Books and Beyond

I can’t wait to start reading another chapter or two of “Lassie Come-Home.” But I don’t want the book to end too soon. Sometimes I read it out loud. I’m paying attention to places, people, and of course to Lassie, the purebred collie, as she is often described. There is a map inside the front cover of the book. I get out our atlas too.

You just read what I wrote in my journal one day in early January as I was beginning to read “Lassie Come-Home.”

Each chapter has a sketch of Lassie by Marguerite Kirmse, and you probably know the author is Eric Knight. The book was first published in May 1940, and it was on the bookshelf by my family’s dining room table as I was growing up.

Lassie’s owners in Chapter One, the Carraclough family, live in northern England — Greenall Bridge in Yorkshire. As for Lassie in the first few chapters, the daily place she goes is to the school where 12-year-old Joe Carraclough will come out the door at 4 p.m., and they will walk home together.

Early in the book her owners need to sell her because the father is out of work at the coal mines. So Lassie is taken to her new owner’s home — the Duke of Fridley in the Highlands of Scotland. One day she is at a gate that will soon be closed. A young girl decides to leave the gate open long enough for Lassie to get started on her long journey south, back to the home and people she misses each day.

If I were teaching the book, I would ask students “If you were Priscilla, the Duke’s granddaughter, would you have held the gate open so Lassie could run back home?” Then, “Pick out the person or persons in the book you like the best because of how they treat Lassie.”

In most of the chapters we follow Lassie on her 400-mile journey south to her home. She meets many people on her travels.

Right after Lassie crosses the Tweed River on her way into northern England, she is hungry and comes to a farmplace with chickens. Dally and Dan are sitting in their house after supper, and they hear a noise coming to them from outdoors by their chickens. It’s a dog lying in a ditch. They bring Lassie indoors and lay her on a rug by the fire. Lassie senses that she is safe. These people spoon milk into Lassie’s mouth, and the woman sits by the fire all night to be with the “bonnie dog.” The man of the house goes into town to see if anyone has lost a dog of Lassie’s description, but he doesn’t find anyone. Now he and his wife hope to keep this beautiful dog.

When Lassie gets stronger, she begins to get restless, especially in the late afternoons. The couple walk the dog out to their gate one day and say goodbye to her. Dally is crying, and her husband says he will buy her another dog. She says no, another dog would not make her happy. He says he will buy her a cat, and she likes that idea.

Another favorite person of mine, and I think of Lassie’s, is Pedlar Palmer, the Potter. His first name is Rowlie, and his horse is Bess. He takes his van over the road once a year to sell pottery that his brother makes. Palmer lives in the van during this time, and so does his little white dog Toots, a mixed breed. Rowlie sings as he drives the van along. One day he sees a collie who seems to be hungry, so he gets some pieces of liver. Lassie is suspicious at first, and Palmer feeds liver to Toots first. That way Lassie will know the food is good for her to eat too.

Ordinarily Palmer might not travel south now, but he can tell that’s the way the collie wants to go, so he heads in that direction. One evening Palmer stops in a village to sell pots, and we meet several women who gather around and remember him from previous visits. Pretty soon Toots does tricks — stands on a ball with a flag in his mouth. Lassie won’t do tricks, but when Toots is done, she takes the ball and some hoops over to the van!

These are just some of the people who meet Lassie, and they know right away what a wonderful dog she is. They sense she is on her way somewhere important to her, and they help her continue to travel to her home.

It isn’t long before Joe comes out of school one afternoon and there is Lassie! When he is sitting with his family that evening, he tells them Lassie’s name is now Lassie Come-Home.

There is much more that happened on Lassie’s journey, and I could tell you more about my journey with Lassie. My journal is many pages long. One thing I learned was that people who treat an animal with love and caring are such nice, unselfish people who are tuned in to the needs of an animal who is at first a stranger to them. I think they would be just like that with me if I were on a journey like Lassie was.

Plum Creek Library System has “Lassie Come-Home” as well as many other classic books that are on my reading list.