My grandfather and the 10 Tobys (all of his dogs were named Toby) avoided the Middaugh brothers, who lived on a neighboring farm at the bottom of the long, steep road that connected most of the farms in the area when I was a boy. The road made a quick turn just before the Middaugh house, and a couple of trucks had over the years missed that turn and ended up in the Middaugh yard, much to the brothers' dissatisfaction. They were very private, spoke with few and only on rare occasions, and despised visitors, especially dogs and runaway motor vehicles.
They tended to materialize from different directions, carrying rock salt-loaded shotguns to help escort trespassers from their property. They seemed to think the same thoughts at the same time, and though they seldom spoke, when they did, they often said the same thing simultaneously. Having lost a brother decades earlier, they were the remaining 2/3 of triplets, and an essential component seemed missing from the conversation. They placed long pauses into their sentences, for example, as if waiting for that missing brother to participate. They were nice enough, but they had no tolerance for anyone coming onto their land for any reason.
I had heard the Middaugh shotguns up close more than once, because the Middaughs had the best patch of blackberries in the county down at the creek behind their barn, and those berries called to me in their little blackberry voices until I gave in. But I had found myself clamoring through the brush more than once when a shotgun warning blast fired.
I was at my grandfather's place one day when school was closed for snow. The road out front was shut down, so I decided to get out the toboggan and started building a slick path through the three feet of snow, a track that got faster and longer the more I used it. It was a pretty steep hill, and the track was building some impressive speed.
Grandpa at one point decided to join in and got on the toboggan, and the dogs were distressed that they could not all fit on it as well. They pushed at each other until four made it on, and the sled took off.
Having lost a brother decades earlier, they were the remaining 2/3 of triplets, and an essential component seemed missing from the conversation.
Despite my advice, Grandpa had not relinquished his pipe, and he looked like a steam locomotive flying down the hill with his pipe billowing and his dogs lined up behind him, tongues flapping in the wind.
The additional weight of Grandpa himself, along with four good-sized dogs, generated much more speed than expected, and they flew down the hill with no hope of making the turn at the bottom. Grandpa never learned to steer a toboggan, anyway, being accustomed to steering wheels, and toboggans are notoriously devoid of steering wheels. Grandpa and the four dogs hit the embankment and rocketed into the air.
It was a beautiful launch, with clear skies and sunlight that highlighted the contrail of tobacco smoke still puffing from Grandpa's old Falcon pipe. The craft separated stages, with first one dog, then another, trailing off and plummeting unhurt into the deep snowbanks, only to leap out and chase Grandpa, who was still zooming and spinning through the air, boots flying off in one direction, hat in another, but his pipe tightly clenched in his teeth.
Finally, gravity took notice of the ruckus and grandpa began his descent, right through the Middaugh's bay window, followed by the first four dogs, then the other six who caught up.
I arrived at the bottom of the hill about that time, sure that I would soon hear shotgun blasts echoing from the grandpa-sized hole in the bay window, but was mystified instead to hear laughter.
I looked in the window to see Grandpa and the Middaughs smoking at the kitchen table with all 10 dogs sitting around them. The Middaugh's had not had a pipesmoking visitor in decades, and they were trading tobacco samples and talking about smoking techniques in this intense weather.
Sometimes a pipe can open doors that don't exist.