A Long Short-Story About a Boy and His Dog

Remembering Maggie by Mike Roberts

From the time I was a kid some of my favorite books, songs, and movies were themed about boys and their dogs. Topping that list were Lassieand Old Yeller,mainly because I could relate to the sentiments expressed by little Timmy and Arliss. During the late 1950s, whenever Wayne Martin sang Red Foleys Old Shepon stage at Huddleston High School, a hush would fall over the audience as emotions brought on a flood of tears some of which were mine. A talented musician and vocalist, Wayne could sing the song about that old German shepherd better than Elvis ever once did even though I cried each time I heard the King singing it, too. In the early 1960s, Wilson Rawls authored a novel entitled Where the Red Fern Grows. That account of a boy and his coon dogs roaming the Ozarks takes me back in time when one of the most memorable parts of my life was following a redbone hound through the woods. The difference being, Rawlsstory was fictional; the one you are about to read is true.    



While catching up on work at home a few nights ago, I pushed back from my desk piled high with a backlog of other people’s expectations long enough to walk outside for a visual embrace of the November night sky. As autumn’s first cold front drifted southward, the heavens over Virginia were purged of the usual atmospheric haze, thus magnifying the radiance of a million shimmering stars. Constellations of bears, wolves, and hunters, so easily recognized as straight-lined renderings, remained hidden from an exhausted imagination. All was peacefully quiet, except for a pair of great-horned owls communicating their January plans to claim a vacant red-tailed hawk’s nest on the backside of our farm.

Then, as if mocking the silence, a lone hound struck a hot track a half-mile or more downstream of the property boundary. Almost immediately, two other dogs joined their companion in the noisy chase that took them across several laurel-choked ridges. Predictably, the pursuit was short-lived, coming to an end in a stand of hardwoods standing in steadfast vigilance alongside Orrix Creek. Amplified by the still, crisp air, the chaotic bawling quickly changed into sweet, three-part harmony. Somewhere in the darkness, a couple of coon hunters were making their way toward the relentless baying. The hounds had treed!

For a few brief moments, I sided with the woods-wise raccoon, hoping the tree chosen in obvious haste was the same hollow one that had provided shelter through more than a few previous winters. Perhaps nature’s imperfection now offered emergency refuge – sparing the masked bandit to sport the pack another night.

Envisioned was a young boy holding tightly to his father’s hand as they carefully waded knee-deep across a stream reflecting slivers of golden light from a full moon and a kerosene lantern. Sympathy for the raccoon evaporated in the excitement of that youngster scrambling out of the water and up the cliff to the base of a giant, leafless oak. Anxiously casting the beam from his flashlight, he soon caught the glimmer of two eyes glowing like hot coals from a limb high overhead. Even above the overture of hound music, I could hear the boy shouting, “There he is Daddy, there he is, and he’s a big one!” Read the rest of the story here.

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