Volume III, No. 3, Spring 1976
by Janet Lauder drawings by Emery Savage
In the good old days in the Missouri hills it took very little to be socially acceptable--for the men anyway. For a woman to be highly respected in the neighborhood she was expected to spend her days and evenings in such pleasant pastimes as churning butter, butchering a hog or taking care of a passel of kids. While the women were busy with their wholesome tasks, the men amused themselves in a much different manner. They would go gallivanting all over the countryside chasing some noisy hounds that were hopefully chasing a coon. Actually nine times out of ten it was just a possum or a stray cat that had gotten mixed in the coon's trail. Wild tales have been passed down from father to son of the grand and glorious coon hunt and the inevitable kill. Men still go coon hunting for sport today, but just as in the past, women still don't take part. They're too busy washing dishes, ironing clothing or taking care of a passel of kids.
One evening when nothing was happening, my brother challenged me to go coon hunting with him. He was continually making snide remarks about girls, saying that a girl wouldn't go but two or three miles in the hunt before wanting to go back home. I was curious about this male sport, and since I was a girl, I decided to strike a blow for women's liberation and a personal blow against my brother at the same time. I accepted the challenge. I was in good shape, and I always could outrun my brother, so I bet him that I would be first to reach the hounds when they treed the coon. Winning the bet would certainly cut down his ego.
We decided to start at dusk. Now all I had to do was get my mother's permission. Ma isn't what you'd call fond of coon hunters. Whenever they're mentioned, she mutters under her breath about them being "jest plum stupid critters.'' Maybe she doesn't like them because when there's a hunt within twenty miles, sleep isn't exactly easy. The howling of a hound doesn't compare to a lullaby. When I first told Ma about the little bet on the chase, she was terrified that I would make coon hunting a habit, but she finally agreed to let me go. Smug after convincing Ma, I wasn't ready for her striking back. She was going to make sure I was well bundled up under pretense that I might catch a cold.
She neatly laid out all the clothes I would have to wear. With wide eyes and open mouth I watched her stack the clothes higher and higher. There were three pairs of long johns, a few flannel shirts, a heavy pair of overalls and innumerable pairs of socks. She added a floppy, old hat and jersey gloves to the pile, and, to top it all off, a pair of old army boots that must have been seven sizes too big. After I got all those clothes on, Ma realized that she had forgotten a jacket. I asked her to please make it a light one and she did. All five of them were lightweight.
Finally I was ready and I could hear my brother calling impatiently. Stepping out the door, I was instantly attacked by five ugly, smelly and thoroughly repulsive coon hounds, all wanting petting at once. For the only time that night I was thankful for my mother because my army boots took care of the dogs.
All the hounds had changed since the last time I had seen them. That really couldn't be Susie and Jack who just a couple of years ago were cute, adorable little puppies! There was Ralph, looking as dignified as ever, even while biting my leg. There was Blue and...Could that really be a dog? Good grief! Even while I was standing up, I was looking it right in the eyes. That, my brother informed me, was Stonewall, my brother-in-law's coon hound.
Ma yelled something out the door that sounded like a warning not to travel more than fifty miles away from the house, but I could hardly hear her above the horrible noise those dogs were making. It sounded like a cross between a bullfrog during mating season and a donkey with his tail shut in. the barn door. I was still marveling at how much bigger Stonewall's foot was than mine when those dear, sweet hounds decided to go and pick up a trail of something right off. They took off, my brother took off after them and I took off after him.
Whatever it was the dogs were chasing, it must have been a creature yet unknown, for the trail it led went through so many obstacles that the only thing that could follow it would have to be a combination marathon racer, shadow and bulldozer.
The first obstacle wasn't really that great--just a little spring-fed tributary that couldn't have been more than three feet wide. The only problem was that it was hemmed in by a lot of trees and sprouts. My smart alecky brother merely stepped across it. He's tall and he could do that, but I couldn't. If he could step across it, I could jump across, I thought. So I walked about five feet back and started to run.
After getting up out of the water and saying a few choice words about tree roots in the way, I splashed up the bank Co my brother who wasn't even trying to surpress his laughter. My clothes were soaking Wet, I was sneezing, and he was doubled up laughing.
Well, I could get the drop on him. It sounded like the dogs in the distance had treed something. While he was laughing his head off, I could run ahead and be the first to reach the hounds. He wouldn't laugh when I won the bet.
My brother had just realized that I was ahead in the race for the tree and was running after me to catch up when I hit something. Or it hit me one. Whatever it was, it was tangled around my feet, making me fall. My brother close behind me, leaped over me and ran on to the dogs, who sounded much nearer than before. He evidently thought I had just tripped, because he didn't stop.
Then when a shock went through me, I knew I had run into an electric fence! It was one of those that went on and off in spurts of electricity. I yelled and screamed in spurts, too. It took my brother only two minutes to return. He peered down at me and said, "Sis? I thought you was a hound what had treed somethin'. Aw, shucks."
After getting out of that fence, with a minimum amount of help from my brother, I was actually happy to go back to chasing those no-good hounds. They left the tree and started off on another trail, as evasive as the first.
Suddenly my brother yelled out. I froze. There might be danger just inches from me, like another electric fence. I just couldn't go through that again because this time he would recognize my howling, and wouldn't help me out again. There was a fence there, all right, but it wasn't electric. It was barbed' wire.
For once my brother was a gentleman and held the wires up for me to crawl through. I was halfway through the fence when all of a sudden those hounds came lumbering up. Stonewall ran into my brother and knocked him over. I felt little barbs stick into me all up and down my spine. To top it all off, when I was literally pinned down, Ralph, the best hound of the lot, started licking my face. There is nothing more revolting in this entire world than being unable to stop a ferocious beast from taking all the skin off your face, while at the same time permanently killing your sense of smell with its breath.
How I got out of that situation I'll never know. I think it was a mere matter of slipping off two jackets. Since the dogs had hopelessly lost the trail, we decided to go home. I talked my brother into taking a long detour around those fences I had become so attacked to earlier. He agreed, but I still came out with the worst end of the deal.
When we had crossed that first small creek, there was still a little light, but now it was very dark. The place we chose to cross this time was six feet wide. I decided to go first because my brother had gone first last time, so that must be luckier. I was more wet than lucky when we passed that creek.
When we finally got home, I was so exhausted I could have fallen asleep in all those wet clothes. I walked in the door. There was Ma sitting up and waiting for us and my final ordeal. I had to trip over my own feet and sprawl out in front of Ma like a Moslem worshipper. She looked surprised and said, "Does that mean you ain't never goin' huntin' agin?"
Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.
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