Well into his 70s, my dad used to walk “the loop”, a dirt road that ran along the train tracks near his house on the outskirts of Lampasas, Texas. It wasn’t a road that really went anywhere because it was intended as access for repair crews when they brought in railroad ties and rails to overhaul the tracks. Every now and then, Daddy would sit on his front porch and watch as some yahoo in a pickup barreled down the road in a big hurry, kicking up a rooster-tail of dust. And a short time later, the same pickup would fly back the other direction, as if speed would fool anybody who happened to be watching.
Daddy knew what he’d find the next time he took the loop—yet another pile of illegally dumped garbage left to steam and stink in the summer heat. He was disgusted by the most recent mess and as he stood there next to it, he felt a sharp and sudden tap on the leg of his overalls. His long years in Texas had taught him plenty about copperheads, so he instinctively jumped back, raising his big walking stick to throttle whatever it was. Something kept him from striking out though, and he looked down into the rotting garbage to find two small black eyes looking up at him. Thrown away—literally—was a tiny white puppy, no larger than a crumpled wad of notebook paper. The eyes, batting a long fringe of lashes, blinked at him in a plea for help.
My dad wasn’t usually a soft touch and his first instinct might have been to put the starving thing out of its misery, but then those black eyes blinked again and a miniature foot reached out and tapped Daddy’s shoe. That did it—he scooped his pitiful find out of the orange peels and coffee grounds and headed back to the house.
By the time I dropped by to visit about an hour later, Trixie already had a name, a bowl of water, a dish of leftover chicken, and two anxious old people attending to her urgent problems. The tiny dog’s silky fur was heavily matted with cockle burrs and what Texans refer to as beggar lice, the small, impossible to remove burrs that attach themselves without mercy to jeans and socks and small white dogs. Trixie was unable to stand, sit or rest on any side without being stabbed by some sort of barb, and trying to pull them out produced such yips of pain that my mother set the sorry little patient in her lap and went after the knots of burrs with scissors. The result was a sticker-free, miniature pup with what was undoubtedly the world’s worst haircut.
The vet checked her over and said the conditions in which she had been found had left her none the worse for wear, so she went home to establish the Trixie Rules. My parents never allowed dogs indoors, but Trixie stayed in the house. They certainly never allowed dogs on the furniture, but first Trixie claimed the sofa, then the chairs and then the beds—assuming, of course, that there weren’t any laps available. Dogs ate dog food and scraps, period—so Trixie got broiled chicken and milk and graham crackers.
She did grow, though not by much, but that didn’t matter—the only thing their princess was missing was a crown, and she’d have just gnawed it if she had been given one. She picked up wads of burrs every time she went outside, so her fur was frequently patchy and lopsided where the worst of them had been cut off. The hair around her mouth was generally grungy from chicken juice and graham cracker crumbs, but she was the most beautiful thing in the world to them. My dad used to hold her up proudly and announce, “This here’s my little Sticker Patch Kid.” And when he did, Trixie would blink those little black eyes, looking as if she’d known all along that one man’s trash would turn out to be another man’s treasure.