In 1954, our family moved from the city of Dearborn, Michigan, to apple country in rural Ann Arbor, Fran had a new house built for us, on an acre of land, located on a private cul-de-sac road called Sumac Lane. The name Sumac, came from a wild shrub, growing abundantly everywhere on our road. It’s leaves in the fall turned a bright flaming red color. The plant is thought to be poisonous.
Fran hired a contractor to build the house, but he drew the floor plans from scratch, although he hadn’t any architectural training. With those plans, we obtained both a building permit from the county, as well as a mortgage from the bank. I was overwhelmed by what Fran did and very proud of him.
Living in apple orchard country was wonderful. The air was fragrant with the scent of apple blossoms and flowering fruit trees. The surrounding hills and valleys offered plenty of open space for children to explore. Frogs and tadpoles were in the small stream; our kids could puddle and splash in. There were hills on which to go snow sledding, and a gravel road with little traffic, to safely ride bikes on. The surrounding lands had wild flowers and berries to pick and at night, without any city lights, we could see millions of stars in the black evening sky. We enjoyed the feeling of peace and tranquility and felt that life was safe and serene. The problems of city life seemed far, far away.
In the distance across the river, we had a panoramic view of the Geddes Pond, from our living room windows. It attracted a marvelous collection of migrant birds, including magnificent Canadian geese, along with an endless numbers of colorful ducks and swans. Our hillside lot also attracted an abundance of beautiful birds too…. flocks of brilliantly colored pheasants, fat quail with a feathery curl on the top of their head, large black crows that would steal anything shiny, and an incredible amount of robins and wild birds. There was an enormous supply of squirrels plus rabbits and an occasional skunk or deer.
Our next-door neighbor, Dr. Warner, was a prominent psychiatrist, who owned an enormously large German Shepherd that looked more like a wolf than a dog. His name was Boris. He was not at all friendly. His frightening eyes glittered like large, shiny pieces of coal. His tail was thick and bushy, and his dark black hair was scruffy looking and unkempt. The dog’s pointy erect ears swiveled back and forth, like a couple of antennas. Boris’s body seemed to be larger than it probably was, although he probably weighed over a hundred and fifty pounds.
The Warners kept Boris chained up outside their front door during daylight hours. No doubt he was trained to be a guard dog, so during the night, we believe he was unchained and was allowed to wander freely outside, in order to patrol the property. In the morning, before he was chained up again, Boris had the freedom, to meander through the bushes, across the bottom of our property. It was no doubt a custom of his, probably to visit Scuppers, a large purebred collie that lived across our lane.
Scuppers was a beautiful animal. He had reddish tan colored fur, soft brown eyes and a long gentle muzzle, which ended with an extremely wet, juicy nose. He was an adorable dog, charming, pleasant, and very frisky. Scuppers spent most of the day playing at our house, so we began to feel as if he was our pet too. Our family loved him dearly, and Carole, our young daughter, and Scuppers developed a close bond. He would continually encourage her to pet him, and shake his paw. Boris never sought this same attention, since he never came near our family…. until one fatal day.
A few months after we moved into our newly built home, a disturbing incident happened. Early one spring morning, our two children, Tim and Carole, along with Grandma Lemm, who was visiting, were playing together, outside enjoying the bright sunshine. Since the weather was warm, our five-year-old son, Tim, was only wearing shorts and a tee shirt. All three of them were happily running around the yard, tossing a Frisbee, having such a good time, quite unaware of the danger lurking behind in the bushes.
On this particular morning, Boris was taking his usual excursion through the bushes below our lot. We think the movements our son was making running around his yard, attracted Boris’s attention and it irritated him. Without warning, the dog suddenly leaped out of the shrubbery, lunged at Tim, knocking him to the ground, and sinking his teeth into his leg. Terrified, Tim began screaming in pain. His sister and grandmother began yelling at Boris, trying to scare him away. Finally, Boris released his grip on Tim’s leg and fled back into the bushes.
I was in the house and when I became aware of what was happening, found Tim crying hysterically, with blood streaming down his leg. Not having a car, I managed to speak to Dr. Warner’s wife on the telephone, and she quickly drove up our lane, and took us to the Ann Arbor Hospital.
The doctors explained, that a dog’s teeth rips at the flesh, and because of the risk of infection, they could not suture the wound. Only a bandage could be placed on it. Consequently, the tear healed with a jagged scar, which remains today. Tim received a tetanus shot. The animal was confined, while rabies tests were analyzed. They were negative. Tim never again was able to feel any kind of affection for dogs, and was forever traumatized by the experience. No apology for the dog’s attack was given to him, but our family never forgot the distressing incidence,
One day a year later while I was home alone, I opened some windows for air. It was then I became aware of a loud noise. It was coming from the property next door. It sounded like an engine idling. Mixed in with that noise, I could hear the sound of someone frantically pleading and crying out for help. A man’s voice was screaming, “Help me! Help me! Won’t somebody help me?” I knew it was the doctor.
Instinctively, I knew I had to help him, but there was a problem. A few months before, I had spent a month in hospital. It involved several surgeries, plus physical therapy. One operation was on my spine, called a laminectomy. The doctors advised me to not put any strain on my back, until my incision was thoroughly healed. I was warned not to lift more than five pounds for at least six months. In spite of my physical condition, as soon as I heard the call for help, I hurried out the door and ran down the slope.
The grading that had been done when our lot was excavated left a bank of earth piled high on the border of our joint properties. Thank- fully, no fences had been built to climb over. The lot line had been defined many years before by the planting of a row of oak trees. As time passed, they grew enormously tall. Large roots grew up over the top of the ground. I was careful not to trip over them. Countless numbers of gray squirrels found a magnificent supply of food to eat. As I ran to the edge of our property, the squirrels scattered, and scampered up the spreading oak trees as though they were in the middle of a fire drill, causing acorns to rain like a hailstorm, down from the trees.
Under normal circumstances, I never would have attempted to slide down the six-foot embankment. Nevertheless, fearfully I did just that. There were endless varieties of thorny bushes, and shrubs, including blackberries, growing wild everywhere. As I slid down the sloping bank of dirt, the thorns reached out like fingernails, scratching my arms and legs, drawing blood, and catching hold of my blouse and skirt, as they attempted to restrain my effort.
Although the tractor was still idling, I still couldn’t see the doctor. Then I discovered he was lying on his back in agony, pinned to the ground, and frantically calling for help. Unfortunately, my worst problem lay ahead of me. When Boris spied me running towards the doctor, he immediately began to charge at me. He started racing around in circles in front of me, barking loudly, snarling and showing his menacingly sharp teeth. I was terrified. He looked so sinister. It was a warning to stay back. I kept remembering what had happened to our son. For a second, I froze; too terrified to keep moving forward. The dog was keenly aware that his master was hurt, and he definitely didn’t want anyone near him especially me. The doctor realized the situation immediately, and began calling Boris to come to him. His voice sounded weak; but nevertheless the dog grudgingly obeyed him.
Dr. Warner could easily have afforded to hire someone to do the maintenance and grading of his property’s gravel road, but he enjoyed doing the physical work himself. He owned more than twenty acres of land. Towards the rear of his “mansion” were a small barn, where he stored his wagon, bulldozer, and other landscaping equipment. He would pick up rocks and boulders, carry them in the wagon, and use them to line the edges of his driveway. On this particular day, the wagon was full.
The tractor was parked on a slight sloping grade. The doctor apparently had attempted to disconnect the tongue of the trailer hitch on the wagon, from the trailer ball, on the bulldozer. Because of the precarious position of the wagon, the load shifted sideways. The weight of the rocks evidently had been too heavy for the doctor to hold, and then the hitch must have slipped out of his hands, dropping him to the ground, and immobilizing him. The entire weight of the wagon had been on his right leg, and there was an ugly, deep indentation in it, from the hitch. He appeared to be in enormous pain.
I realized if I was going to free him, I would have to lift the tongue of the trailer hitch off his leg without anyone’s help. I straddled the hitch, took a deep breath, and with enormous effort, lifted it high enough over the ankle to free him. A person never knows where the strength comes from to achieve a difficult task. Boris continually moved menacingly, back and forth, around my legs, during the entire rescue process, all the while emitting ominous growling noises. The fear of him never left me.
It took even more exertion to pull the frail, wobbly neighbor up on his left foot. I then attempted to maneuver him towards his front door. Just in time, Jackson, his butler, followed by his wife, Lulu, who was the maid, came bursting out the front door, and began running towards us. Their arrival was a bit late. Still I was glad to see them. Jackson was able to shut off the bulldozer’s engine. Then both of them practically had to carry Dr. Warner to his house. I was grateful Boris went with them. Suddenly I was left standing alone, tired and exhausted.
Once again, I managed to crawl back through the prickly stand of overgrown bushes to our house. As I collapsed into a chair, I began thinking about what had just taken place; particularly my close encounter with Boris and I began to shake.
Later that evening, when Fran and I were in our lower level discussing the events of the day, we spotted the headlights of a car coming up our driveway. It was Dr. Warner in his Karmann-Ghia coupe. He carefully got out of the car and limped up to our door. His ankle still had a deep painful hole. It was easy to see that walking hurt him very much.
In his hand, Dr. Warner was carrying a bottle of wine, which he handed to me. Apparently this was his way of thanking me for coming to his rescue. No mention was made of the brutal bite Boris inflicted on Tim the previous summer. In spite of the fact that we have a great deal of affection for all dogs, it remained difficult to understand how a caring individual, would continue to allow a dangerous animal to run unattended in a neighborhood with children.
During the time we lived in the house on Sumac Lane, we never again allowed our two children the freedom to play outside, until we were sure that Boris was once again securely chained.
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