August. Hot. Sultry-steamy. Midnight. “Corn as high as an elephant’s eye.” Soft breeze blowing through the upstairs window. Little boy sleeping under a summer quilt on the floor in front of an old Sears-Kenmore box fan, circa 1955. Dog barking. Not just any dog, but Dewey, our dirt-brown, painfully arthritic, ever faithful, long-suffering, endlessly patient with a little boy, fox terrier. Angry, indignant barking. How dare you trespass onto my land, you criminal raccoon, soon to be between my teeth, barking.
I woke with a 5-year-old’s jump and joined my teenage sister at the window. She hushed me quiet. Hard to be quiet at 5 years old. Dewey had a raccoon up the big elm tree in our front yard. Strange name for dog, but my dad was a Republican true believer all his life and especially active in politics in the 1940s and ’50s. Go figure.
Rumblings downstairs. Muffled conversation. My mom’s voice. My dad’s voice. Cannot make out the words. Front screen door slams shut behind him, still muttering. My big sister hugs me tight yet keeps her eyes glued to the scene. My dad, under his breath: “We are getting too old for this, Dewey.” Flashlight in one hand, double-barrel 12-gauge shotgun in the other.
Not just any shotgun. One of a hundred shotguns that steamed out of the foggy mist one gray March morning in 1933. Model T’s and Model A’s, horses, buggies and buckboards all drifted out of the ethereal gloom, washing up behind one unremarkable little backwater barn and farmhouse. One clean-shaven, baby faced, stiff-jawed, hard-muscled, fighting tears in the eye, feet planted on the bottom step of the front porch like Atlas holding up the world by himself, sharecropper. One wife, arms crossed, side-by-side with Atlas, eyes swelled almost shut. She lost the battle against the tears a week ago and now they take her prisoner at will. Two round blond boys, sitting on the second porch step, crying only because their mother is crying, repeating the word “f’closhure.” The word that hung like a guillotine in mid-air. One auctioneer. One sheriff. One loan officer. All shotguns were broken open, no shells loaded, no shots fired. But no bids were taken that day. No auction chant was drummed. After an awkward half hour, the auctioneer borrowed an extra shotgun and carried one himself. It was the last foreclosure sale conducted in that county in the ’30s. The shotguns had decided enough was enough.
The flashlight’s feeble beam danced in the treetop as my dad searched for the criminal. Dewey charged the tree, jumping as high as he could — not very high. Growling, raging blood lust. Foaming at the mouth. “Size of the fight in the dog.” Shells loaded and the shotgun clicked shut. Big sister squeezing me too tight. Heart pounding in my head. 12-gauge turkey shot rips through the tree. Mortally wounded but desperately alive raccoon falls with a ka-whump onto the soft bluegrass. Dewey pounces like a jaguar, all teeth fast forward. Raccoons fight dirty and fight hard. All four feet are claws and teeth like razors. The champ and the challenger churn in a furious ball of blood, fur and hate, inseparable. My dad yells at Dewey to get away so he can finish the job with the second shell. Pointless. Dewey lives for these moments. Dull hot days as my play-horse, indignities of babysitting are all worth it now, with teeth sunk deep into a worthy adversary. Duty to kill what his master only wounded. Bravery, valor, glory, victory. Three minutes of mortal combat. Dewey senses the criminal is beaten and backs off just a little, finally hearing and heeding his master’s stern rebuke. One dying yet still snarling raccoon. One last shot of lead, the raccoon lies quiet, Dewey drops to the ground in exhaustion, eyes still glaring in rage, teeth bared in fury, old scars ripped open, new ones freshly bleeding.
Heartworms did what raccoons could not and Dewey was gone before my sixth birthday. Thirteen years of defending our little farm from all varmints large and small. Best friend a little blond boy ever had. FC
Gordon Shoger grew up on a farm in rural Missouri. Contact him at GLShoger@Sears-Methodist.com.