The Last Coonhound

Memories travel through your mind, like vacationers on a highway, sometimes there are more than you can count, and then that lonesome one comes straggling through.Sam is one of those stragglers. He travels through my mind every so often, bringing with him fond memories of a time when life was not nearly as complicated as it tends to become when we get older.I was eleven years old when I first met him. He was a young black and tan coonhound that my dad had traded a pocket knife and three dollars for. That in itself should have been an omen.My dad had been a coonhunter for as long as I can remember, and I would often wander the hillsides following behind, asking questions and annoying him on a regular basis.”What’s that sound?” I would ask.”Just an old owl.” He would reply.”What about that one?””That’s a squirrel, we must of woke him up walking around out here.” he would say.”I just heard a limb break, what is it?””That’s just the sound of me breaking a switch off this tree to whup your ass with if you don’t shut up and quit asking questions.”I had to admit dad had a way with words, although many is the time I did not like his words.As a coon hunter, my dad knew about dogs. He could look at a dog and tell immediately that it was a good one or that it wouldn’t, as he put it, “chase a biscuit.”That’s what always made me wonder about why he got Sam.

Black-And-Tan-Coonhound

Just a picture I found at i-love-dogs.com

We would keep him separated from the other dogs for a couple of day, and then ease him into the general population. Coonhounds can be a nasty lot, they will argue amongst themselves, or tie up and fight over having their space invaded by a newcomer. Since we didn’t want any shanking going on in the dog pen, we had to integrate Sam in with the others, Ol Ruby, Sparkplug and Lester.After a couple of days Lester, the self appointed Godfather of the dog pen finally started liking Sam and kind of took him under his wing.Unfortunately, Lester, who may have been the toughest of the dogs, was the worst coonhound in the bunch. A level of incompetence when it came to tracking raccoons that would only be matched and eventually overshadowed by Sam.The night finally came when it was time to take Sam and the others out for a hunt.We loaded them into the truck and drove over onto the far side of my grandfathers property (about two miles away). Dad dropped the tailgate and opened the box. The dogs spewed forth from the tiny opening, knocking the rheumatis medicine my dad always carried from his hand and spilling it all over the ground, where it was licked up by Sam. Who hiccupped and then staggered off behind the other dogs.“That dog sure walks funny.” I would later say, pointing out Sam’s wobbly gait.“Son of b*****! Drunk all my medication.” Dad would mutter.It wouldn’t be long until Sparkplug hit on a trail, and the baying of the hounds could be heard as they followed it through the hills and hollows.We stood by the truck listening to the dogs. When headlights appeared on the road behind us.”Good here comes Howard now. I hope he brought some more medicine.” Dad would say.I remember thinking that rheumatism must be some pretty bad stuff, because I had always hated taking medicine, but my dad seemed to like it. Then again I guess it worked, because dad drank plenty of the medicine and I never saw his rheumatism act up. I always thought it was funny that it never came in the bottles like my cough syrup and stuff came in. It was always in bottles, jugs, or Mason jars.Either way Howard produced a Mason jar full of the medicine and dad took a healthy dose of it, coughed and wheezed a few times, pounded his chest and said. “Alright, lets follow them dogs.”Now any hunter can tell that dogs have different barks and coonhounds are no exceptions, there’s the ‘okay we have hit a trail bark’ , the ‘okay this trail is hot (meaning recent raccoon activity) bark’ and the ‘holy smokes, he’s in this tree bark’.We were waiting for the latter.Finally the dogs treed the coon, down in the hollow near a little creek.As we hurried to the tree, I couldn’t help but think about the rheumatis again as I noticed both Howard and my dad were steadily taking large doses of the medication.Reaching the tree and shining our lights about, you could see Sparkplug jumping at the tree, Ol Ruby was chewing on the bark as if she were going to gnaw the tree into, and Lester was sitting down with his nose pointing toward the tree, barking occasionally. Sam was wobbling around, much the same as Howard and Dad, I noticed, and would let out the strangest bark I ever heard, followed by a hiccup.Dad spotted the coon up in the tree and shot it with a .22 rifle that he always carried and Howard ran over and got it before the dogs could tear it apart. We killed four raccoons that night and took them home and skinned them out for the fur and the meat.Lester, who was getting old would hunt with us four more times after that, until he got to where he couldn’t hardly walk, dad gave him to a friend of his who wanted to use him for breeding purposes.Ol Ruby and Sparkplug, made two more hunts with us, before they were sold to another coon hunter who had more money than he had sense.Sam endured. He would hunt with us six more times, right up until we moved and my dad quit coon hunting.The last hunt we made, Sam was the only dog. When we got out in to the woods and dad dropped the tailgate, he hopped out of the truck and took off sniffing for trails. After waiting at the truck for a couple of hours and never hearing the first bark, we decided to head back to the house.When we arrived at the house, we saw Sam sitting on the front porch.“Sam.” I said, as I ran up and patted him on his head.“He got here about twenty minutes after ya’ll left.” My mom told us. “Knocked on the door and said something about wanting some biscuits.”Dad quit hunting that night.Sam became more of the family pet kind of dog, instead of the wobbly, yet vicious, tracker of coons he had never once been.He was my best friend and would follow me everywhere I went, even when I didn’t want him to. I would be walking in the woods and he would be tiptoeing behind me, peeping out from behind trees or from under rocks.. On fishing trips Sam would often wade into the water to try to help me land the fish I had hooked or to try to help the fish, I’m not sure which.When we would play football in the front yard, Sam often made the game saving tackles, for one side or the other.When my mom would try to give us a whipping, Sam would save the day by chasing her back into the house.Sam stayed with us for three years after we moved. One day he walked out the front gate, and never returned. I hunted for him for weeks, and figuring he had met his end, I finally gave up.Other than in my memory, I would never see Sam again. Although my mom still remains a suspect.


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