|Written by:||Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
|Location:||Middleburgh New York USA|
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|Written by:||Frederick William Wickert (bio, link, contact, other stories)|
|Location:||Middleburgh New York USA|
No one was in the jail kitchen except the two ladies working there. They were doing their last minutes of cleanup before going home for the night. The sheriff’s offices were upstairs in the building. Big John G., the sheriff of the county, had a standing invitation to every cop in the county and every visiting cop from elsewhere to enjoy a cup of coffee, and sometimes a cookie or piece of cake if any was left. I was the police chief in the next town and had come to the jail for some business with the dispatchers. The sheriff department dispatchers in our county did the dispatching for all police agencies in the county, except the State Police. They also handled all fire and ambulance dispatching in the county.|
After the conclusion of my official business, I went to the jail kitchen for a cup of coffee. While doing so, I engaged in some friendly conversation with the ladies. One of them lived in the town where I was police chief. She had a large family of nine children. Her husband left her for a much younger woman and didn’t give her much help, but she did the best she could. She had one older daughter on her own, one older son away in college getting an Associate’s degree, and another older son who at the time was working as a MacDonald’s Manager. The others were all at home and going to school, except for one other older boy who had been killed two years before by an 18-year-old drunk driver.
When asked how I was doing, I made a remark about having so much work to do at home that I could not keep up with it. There was so much to do and so little time to do it in. She said, “What about my kid? He can help you.”
I said, “No way, Jeanne. I can’t afford to pay someone.”
“You don’t need to pay him. Just feed him, and that’s all he needs.”
“Oh no. I couldn’t do that. That wouldn’t be right. I can’t ask a boy to work for me for nothing.”
“Listen, Fred, there are only so many things I can teach him. I can’t teach him the things he needs to learn from a man. Things like how to fix things and how to use tools. So many things men do that I could never teach him. He is at the age right now where he needs to learn those things. You’d
be doing he and I both a favor.”
“Well, I don’t know, Jeanne. I just don’t feel right about it, but I’ll give the idea some thought and see what I can do.”
I went home and talked to Tae about it. Tae thought it was a good idea and she didn’t mind if I brought the boy home to help out. I got an idea in my head and mentioned it to Tae. Tae was all right with it, so a few days later, I saw the boy on the street that we had talked about. He was 14 years old. I pulled over and got out of the police car.
“What are you doing boy?”
“You’re not busy right now?”
“Is your mother home right now?”
“I want you to go on home. Tell your mother I’ll be there in a few minutes. I want to have a little talk with both of you.”
“Why? What’d I do wrong?”
“Do you think you’ve done something wrong?”
“No. I don’t think so.”
“Okay then, don’t worry about it. Just go home and tell her I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
Dominick walked toward home, looking back over his shoulder several times. He was very nervous not knowing what was going on. I drove the car to the front of the municipal building, radioed the dispatcher where I could be located if needed, parked the car, and walked up the street to the residence.
Jeanne greeted me at the door and asked me in. I told her I had thought about our conversation the other day and wanted to discuss it further with the two of them. We sat in the living room and I explained my idea that Tae had agreed with.
I explained that I needed some work done around my place and that I had more than I could handle alone. I told Dominick that I could not afford to pay him with money. I told him that if he were to spend his weekends and vacations at my home, he was to be given certain things to do. If Tae and I went somewhere we were to take him with us. I explained that we raised and showed Cocker Spaniels and often went to dog shows. He was to accompany us to the shows.
I could not afford to pay him an hourly wage. However, he had his room and board and his laundry. He had the benefit of learning how to do a lot of things he did not know how to do. When a litter of pups was born, if he wished to have a puppy, he could choose the puppy he wanted. After he chose the puppy, he was to be taught how to properly care for it. It was not to go home with him until it was at least 8 weeks old. If it was a show-quality puppy, to be determined when it was 8 weeks old, he was to be given a choice. He could show it or just keep it as a pet. If he chose to show it, he must not take it home until it became a champion. Tae was to teach him how to show it in the ring. If the puppy was shown, Tae and I were to pay all the expenses incurred in doing so. As long as the puppy was at our home, we were to pay for his upkeep including any vet bills that might be encountered, including all shots. When it was in the ring, he could show the dog himself or Tae could show it for him. It was his choice.
I answered any questions he had which were few. I told him he had a week or so to decide and he could then give me his answer.
His Mother turned to him and said, “Well Dominick, what do you think?”
With a huge grin he said, “See Mom, I told you we were going to have a dog.”
“Does that mean it’s settled? Are you sure you don’t want some more time to think about it?”
“Naw, I don’t need no more time.”
The arrangements were made that when I got off duty on Friday night, I would pick him up and take him home with me. When school was in session, I was to bring him back either Sunday night, or early enough to get to school on Monday morning. He was happy and I was happy. He was a lot of help and I enjoyed his company immensely. Dominick spent all of his weekends and holidays with Tae and me.
When the litter of puppies came, he was really excited. He sat for hours watching them, and holding and talking to them. He made his selection. He had a very good eye for it was a beautiful male who was to become a beautiful show dog. He named him Goliath.
As the time flew by, I came to see so much of myself in Dominick. In so many ways, he was like me when I was his age. He loved the girls and was popular with them. He was very boisterous and quick with his mouth. He was a strong boy physically. He frequently got into hot water at school with his mouth. He had a wonderful singing voice. He loved sports. Every one of these things was just like I had been when I was his age. More and more, I was seeing myself in him. I had no son, but I came to love him like a son. Tae and I began telling people that he was our unofficially adopted son. People accepted that and, more importantly, so did he.
As his dog Goliath grew, so did he. His expertise in working with the dog and handling him in the show ring grew also. When we went to Match Show competitions, Dominick not only showed his own puppy, but when we had too many to take in the ring at once, he showed some of our puppies too, and did well with them.
One day at a Capital District Cocker Spaniel Club of New York specialty show, there was a junior handling competition. There was a girl there a year or two older than Dominick, and her mother was a professional handler. She was confident that she was going to win. She was wrong. Dominick won. We were so proud.
As the years went by and Dominick got older, his interest began to shift to extracurricular activities at school. I resigned my job as police chief, sickened from the politics I had to put up with. We no longer saw as much of Dominick. One day, Goliath got very sick. We rushed him to the vet. Nothing could be done for him. He had suffered an aneurysm of the lung and bled to death internally.
I went to pick up Dominick and brought him home to bury Goliath. He wanted to bury him with the others in my pet cemetery. Before we closed the box that the body of Goliath was laid to rest in, Tae took the grooming shears and cut off a lock of his hair for him. Dominick wiped away a tear with a clean white handkerchief, and then laid the handkerchief and Goliath’s favorite squeaky toy in the box with Goliath. We buried him and said a prayer over him.
After Goliath died and Dominick got older, he spent less and less time with us. We picked him up now and then to go to a dog show with us. He became deeply involved with the wrestling team in school. I had taught him to drive, but the family had no car so he only had the opportunity to drive when one of his friends allowed him to drive their vehicle.
His family had moved from where they lived when we first began our arrangement. I stopped to visit him one day when I learned he was out of school with the flu. We had a great visit together. He proudly showed me the work he had done in the apartment in installing all new sheet rock on the walls. He had done a very nice job.
He told me the news about his plans after school that day. He had signed up with a recruiter to go into the Air Force and was assured of going to Air Police School after completing his basic training. I was so proud because he was following my footsteps. I had been in the Air Force for 20 years and I had been in the Air Police. He also planned to take advantage of Air Force education opportunities to get a college degree. I left there that day so proud and so happy.
That was the last time I saw him alive. His high school class had what is known locally as Skip Out Day. The entire senior class skips school one day in the week before final exams. They went to Triangle Lake in the mountains nearby. There was a dirt road around the lake. They swam and barbequed and picnicked. One of the boys had a brand new motorcycle. Dominick asked the boy around 5:00 P.M. if he could take it for a ride. The owner of the machine told him to go ahead.
Dominick intended to drive once around the lake, ending at the starting point. In time, some of the kids became concerned because Dominick had not yet returned and he was overdue. Two couples got into a car and went down the road in search of him. In a short time they found him. He was horribly burned and was in bad shape.
A car, unknown to Dominick, had come along and crowded him off the road. He went over the steep embankment going down to the lake and hit a tree head on. When he hit the tree, the gas tank split in half and there was an explosion and fire. He himself had been covered with the flaming gasoline. The car that crowded him off the road kept on going and was never found or identified.
Dominick crawled to the top of the bank and the edge of the road. There was a small stream nearby, which was running down toward the lake. One of the girls sent the two boys to soak their T-shirts in the cold water and drape them over his burns. They knew it would take much too long to get help so they lifted him into the back seat of the car and drove him to Cobleskill Hospital. They stabilized him as much as they could and sent him by ambulance to Albany Medical Center.
At the hospital in Albany, they wired together his broken jaw, reset his broken arm and collarbone, injected him with fluids and sedatives, and hoped for the best. He had severe burns over 85% of his body. He was young and he was tough and a fighter. The doctors believed he was going to come through.
At 6:00 A.M. the following morning, his blood pressure began to fluctuate wildly. They fought to get it under control, but to no avail. His heart could not withstand the pain, the trauma, and the heavy sedation. His mother had lost another son, and Tae and I had lost the nearest to a son we had ever known. We loved him so.
He was a very popular boy. His brother’s funeral had been very big. His was even more so. It is a good-sized church. It was filled to bursting and the lawns outside were also full. Dominick was buried in the Middleburgh Village Cemetery beside his brother. At Schoharie Central School, a wrestling scholarship fund was created in his name. People were asked to donate to this fund rather than send flowers.
Every year on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, Tae and I make the rounds putting flowers on the graves of loved ones in several cemeteries. We always place flowers on his grave and his brother’s grave. In more than a quarter of a century now, we have never missed.
For the first few years, every time I visited his grave, there was always one lone flower placed on his grave. We did not place it, nor was it placed by any of his family. It is unknown who put it there. It is a mystery. I have often wondered if the lone flower was placed there by a girl who loved him and wanted to remain anonymous, or perhaps could it have been the person who ran him off the road to his death, and whose identity was never learned?
Photo is Dominick with his dog Goliath, winning Best Junior Handler competition. The two men talking in the background are the author on the left, and the father of the girl who was sure she would win on the right. It was friendly.
Please visit my website at: www.fredsstoryroom.com.