Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Fantastic bowling neon sign from Hot Springs Arkansas. This sign cycles three phases - first is just the red neon "Bowling", second is just the white pin and ball, and the third is both of those lit along with "Snack Bar" in white on the bottom. The cycle flashes back and forth for in about a 10 second series. I love neons like this. This is a super-cool art form. Beautiful.

One popular sport in the country has always been coon hunting. Raccoons are plentiful, destructive and a nuisance in general, so it makes good sport to go out and give the dogs a thrill by rustling some up and letting the dogs go in for the kill.

Grandpa bred blue-tick coon dogs and won lots of trophies. These dogs were brought from several regions of France in pre-colonial era, and in the early 20th century breeders would travel to the Ozarks and remote areas of Louisiana to buy coon hunting dogs of the most pure bloodline from the original Gascogne. They were grandpa's abiding passion and he devoted countless hours to breeding and training these ultimate hunting machines. Intrepid scenthounds, even blind blueticks make masterful tracker/hunters suffering no deficit in competition with sighted dogs.

These dogs are beautiful animals with a deep baleful howl that must be terrifying to raccoons. To me their bark is by association the right sound to hear reporting through the hallowed columns of the forest on cold dark nights. Grandpa also had several redbone hounds which were larger, and truly magnificent dogs, but the blueticks were his specialization.

Invariably sleeping on the sofa at Grandma and Grandpa's, I remember staring out sleepily from under my quilts as dad and Grandpa made ready to go out hunting in the middle of winter nights. They'd be pulling on hunting boots and attaching the wires on the carbide lamps they wore on their hats, attached to wet-cell batteries worn on their belts. Grandpa always had the wet-cells in plastic Ideal brand bread sacks, which grandma never threw away, along with twist-ties. I remember the smell of those lamps too, the vaguely sulphuric tang of the odor that wasn't unpleasant to me.

Anyway, he told a story that painted such a vivid picture that I wish I had a photograph of the scene he witnessed.

Out with the dogs one winter night, the air was incredibly still, and the trees and the dead grasses were all encrusted in a thick layer of ice. He said the moon was so bright you could almost read a newspaper by it, and it illuminated a scene of enchantment in the cold silence of the night forest.

The dogs had treed coon after coon that night, and in his words, "I decided to honor the dogs by letting them catch this coon." The coon was treed, the dogs howling at it, and Grandpa pulled out his hand axe and set about felling the tree.

My dad said once that Grandpa was so remarkably efficient at felling trees that there was no wasted motion and you'd best stand back, because the wood chips would be flying.

Anyway, down came the tree and the coon was on the ground and was off, dogs in hot pursuit. As they progressed through the woods-- coon, dogs and man-- all the frozen grasses in their path shattered sending diamond fragments up into a glimmering shower in the still night air.

He said it was one of the most beautiful visions of his life. I can well imagine it's precisely this sort of moment that a sportsman lives for. Who says men have no appreciation of aesthetics?

16 comments:

FHB said...

Damn! yer good. I think my grandad raised fighting cocks. All I have are stories from others though. By the time I was around and aware of things he was very old and had devolved into a couch potato. Sat in his chair chewing tobacco and spitting into a coffee can at his feet. He had been a hunter, but I was never involved in those parts of his life. Wish I'd been born 10 yrs earlier.

phlegmfatale said...

aw shucks, fhb, glad you like this story. If you want to read some of my own tobacco family story, go here:

http://phlegmfatale.blogspot.com/2006/03/while-were-celebrating-my-southern.html

Yes, a great many of my forebears were big tobacco chewers and/or snuff dippers. Yes, even the men chewed and dipped in my family. I've said this before, but I thought it was unseemly to chew or dip when your lips became wrinkled enough that little rivulets of tobacco would creep along the fissures of your lip and chin, mingling with lipstick and powder.

I'm sorry for you that you didn't get more than second hand knowledge of your grandpa's exploits - he is a very big part of who you are. I wouldn't trade my family for the bluest blood and/or all the money in the world. Someone with a shallow view of life might not understand it, but I see my family as incredibly rich in wisdom, humor and everything that matters most in life. I think a lot of people feel that way about their families, and I think that is appropriate. Men and women should strive to have a homeplace their children can look back upon with great affection and respect.

FHB said...

Amen.

Tam said...

What a cool picture painted with words!

There's nothing like the light of a bright full moon on a crisp winter night.

"Wow! The moonlight is so bright I can read by it!"
"Read by it? You could do brain surgery by this light!"

:)

phlegmfatale said...

tam - THAT is exactly what I thought when he was telling the story of that night. I thought, I am SO blogging this. Actually, really bitingly cold winter nights is one thing I miss about Arkansas - we get some winter weather, but it's rarely protracted and I'm in the city too, so meh.

Anonymous said...

No one in my family ever went on coon hunts, at least not in my memory, but they were big quail hunters, and my dad always had a Pointer or two running around. However, I read Where the Red Fern Grows when I was a small child, and ever after that I wanted a coon hound of my very own. Imagine my delight when a stray coonhound wandered up one day. Now, he was a Treeing Walker, not a Redbone like in the book, but he was definitely a coonhound. I can't begin to count the hours I spent chasing after that dog while he trailed coons, possums, armadillos, and who knows what else.
Thank you so much for reminding me of that memory, and thank you for sharing your memories of your Grandpa.

James

LJ said...

That's a fabulous picture, PF..The grass shattering "sending diamond fragments up into a glimmering shower."
Lovely.

Lightning Bug's Butt said...

I love that neon sign.

I remember 'coons. Pain in the ass, those 'coons. Garbage night especially.

Thomas J Wolfenden said...

My favorite Chinese restauraunt!

Bow Ling's!

phlegmfatale said...

james - well it would appear that your coonhound acquisition was the hand of Providence at work! I'm glad you got to experience that firsthand - those coonhounds are amazing, driven creatures,aren't they?

lj - Well, I'm just passing the story along - it was amazing the way Grandpa told it. Glad you enjoyed it.

lightning bug's butt - Yeah, it's super cool! Coons - speaking of coons, in her night vision porn video, I heard Paris Hilton looked like a raccoon digging through a trash bin, with those unearthly glowing eyes

ranger tom - Bow Ling's - all the best cities have a branch of that restaurant!

Tickersoid said...

I so enjoyed that post.

I know so many people who regret thier families. Yours seem to be such quality.

Strangely I thought my family were the Waltons until years later my sister and brother had such very differnt views on thier childhood.

Jay Noel said...

I feel like going out into the woods and hunting some 'possims.

phlegmfatale said...

tickers- well, it's not that there are never hurts or regrets in my family, it's just that we don't brawl or have knock-down-drag-outs - there does seem to be a sense that our love for one another is the big-picture issue. I think the differing accounts of childhood are totally understandable - perceptions shape reality, and your siblings may have been going through things you were completely unaware of.

phoenix - kill them 'possums - they're nasty!

Dick said...

Eat more pussum!
That neon bowling sign is absolute greatness. Killer pic girl!
Some of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen, have been during hunting.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love the neon sign. Some of them have a true artistry to them,

And although I am not a hunter, nor will I ever be, the way you told that story was so visual and evocative, I felt as though I was there - and happy to be there.

phlegmfatale said...

dick - there used to be a gross food store on Industrial that had cans of "squirrel brains." Bought one to put in my pantry as a gag, but I finally freaked myself out and tossed it!

barbara - Yeah, it's a beautiful thing when done well, neon.
Glad you enjoyed the hunting story - he painted a beautiful picture. My dad told me he's been hunting on many an enchanted winter evening like that.