A grim milestone, the U.S. just passed 500,000 Covid deaths, which is more than WWI, WW2 and Vietnam combined. So much for, “It will disappear like a miracle” or “It’s no worse than the common cold.” And January 6th marked the murderous attack on the Capitol by Un-American, white supremacist, insurrectionist, traitors. (Hope I’m not being too harsh. Lol.)

These are definitely among the darkest days in our 244 year history. Texas Senator Ted Cruz helped inspire the seditionists which prompted calls for his resignation. But Cruz responded, “I ain’t going anywhere.” Of course this was before he abandoned ice-bound Texans for a warm Cancun vacation and then stooped to blaming it on his pre-teen daughters.

I should note I’ve been encouraged by Daily Press management not to write anymore about the former POTUS. (Actually, slightly more than encouraged.) So I decided to share a tale that luckily ended well during another very dark period in American history.

In 1963, a much-beloved JFK was assassinated and frankly I don’t think our country has ever recovered. Then came Vietnam, the assassinations of Malcom X, Martin Luther King and RFK leaving much of the country feeling hopeless and lost.

So it was, not long after Bobby’s death and Teddy’s heart-breaking eulogy, I dropped out of law school. Searching for hope again, and with the company of my Samoyed puppy, Jude, (named after the Beatles “Hey, Jude”) I took an extensive “road trip.” We traveled through the western U.S. and into the Canadian Rockies in my van which I had converted into a mini-home on wheels.

Months into the trip, we were driving in majestic Montana, the Big Sky state which is so vast it feels like you can see over the horizon. I decided to pull over at a rest stop, took off my shirt and, laying on a picnic table, enjoyed the solitude and sun. (While Jude eagerly went looking for squirrels.)

Suddenly, I heard a car sputtering in the distance. It was a dilapidated faded blue Ford Falcon, with steam bellowing from its radiator. It was weaving along the highway because the occupants, I would soon learn, were completely drunk. Finally, the car came to a stop near my table and two native Americans got out. One was almost my size but the other was a giant. The two were reminiscent of an Indian version of George and Lenny from John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men.”

“George” joked, “We’re Blackfeet but we really don’t have black feet.” Nervously, I feigned laughter but trouble seemed to hang in the air. Especially when “Lenny” began inexplicably stroking my long hair.

I quickly moved his hand away and asked if they needed water for their radiator but Lenny kept playing with my locks and if I needed help there probably wasn’t a soul within 50 miles. (In the movie “Deliverance” what happened to Ned Beatty’s character was what I worried might be in store for me.)

I went to the van to get water for their radiator but also to quickly find a “weapon” just in case. All I could grab was a potato peeler which, against Lenny, would be as effective as a Q-tip. However, I purposely left the van doors open.

I called Jude who thankfully dashed right over. He was normally friendly to strangers but not this time, as if he too sensed danger. Since he had literally grown up in the van, he was very territorial. I had taught him when I whispered, “Jude, get in the van,” he jumped right in. (Somehow whispering seemed to make him realize it was serious.)

As I was helping George pour water in the radiator, Lenny came up from behind and tried to put my hair in a pony tail to pull on it. Yikes! I quickly wiggled out of his grasp and whispered, “Jude, get in the van!” To my overwhelming relief he obeyed my command. Except when he turned around to face us, he had gone from sweet Samoyed to wild wolf as he growled like he was rabid.

Now George and Lenny were the nervous ones. They stood frozen as Jude paced back and forth in the van barking and even snapping at the glass window. The pair slowly tip-toed backwards to their car, apparently fearful this white wolf might tear them apart.

As they disappeared down the highway, I hugged Jude with such gratitude he wondered what had he done, before resuming his squirrel search. I had to laugh when I put my potato peeler “weapon” away and, albeit very briefly, gave thought to getting a haircut to avoid a similar experience.

A few years later, when I saw “Deliverance” I flashed back on that harrowing day. And yet I’m forever heartened by the memory of Jude as somehow he always managed to make any sad songs in my life so much better.

Jack is at: facebook.com/jackneworth, twitter.com/jackneworth and jackdailypress@aol.com