In the 1940s, Willie Morris was an only child in possession of a singular dog: Skip knew how to play baseball. Residents of Yazoo City, Miss., occasionally saw the English smooth-haired fox terrier cruising by behind the wheel of a green DeSoto. Here was a dog who could keep secrets whispered in a tree house and spend the night in a graveyard on a bet.
Morris evokes the "spooked-up and romantic" atmosphere of life in a small Delta town where swimming holes beckon on languid afternoons and the air is fragrant with honeysuckle. Not hindered by planned activities, a young fellow had time to sip a Nehi Strawberry and talk with old men while they whittled. And if things got a little too slow, well, you could count on Skip. A born music critic, he once responded to the painful warblings of an unfortunate soloist at the First Methodist Church by inciting a pack of canines to howl.
They were never apart. Lying in bed with Skip asleep in the crook of his legs, Morris writes, "I would put my hand on him and feel the beating of his heart."
Skip's death shortly after Morris arrived at Oxford as a Rhodes scholar brackets the end of his childhood. This book is both a loving tribute to his companion and a lyrical remembrance of vanished innocence. (Random House, $15)