My First Trip
The dogs were hunting, but we had heard nothing to
indicate that they were 'finding'. It was cold,
colder than I had anticipated. It wasn't a problem
though, or at least I wasn't going to let on that it
was. I was all of eighteen years old and he was well
into his seventh decade. He was very definite in his
convictions, and he didn't care much for those who
failed to think matters through and come prepared. He
wore a coat. I hadn't. Why should he lose the
advantage of his forethought by taking me home to get
what I should have gotten before? I could see my
breath, and he could surely see the bumps on my
exposed flesh. Too bad for me.
We were just off what would best be called a sandy
path - the locals called it a road - standing in the
darkness awaiting the familiar sound of the oldest of
the dogs indicating that she had found a hot trail.
We hunted fox often, although in Florida that was all
you could do - hunt. No foxes were to be killed. I
am not sure that I saw the point in it, but he seemed
to enjoy the trips so much and I came to share his
love for it. It took a while, but I learned to
recognize the "voices" of the various dogs and could
even tell - I think - whether they were "on" a fox or
I really enjoyed the conversation. Not so much when
we were with a large group of hunters as when we were
alone, with perhaps a guest or two. The conversation
was different when there were several present. It was
lighthearted and enjoyable enough, but not what it was
when we hunted by ourselves or with only one or two
others. We were more honest with ourselves and
discussed issues of substance when we were alone. It
took me several trips to loosen up and talk - really
talk - but I finally did and I found that my mentor
was able to teach me great lessons when he learned
where I was in my thinking on an issue. He was not an
educated man, not as we use the term anyway; but he
knew many things about life and living and I am most
thankful to have been able to drink from that well.
He came up during the depression. His mother died
when he was young, and his father worked "off" in the
lumber business. He and his brothers would stay with
an aunt and uncle. He was OK with that. I, when he
first began to tell me of the situation, expected him
to complain about it - but then I didn't know him very
well. In fact, as I would come to learn, I didn't
know much about life back then either. He would do
all that he could to change that.
The dogs would strike a trail every once in a while,
but nothing serious enough to move the truck. As we
listened and waited and then listened some more and
then waited some more he would tell me stories. He
told of the discipline his father imposed on him and
his siblings. When his father would leave for work on
Monday morning - very early - he would waken his
children and talk to them.
"Now boys, you mind your aunt and uncle and don't
give them any trouble. Do your chores and earn your
keep. Everybody has something to do in life; you're
no exception. Work your lessons and don't fall
behind. And always remember, where you go and what
you do comes back to me. Don't do anything to hurt
He would leave and not return until late Friday
night. He had no choice. Work was scarce then and a
man had to take what he could get. There was no such
a thing as daycare, and without a wife a single man
simply didn't keep his children alone. It couldn't,
given the times, be any other way. He had to go and
they had to stay and the three of them knew that and
didn't regret it at all. He told me so and I believed
"Don't look like they're gonna do much tonight," I
said. Those first months of hunting with him found me
saying things like that a lot. I was young and hadn't
developed the patience needed to appreciate fox
hunting - even when the dogs were tripping over foxes,
let alone slow nights like this one.
"Give 'em time - it's early yet. They'll get one
"Tell me about your first wife," I said. He had
mentioned her before, but never in much detail.
"We married young. That's not important, but we did.
Times were hard and I worked at the shipyards in
Mobile. Things went well enough for a while, but she
took up with some old silly women and wanted to go to
hairdresser school. All them liberated ideas led her
off to stuff I couldn't tolerate and I had to put her
out. She forgot whose wife she was."
"I guess that happens sometimes," I replied.
I waited for more, but none came. In fact, as I
recall, that was the last time he ever spoke to me of
"We better drive over to the Highway and see if
they're over in that wood yet. Aint heard 'em in a
My First Trip
The dogs had struck a trail, but it was cold. They
would bark a while and then lay off. A few barks then
silence. About an hour after we arrived, an old
pick-up pulled up behind us.
"How y'all doin'?" the old man said.
"Pretty slow this ev'ning."
The two of them talked about dogs and hunting, their
wives, the weather, and numerous other things. Jim,
the man from the truck, turned to me and said, "You
ever heard of T Texas Tyler?"
"He's my half-brother."
"I didn't know that."
"That's why I told you."
"How's he doing?"
"Aint your fault. Didn't see him much anyway. Had
my own music to worry with."
He stopped there, but I knew that he only stopped to
make me ask him for more. He loved to talk - telling
stories gave him that opportunity.
"Where did you play?"
"Ever hear of the Drifting Cowboy Band?"
"Hank William's Senior's band."
"There is only one real Hank Williams. I was in his
Now, all 'original' meant was that he was in the band
before Hank hit big.
"How long were you with him?"
"'Bout four years. Went to Greenville, where he had
a reg'lar gig. He drank a lot back then. It was
always a problem. In fact, he would take the money
and drink it all up without paying us sometimes. That
'ventually led to my leavin'. I went to the owner of
the club in Greenville when we got hired on and made
him agree not to pay Hank until the end of the second
show. We did two shows a night. Worked for a while.
Everyone was happy - we got paid and the club got two
good shows. He was magic on that stage. One night
the owner's old lady gave Hank the pay after the first
show - he always had a way with the ladies - and he
went next door and drank it away. The club fired him
and we quit him. Didn't know he would hit it so big."
"What'd you do then?"
"Went to work for a dog food company goin' all over
the country playing music, telling stories, and
staging fox hunts."
Like me, Jim was born in Arkansas. He came along a
few years before me - May 28, 1903 in Mena, Arkansas.
He always loved hunting and dogs. He once said that
his life's dream was to own as many hounds as anyone
ever had. He loved his dogs to the end. At one time
he was a good judge of dogs, too. He bought one from
me, though, that wasn't fit to shoot. I told him so,
but he wouldn't listen. It was a stray that I penned
up and tried to make a squirrel dog out of, but it
wouldn't hunt what you wanted it to hunt - that is a
bad thing in a dog - choosing rather to chase what was
closest. Jim wouldn't have it any other way than to
pay me for it and make it his own. When he learned
what I had already told him, he wouldn't take his
money back either.
As I said, he loved to tell stories. One, in
particular, was most disturbing, but told with zeal.
"My grandfather, now there was a man. He was a
doctor, you know."
"No, I didn't know that."
"Yeah - an old country doctor. He was a good 'un.
He and his people came from Kentucky on wagons. Took
'em fourteen months."
"Those 'good ole days' were rough."
"Yep. He told me once of something that happened
when he was a young doctor. There was this young
couple livin' in a cabin with their three months old
baby. It was a hot summer night, and they weren't no
air-conditionin back then, so the windows was open.
There weren't no glass over the hole either, just
wooden shutters. They opened 'em up to git what wind
was blowin'. About four in the morning, the mother
woke up missin' the baby that was supposed to be
sleepin' between her and her husband. They lit the
lamps - lamps was fuelled with bear grease back then -
and put in looking for the kid. It weren't nowhere to
be found. The father rose quickly and went to my
grandfather. He always kept a good pack of blue
mottled hounds from Georgia. Grandfather quickly
dressed and horned the hounds to heel the horses and
rode off to the cabin. The hounds quickly took the
scent and left in full cry. The two men stayed as
close to the running pack as they could, and the
hounds came to bay not too far from the cabin at a
large hollow stump. Know what they found?"
I assumed that I did, but said, "No, what?"
"The baby's head. It had been put there and covered
with leaves. The hounds took the scent from there to
where they jumped and treed. Grandfather and the man
came to the hounds 'bout sunup and there, up in a big
oak tree, was a big black panther. Grandfather took
aim and brought it down with the first shot."
I didn't know what to say to that.
"Terrible thing to happen. Better go now. Good
hunting to you both."
"Take care of yourself."
"Watch out for panthers." There were no panthers
where we were. He got back in his truck and left.
Gruesome though it was, I liked his story, and I liked
the way he told it. I would have the chance to hear
many more in time.
My First Trip
"Sounds like the dogs are headin' over t'ward
"Want to ride over that way?"
I did. In fact, riding was my favorite part of the
hunt in those early days. John was his son-in-law.
He taught school in the local elementary school, and
taught adult-education classes at night. He would
become one of my best friends in time.
"Old John's a pill."
"How do you mean?" I asked.
"If ever there was a man who wanted to be a woman, it
"He'll sit and talk with silly women rather than
work. I'll tell you, you can't count on a body like
that. He'd rather shop than hunt or fish. He'll go
down every aisle and pick up every item and hold it up
and even talk to strangers about whether it's any good
He loved John. You might not could tell it at first
- I couldn't - but he did. He gave him a hard time,
but John took it well."
"John's all right, but he's got some funny notions."
I knew to ask: "What notions?"
"Take kids. He coddles and babies them. A kid needs
to know who the boss is. My father never babied me.
No sir. When he told me something, he meant for me to
know it. If he said do something, I knew to do it. I
knew better than to talk back. John's not that way.
He'll argue with a kid till he's blue in the face and
then walk away a loser."
"Well, times are different, I guess."
"No, there's still sixty seconds in a minute, sixty
minutes in an hour, twenty-four hours in a day, seven
days in a week, and fifty-two weeks in a year. John's
different, but time's the same."
I knew to leave that one alone.
"Now, don't get me wrong. I know my way is not the
only way to do things - it's the best way, but not the
only way. I never had kids of my own - you know
Gloria and Joyce were Myrtle's - but I always said
that if I did I'd do a right better job on 'em than
most folks do on theirs."
"What would you do different?"
"I'd get 'em out of bed at a decent hour, for one
thing. Kids sleep too much these days."
"What time do you think it best to get them up?"
"They'd be up at 4:00 A.M. with me - feeding and
gardening and such."
"Even during school?"
"Especially during school, when else are they to get
their chores done?"
"Most kids today don't even know there are two four
"Mine would, I'll tell you that much."
John wasn't home when we arrived, so we drove on. "I'm
gonna pull over up here and we'll listen for the
We did, but they weren't around.
"We may as well head in."
"All right. What about the dogs?"
"I'll get you in the morning and we'll find them."
In the morning was 4:00 A.M. It was 2:30 when I got
home. I walked out to the edge of the woods near my
trailer and looked up at the sky. It was cold. I was
cold. The evening was clear. The stars shone
brightly. I was tired, but it was OK. I was happy.
My friends and I had had a wonderful evening.
H. L. Gradowith