Won’t run nothing but a possum, everybody says so.
Brag, Uncle NoPass’s thirty year old grandson met me at the door and I followed him across the polished wood floors, scratched and scarred by countless pairs of hunting boots. In the rear of the house, Uncle NoPass sat next to a gas floor heater that burned bright orange in the dim light., Once again, he was taking his own sweet time putting on his boots. “I always had dogs” he said bending to tie his boot.. “I couldn’t have but three cause that’s all my daddy would let me keep.” I was surprised that my grandfather let him keep that many considering there were eight surviving children and they made their living farming forty acres near Wedowee, Alabama in the 1930‘s. It was a hard living. “Rabbit dogs, squirrel dogs, possum dogs, coon dogs. I could have any I wanted, but I couldn’t have but three cause that’s all my daddy would let me keep. That’s why most of my dogs ran what I told‘em to.”
Not satisfied with the knot, he untied it and began again. Brag and I waited patiently though we had heard much of it before. Brag more than me. We loosened our cuffs and collars to vent the heat into the already over heated room. “ I always asked for shells for Christmas. Most of the time though all I got was some oranges and a few pieces of hard candy less’un Daddy had a good crop that year. I had to be a good shot, I hunted for my Momma’s kitchen. That’s where our meat came from cept when we butchered a pig. Most times it was to valuable for us to eat. We sold the best and et the scraps.”
Satisfied with his first boot, he turned his attention to the other one. It was rare for him to talk with pride about dogs that ran anything but a rabbit.. “Me and my cousin, Chester, had some good un’s” referring to dogs. “One night we were possum hunting and our dogs were barking treed on a little hill in the middle of a pasture. The closer we got, the worse something smelled. At the top was a dead mule that our dogs had treed. We finally put the leashes on’em to get the dogs to leave. They kept insisting that the dead mule was a possum. Chester said ” Did that mule move?” It’s dead, how could it move? About that time a possum came from inside the dead mule and run’d down the outside and off into the darkness. The dogs lunged for the possum and jerked me over on top of that swole up dead mule and all the gas came swooshing out from where the possum did. Stank? Lord it stank. Chester started laughing and then he smelt it and got sick. I took a bath in the branch trying to get rid of that smell but it was in my nose. I smelt it for weeks. The next time I smelt that bad a smell was in the South Pacific. Did I tell you I was in the South Pacific in World War Two? Three years nine months and 22 days without a pass. I wanted to be a driver but……”
He then stopped and said a troubling thing. So troubling that Brag and I exchanged glances. “I’m near eighty four years old and I can’t keep taking you boys hunting all the time. Ya’ll gonna have to do it yourself sometime. But lets go, I’ll show you how to do it, again,”
On this hunt, Uncle NoPass hunted for less than an hour before he went back to the truck and waited for us. In doing so, he has only himself to blame for missing the great possum hunt of 2004.
We made a revisit to Mr. Murty’s place out past Bleeker. Kate and Robyn jumped at the same place and the (same?) rabbit ran the same route as the last time. And once again with the same results. The briars were just to thick once he got to them. The next time we’re going to station someone where he has entered the acre of cane briars that tower seven feet before we work the dogs. I could see Uncle NoPass as he made a wide loop leading back to the truck. The dogs got tired of fighting the briars and came out. Brag and I started leading them back to the truck when they jumped. Kate let out the most enthusiastic squeal I have heard come out of her this year. Robyn joined in and the race was on. It was a gully, some fifty yards by thirty yards, thickly covered in blackberry briars, and willow sapling’s edged with patches of broom straw. Around and around the dogs went. Brag, Mr. Jones and I stood on pine stumps peering into the bottom seeing only the white tips of the dogs tails and sometimes their back. Of the rabbit, all we saw was the occasional flash of gray, There was never enough time to get a shot. Ten minutes into one of the most tightly ran race this year, the rabbit saw an opportunity and broke for the side that Brag was guarding. As he moved into the open pines, I saw Brag flip his shotgun up and lean forward and…..put it down. Laughing, he called out “It’s a possum.” The possum scaled a small sweet gum and peered down at us while we leashed the dogs and lead them back to the waiting truck.
We told Uncle NoPass about his dogs running a possum and waited for the usual explosion about his dogs being the best dogs in these parts won’t run anything but a rabbit. Everybody says so. Instead he started laughing and asked “I got possum dogs?” The very idea seemed to tickle him. “I bet they are best possum dogs in these parts. Won’t run nothing but a possum. Let’s go home. I need to tell the wife we need to take a nap so we can go possum hunting tonight.”
If you’ve made it this far, you are one of the Uncle NoPass faithful. I had set a hunt up this Saturday. It was troubling when he suggested Brag and I had to learn to hunt without him. Then he begged out of the hunt saying he didn’t feel well. Nothing particular wrong, just didn’t want to hunt. I told him, Brag and I were planning our annual Martin Luther King Jr. day rabbit hunt and if he felt up to it …… He said maybe if he felt better but if he didn’t to just get his dogs and go without him. Melancholy would be the best way to describe my mood. The end of an era is coming.