“The Old Dog for the Hard Road, the Puppy for the Path” was one of my Dad’s favorite expressions as I grew up. I had no idea what it meant but whenever he said it – it was with quiet resignation that he was to do the chore that was the most unpleasant, most challenging, and least rewarding.
Funny how as I have aged, some of my parents’ expressions have simply drooled out of my mouth. I have no idea where they came from and am convinced that even if I tried, I could not find them purposefully in my archives of expressions.
“Bob’s your uncle” – when something is simple to do.
“Lickety split” – when something can be done quickly.
“A spit and a polish” when you don’t have time to do a complete job so a once-over will do.
“Six of one, half dozen of the other” – when the choice doesn’t matter.
And of course, “The old dog for the hard road – the puppy for the path” – it takes a veteran to do the hard job.
My Dad used to work hard in the bush, clearing scrub brush and dragging to to the bonfire pit, chopping massive blocks of wood with an axe, and planting acres and acres of potatoes. There was always so much to be done on the farm. It kept both my parents very busy. And to make matters worse (for me because I hated doing chores and was roped in to helping), they made maple syrup in the spring and grew raspberries in the summer. There was ‘ner a season that could be declared “work-free”. I am sure, though, that this business kept them fit both physically and mentally.
So often, though, I remember people coming to the farm and offering to help Dad chop wood for winter. In exchange they would get a load full of fire-wood for themselves. Dad had a pretty powerful Huskvarna chain-saw and so he would be the one doing the felling of the tree and the chopping up of the big pieces. Guests would be assigned the task of clearing up the smaller branches and the leaves. Dad was pretty meticulous about the clean up as he was very proud of his bush. Imagine, 80 acres, and you could walk almost anywhere via a clean path. I used to love taking walks down the paths that he would create though the bush. The sun would shine ethereally through the young, tender shoots to make me believe I was standing in my very own Heaven on Earth.
Time and time again, however, our guests would tire out, leaving Dad to do the final clean-up. It was as though he had no off switch. The sweat would pour off his face and penetrate his work shirt. He was relentless. One, two, three loads of scrub brush were loaded and carted in the back of the old pick-up truck and laid out in the open field by the bon-fire pit to dry. “Just one more load” he would say to our guests. “It won’t take me long”.
“Bill – I don’t know how you do it”. I would hear the guests explain to my Dad.
“Well”, he would say, “You know – the old dog for the hard road, the puppy for the path”.
Just this past summer, Kevin and I were on our final leg of our morning walk. This particular leg happens to be where there is a small area that cuts behind some private property and through a small portion of the Bear Creek. It is not paved, it is not manicured, and certainly not plowed in the winter. Our dog, Jazz, comes with us on the walk and it is on this portion of the trip where she is permitted to bound out in front of us. It was almost shocking one morning when I watched Jazz scoot ahead of us. It hit me like a ton of bricks – the expression about the old dog and the puppy. I guess it was seeing Jazz on the dirt path that triggered a long-buried memory that, as a child, I thought I would never forget.
Now – this expression has become my own – and I am the old dog taking the hard road. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Guess Dad was right!