, that the friends would continue running dogs in eternity, as there are some special bonds that even death cannot part.

Copyright Robert Franks, 2018

Comments (1)
Posted by: Thomas S. Word, Jr. | Feb 16, 2019 07:33

Wonderful story

tom word



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