Rick Bragg writes the way I only wish I could write.
There’s something about writers from the South. The ones who should make me laugh do just that. Then there’s James Lee Burke, whose mastery with prose is, for my money, beyond compare.
Bragg, a former newspaper journalist, who has a Pulitzer Prize among his awards, has written a book with a near and dear subject – dogs. Specifically, his newest book, “The Speckled Beauty: A Dog and His People” is a treasure that must be read.
It seems the most difficult columns to write have been when I tried to put into words the emotional roller-coaster ride of having to euthanize our Golden Retrievers, Sam and Chester. These columns have also elicited the most written response from readers.
While writing them, there have been several breaks necessitated by having to clear the tears. Let’s face it, dogs become a part of the family and them being gone leaves a void that, if it ever subsides, is as slow as sorghum running down the side of a jar.
Bragg, trying to be surly, writes of Speck’s penchant for bad behavior and disruption. The dog was a gift, but didn’t come with a cute bow, which would have virtually unseeable because of the matted fur.
Speck just showed up on Bragg’s expanse of land near Jacksonville, Alabama. He was a stray, abandoned and seemingly incorrigible. The pet adoption events that are all the rage every weekend had a similar occurrence here.
Only this was adoption in reverse. Speck adopted Rick, his mom and even his brother Sam, a focal point of the book. Sadly, Sam, who initially had little use for Speck, died in April after battling pancreatic cancer. Gradually, Sam came to provide the love that Speck inspired.
Bragg has been battling health issues, seems to revel in sharing Speck’s obstinance and contrariness. When I caught up with him, he was brining lunch to his mom. Before he could make that delivery, a full-blown scuffle ensued as Speck wanted to be part of the logistics team that approved comings-and-goings.
The dog, despite several jaunts to who-knows-where, always returned. Mom, not a Speck fan early on, cooks for the pet. It sounds like a dog, who was first viewed as a dog, now noshes on cocktail wienies from the table.
As I absorbed its pages, “The Speckled Beauty…” was responsible for my laughing and being amazed how Bragg can tug at my heartstrings.
“Homespun” is a word that might age me or pigeonhole me as being Southern. But Bragg’s devotion to his family, in a day when we are bombarded with examples of this becoming a rarity, is a treat.
His other books (“All Over but the Shoutin,” “Ava’s Man,” “The Prince of Frogtown,” and many others) will be a blessing to anyone who finds one in their Christmas stocking.
I am convinced I can come close to matching Bragg’s family stories, laugh-for-laugh. Organizing them is something that is something that I need some help doing.
Somewhere there is a reader with that type of knowledge. That’s the gift that is numero uno on my Christmas list. Put me in, Coach!
Mike Tasos’ column appears every other weekend. He also has a few random thoughts: “Good riddance, Brian Kelly;” “The possibility of a delayed MLB season means the owners still know how to step in it.” He is on Facebook and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.