“Good neighbors make good fences.”
Well sir, on most enny other occasion I’d begin my tale by tellin’ you how th’ past few days has been so hot thet Big Mud Lake’s been evaporatin’ ev’ry morning (and corndensin’ back down agin each night), thet the few scanty clouds over Barren County is startin’ to look burnt around the edges … whilst cats has taken to jumpin’ down wells to cool off, and folks’ gardens are growin’ dried tomatoes and dee-hydrated corn. Fact is, though, I ain’t got time to waste on such foolishness today, ’cause I got me a coon hunting story I’m jist a-dyin’ to tell.
As you may well know, the folks in Plumtree Crossin’ (including those liars and rib-pokers down at the town’s Gen’ral Store) never josh about Ott Bartlett’s or Newt Blanchard’s false teeth. To tell the truth, the mere topic of store-bought food mashers is so dang nigh unmentionable ’round these parts that I’d almost fergotten this yarn altogether. Howev’r, I jist paid a visit to Lick Skillet’s in-famous tooth fixer (who drilled a darn sight bigger hole in my wallet than he did in my mouth, you kin bet), and thet feller’s dental deliberations kinda “jawed” my memory.
A few years back, you see, thet aforementioned dentist offered a onetime special on dentures … an’ the offer were so uncharacteristically reasonable thet both Ott and Newt (whose choppers did need more reconstruction than th’ South after Appymattox) took advantage of the opportunity to avail themselves of some artyficial food chewers. Well, for weeks after the overhauls was completed, those blowhards couldn’t stop braggin’ … each of ’em claimin’ as how his set of gleamin’ choppers was so far superior to the other feller’s thet the unfortunate old fool oughta sew his lips shut in embarrassment.
Now, thet gabbin’ woulda ‘mounted to less import than a discussion on the aromatic qualities of old footwear if Clarence Smithers hadn’t suggested–it bein’ the time of July when the moon’s plumb full–thet they should all set out on a nighttime raccoon hunt. And seein’ thet Purvis Jacobs allowed as how he might bring along some jugs of his homemade whiskey, the whole slew a’ chair-warmers was more’n eager to join in the expydition. So–at the appointed hour–they all showed up, loaded down with firearms and lanterns, at the edge of Wishful Crick Wilderness. Actually, both Ott and Newt fergot to bring enny lights, but folks reckoned thet th’ pair’s new molars could do plenty of illuminatin’ … even iffen the moon all of a sudden turned her backside to the earth and made the night darker’n Satan’s tonsils.
Well, once the boys had found theyselves a nice wooded hilltop to set at, they begun buildin’ some ex- and internal fires (both types of conflagorations was set ablaze with the help of Purvis’s potable lighter fluid) whilst Clarence let his ol’ blue tick, Belle, loose so she could try to scare up a coon. And, as you might imagine, by the time of Belle sounded the choppy “Yo Yo Yo Yo!” bark thet meant she’d treed one of the sleekfooted rascals, ev’ry member of Plumtree Crossin’s Finest Huntin’ Assembly was about as tight as a school of catfish in a teakettle.
“Let’s ketch thet coon! ” Clarence gurgled. So he and Purvis and Lafe and Skeeter Ridges and Lem Tucker peeled theyselves off’n the forest floor and lighted out as fast as their wobbly legs could carry ’em (lookin’ for all the world like a bunch of waterbugs in slow motion). Ott and Newt, howev’r, stayed behind … bein’ as somebody had to “tend the fire.”
Ol’ Newt waited a respectful time (thet is, till the rest of the boys was fair out of sight), took a good swig of Purvis’s liquefied flame stoker, and said, “You know, they’s nothin’ I’d rather do than sit around a warm fire with a full jug, coon huntin’.”
” ‘Cept eat, maybe,” Ott replied, “especially now I got this deluxe pair of ivories to chew with.”
Hell’s bells!” snapped Newt. “Those gumdrops of yourn couldn’t chew spit! But my set of stalaggymites and tites, on th’ other hand, are enough to make Crystal Caverns turn green.”
The real coon hunters, though, were havin’ a considerably rougher go of it. Ev’ry time they catched up to Belle and shined their lanterns in the tree she was barkin’ up–so they could git a bead on Mister Coon’s gleamin’ eyes–thet rascally varmint’d skeedaddle outa whatever other tree it’d jumped over to, and have the whole kit ‘n’ kaboodle of ’em off and runnin’ agin. Before long, the wily raccoon had led the whole wobbly pack of fellers over a geegantic, kneebone-crackin’ rock slide … acrost a river (in which ev’ry stone was slicker’n spilt punkin on ceement) … and through a mile-long rhododendron thicket which was such a tangly, grabby, snappy, eyepokin’, and downright obstinate obstacle thet those fellers come out the other side lookin’ worse’n the guests of honor at a panthers’ paddywhackin’ party. And then–to kinda cap off its evenin’ merriment–thet masked mischiefmaker (which had a sense of prankin’ thet only a critter raised around Plumtree Crossin’ coulda inherited) circled back and started leadin’ the tattered remnants of the Gen’ral Store Coon Huntin’ Society back toward the very spot they’d started out from in the first place!
Ott and Newt, by this time, had yanked their jaw fillers out of they mouths and was busy pointin’ out the specific virtues of the oral ornyments. And they’d jist set both chompers down (to rassle for grips on Purvis’s gum-soothing inebriant) when they heered a horrifyin’ advance of hootin’s and bayin’s and carryin’s-on thet set ’em to grabbin’ teeth and scramblin’ up inta the limbs of the nearest tree.
Now those two geezers learned instantly–once they’d secured some perches and throwed the rescued choppers inta place–thet they had each grabbed the wrong set of teeth! But afore they could even reopen their jaws, they heered a frantic scurryin’ noise as the coon scooted right on up past their limbs on thet tree … found wild-eyed Belle ascratchin’ and ahowlin’ “Yo Yo Yo Yo!” at the trunk of they leafy hideout . . . and heered Clarence’s downright unruly voice cryin’, “We got ‘er trapped good, boys! Shine the lanterns up there and let’s git thet critter! “
Ott instinctively covered his eyes when he heard the less than cordial remark, but as soon as he did so, Newt’s ill-fittin’ teeth dropped out of Ott’s mouth and commenced headin’ for the ground.
“There goes somethin’!” Skeeter Ridges cried. And before those freefalling pearly whites could even touch dirt, Skeet fired his shotgun–kerblam!–and blew Newt’s dentures inta chips of porcelain the size of vermickylite.
Now Newt got so full of mad ‘n’ cabbage at this turn of events thet he leapt right on Ott … a-screamin’ what woulda sounded like “You pinfeathered pea turkey!” iffen Ott’s teeth hadn’t dropped out of Newt’s mouth and–kerblammity blam!–got promptly smithereened by a whole barrage of buckshot. And then, jist as the Ramblin’ Plumtree Huntin’ Corps gathered under thet tree to see what the dickens was makin’ such a branch-shakin’ commotion, Misters Bartlett and Blanchard come atumblin’ down smack-dab on top of the entire gun-totin’ assemblage. Ott and Newt thereby met up with the realculprits of the tooth-shootin’ caper, and the two old gum flappers set theyselves all over those worldweary fellers.
Well, the chasin’ and scramblin’ and fightin’ thet went on the rest of thet almost unendin’ night ain’t hardly worth recitin’ here. Suffice it to say thet five woulda-been hunters eventually found theyselves chauffeurin’ a pair of irrascible codgers back to the town of Lick Skillet and payin’–full fare–for two complete facial rebeautification programs. And thet’s why, to this very day, nobody in Plumtree Crossin’ ever ribs Ott Bartlett or Newt Blanchard about their store-bought false teeth.
And if you’re wonderin’ about the raccoon those folks left up in thet woodland tree … well, thet rascal leisurely ambled back to his den and explained all the goin’s-on he’d jist witnessed to his ring-tailed family. Only you know how it is when ennybody–man or beast–tells a story in Barren County. None of thet critter’s kin believed a word of it.
“That life is worth living is the most necessary of assumptions and, were it not assumed, the most impossible of conclusions. “–George Santayana