A Dog Named Jake

By Thomas Hart Benton

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of August, 1946:

He was with us for eleven years. Rita found him on a farm west of Kansas City. He was friendly and Rita took to him. The farmer who owned him saw this and said, “If you’ll give that dog a good home you can have him.” T.P., our boy, who was then 8 years old, was delighted. So was the dog. We named him Jake because he was a country dog, a country jake, who hadn’t learned city ways. Jake had a laughing face. His mouth was so set that, active or in respose, he had a smile. Even when he was sad.

Jake was a traveler. He sat with T.P. in the back seat of our car on the long trips from Kansas City to the summer on Martha’s Vineyard. He was fascinated by the speeding world out the window. He would sit upright on his haunches, his tongue rolling out of his laughter, he ears erect with the spit of well tasted pleasure dripping off his lips. When he got tired he’d lie down on the seat and he and T.P. would battle for room. They loved each other.

On Menemsha Pond T.P. had a rowboat with a small centerboard and a red sail. Every afternoon T.P. and Jake would board this vessel and sail the pond. Sometimes Jake would sit in the stern with T.P. and sometimes by himself in the bow. If he got tired of this he’d jump overboard and swim to land. Then he’d bark at T.P. from the shore, running up and down, full of a tense glory of life. Back in Kansas City, Jake went along when his partner was taken to school. He learned the way and sometimes when the long wait for the return trip was too tedious he’d slip away and run the two miles or more to the school house and wait outside until closing time. Then he’d play with T.P. and the other boys till Rita arrived..

After three years had passed Rita took T.P. to Italy to visit her mother. This was a sad time for Jake. Over the years he’d given me little attention. Now, however, he clung to me and I took him with me on a long roundabout tour of the south, which ended after seven weeks, at the docks in New York, where we met the boat returning his real master and mistress. There was a high rail fence between the passage way for debarking passengers and the people who had come to meet them. I stood by this fence trying to catch a glimpse of Rita and T.P. in the crowd of voyagers. But Jake beat me to it. The chain leash in my hand twisted suddenly and before I knew it Jake’s full grown seventy pounds of muscle and tawny hair was soaring over the fence.

No one who saw that meeting of boy and dog could ever forget it. The travelers and those who met them stood aside to watch the play of Jake’s ecstasy. His yaps of joy sailed up over the arching girders to the high roofs of the dock and came back to pierce your heart. This was a high point of life and those who saw recognized it.

When Jessie was born into our family Jake was opposed to her. But after a while, and as T.P.’s older concerns failed to provide him a proper share, he relented and took her into his life and played with her and helped her grow up. The war days came for T.P. and took him away. Jake then went over to Jessie, though for many weeks and especially when Jessie was in bed, he’d sit up with his ears cocked, listening. We knew he was on the alert for a sound of T.P. He’d moan in his sleep and sometimes wake up with a bark and go upstairs and sniff around T.P’s old room, then he’d go back to listening.

T.P. was in far-off Tokyo, gone our of Jake’s life. Jessie was now 7 years old. Her return from school always snapped Jake into life, and he’d romp and play with her as if he were still a pup. He rode East this summer, taking his old place in the car, laughing the miles by. For three years, due to the war, he’d been travelling unhappily on trains and he seemed now to be revivified by this return to old and familiar ways of going places.

Last week Jake started sleeping a good deal. When he was awake he was given to listening again, as if for something very far away and very faint. I like to believe that a part of him was pointed back to the early times with T.P., back beyond the days to those of the little boat with the red sail, where he sat with his devoted partner and sailed Menemsha Pond and barked and laughed in the fullness of young vitality and joyous companionship. Those were Jake’s ultimate days, the days of his high success, and surely they were not lost to his old dog’s memory.

On August 2, about three in the morning, Rita and I were both awakened by a strange, prolonged wail. It was high-pitched and mournful, wild and without definite locality, like something coming out of far spaces or distant times. When we got up we found Jake dead. His head was lifted a little, his ears were erect, his eyes were open, and his smile was still with him. We wondered how this could be in view of the utter sadness of his death cry.

Jake is buried beneath a young pine tree in front of our house. A young sculptress, who has a dog of her own and knows what it means, is carving his name on a stone. The stone comes off the beach at Menemsha Pond over whose waters and about whose shores Jake tasted most of the sweetness of his life.