On my walks around the city I almost always encounter dogs, and also birds, cats, and squirrels. I always stop to chat with them, and I always think of my ma when I do. She would always stop and talk to the animals, just like her mother did. Where Ma lived there were a lot of deer, raccoons, possums, porcupines, crows, pelicans, seagulls, seals & sea lions, and other creatures, who she never ignored. Today being Mother’s Day, I typed this from her hand-written pages of stories from her childhood, and today Ma gets the Walkers in the City.




Margaret Gillfillin’s place was a couple of miles up the road from our ranch. No one seemed to think it odd that a woman lived there alone with only two housebroken deer and an Australian shepherd dog for company. I was only five. Although I didn’t know it then, our days on the ranch were numbered, because I was the only child in the school district. In another year we would be forced to move back to our house on “The Flat,” a few miles east of Missoula, and walking distance to the Bonner School. It was during that last year on the ranch that Margaret Gillfillin’s dog had pups.


The day we went to see them, the two grown deer were in the house, lying on the bed. I could remember when they were fawns with spots, playing out by the barn, and in fact, I still have a snapshot of myself taken with them when I was four. They, the grown deer, paid little attention to us, but kept a wary eye on the newest member of the family, a nervous coyote, the father of the Australian shepherd’s litter, who paced on a chain affixed to a dog house.


The black and white puppies all favored their mother in physical appearance except for their gray eyes, and were adorable as all baby animals are. Margaret offered us our pick and we selected Tippy, who remained our family dog as long as I lived at home and even after I went away to college.


I remember Tippy incidents, the first while we were still living on the ranch in a rickety farm house lacking both electricity and running water, with doors that did not lock. We hauled our drinking water in 5-gallon milk cans from a waterfall along the side of the road near Bonner, and my mother read to me by the light of a kerosene lamp. My dad worked nights, 6:00 P.M. to 3:00 A.M.  at the Bonner Mill, and days raising hay and livestock and ‘breaking’ ex-rodeo horses so he could do stunt riding. My mother and I were alone at night with Margaret Gilfillin as our nearest neighbor.


One night as we slept, there was a huge crash. It came from a room off the kitchen which we called the Separator Room, because it was where my dad brought the pails of milk each morning to separate out the cream and make butter. This was a ramshackle, unfinished, unheated room with its own outside door leading to the path to the barn. This door not only did not lock, but didn’t even close properly and so was braced shut by a chair wedged under the door handle. Not that this was a very secure arrangement, especially since the small window next to it had no glass in it.


My mother and I were terrified. Was someone breaking in? All was silent but we couldn’t just go back to bed. Somehow my mother had to summon the courage to find out what had happened. The only protection she had to call upon was our half-grown coyote dog. But Tippy, despite his wild genetic heritage, sensed our fear and put his bushy tail between his legs as my mother dragged him by his collar through the kitchen to the door to the Separator Room. There she paused. What good would it do to enter the room dragging a dog? So she reached out and turned the knob, then as the door squeaked open she got behind Tippy, who sat down and braced his feet, and pushed him through the door—all this with a flashlight in one hand. It was clear at a glance what had happened. An animal, perhaps a barn cat, had jumped through the window, toppling the chair that held the outer door shut. We were not being robbed—though on another night someone came and tried to take away a calf, but that is another story. For now we were safe, but at no thanks to having a half-wild animal as our guard dog.


The second Tippy story is set in East Missoula, where we lived when I was in the 7th grade. This was the best house we ever lived in while I was growing up, though probably no more than 700 square feet. There was a porch swing where my mother and I used to sit in the evening and sing “Whispering Hope.” A nice lawn and a flower garden with huge peonies, and a pie-cherry tree, these were things we had never had before. My  “room” was a tiny, enclosed porch at the opposite end of the house from the real porch, the only time I ever had a “bedroom” of my own. Because we were now living “in town,” Tippy was restricted to a heavy chain when he was out in the yard. Neither coyotes nor Australian shepherds are large animals, and in fact, if you shaved off his long hair, he’d have been a pretty small dog. One day a neighbor’s black Labrador came into our yard and attacked Tippy. In this instance his native instincts served him well. One well-placed bite on the jugular vein and the Lab was no more.  Our neighbor was outraged that our dog killed his, but hey, Tippy was in his own yard, on a chain. 



By my ma, Delta


12 May 2024


Story by my ma, Delta. Thank you, Ma.

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