A MATCHED PAIR OF BIRD DOGS
copyright 1994 Sam Elmore


"I'll pick you up at Mama's house about daylight", my big brother Barge (nicknamed Todd) told me on the phone. "You don't need to bring anything. I've got a gun and shells for you, and I'll have us some well-trained bird dogs, too."

It was plain that big brother was eager for a quail hunt. I was home on leave from the Navy. My aircraft carrier had recently returned from a long deployment to the South China Sea. I had been gone for more than a year, and looked forward to going bird hunting.

"Where y'all gon' be huntin' at?", Mama asked, as soon as I hung up the phone.

"I've no idea, Ma. When I called to tell him I was home, Todd said he knew where there was some birds, but he didn't say where."

"You reckon I orta fix somethin' to eat for y'all to take with you?"

"N'ome; I s'pect we won't be gone that long. He said something about him working at a furniture store. Ain't he still preaching?", I asked.

"Oh, yes", she responded, sounding real pleased; "he's still a minister, with a fine congregation. They think the world-an'-all of 'im", she enthused.

"Wa'al, that ain't no surprise; after all, he IS kin to me."

"Aww, go on", she poked me in the short-ribs, and continued; "...he just works at the furniture store a couple days a week, to sort-a he'p out."

"Yes'm".

The next morning, I was up, dressed, and coffee'd-out long before Barge noised his arrival at Mama's place. He was in a delapidated old station wagon that he'd bought just for hunting and fishing wheels. He had even named the thing..."Bubble-Up."

As we got into the vehicle, he didn't seem too tickled when I suggested that, if I was gonna be hauled around South Arkansas in something as decrepit-looking as "Bubble-Up", it'd be better if we left earlier---like midnight. I didn't want anybody I'm aquainted with to see me riding in a contraption that ugly.

In the back of the station wagon were two of the most beautiful Irish Setters I've ever laid eyes on; mirror images of each other. It was obvious that somebody had put a LOT of time and effort into keeping them in prime condition.

"Hoss, is these your dogs?", I inquired.

"Naw, but I wish they was. They belong to the man who owns the furniture store. He's a fine feller. He don't get much chance to hunt and, right now, he's under-the-weather. He was glad to loan the dogs to me, so they could be hunted over."

I reached back and gave the dogs a good fussing over, as they deserved, while "Bubble-Up" raised considerable smoke and ruckus along highway 79 South. We gave our jaws a real work-out during the trip, both of us yakking at the same time. I paid no attention to where we were going, until we both accidentally stopped talking at the same time, and I asked:

"Where we gon' hunt?"

"On my father-in-law's place, out at Chalybeate Springs. You 'member Mr. Eph Phelps, don't you?"

"Oh, yeah. As you'll recall, I used to go down to their house with you when you was courtin' Marzelle. Me and Mr. Eph would play "hully-gully" with chinky-pins, while you and Marzelle played "lovey-dovey" behind Miz Livvie's back."

"Yeah", he laughed, "---and we couldn't go anywhere, or do any THING, without you being underfoot. Every time we stopped, you bumped into us. Marzelle has teased me for years about having to court two Elmore boys at the same time, jest to get me."

In that easy fashion, we arrived at where he'd recently observed several coveys of quail. Barge opened the tailgate of ol' "Bubble-Up" and released the over-eager dogs. After they'd made the requisite tour of all four tires and three bushes, we broke open the guns, laid 'em across our arms as Papa had taught us, and stepped off into a fallow field, several acres in size.

That was a hunt to remember. A perfectly matched pair of bird dogs working in harmony; one pointing, the other one honoring. I got my fair share of shooting that morning. I never was much of a shot-gunner, and that hunt only reinforced the fact of my ineptness. Barge, arguably the best wingshot of all us seven brothers, did all the hitting, taking several birds. Then, he reckoned it was time for us to head back.

At the station wagon, we petted the dogs and admired the birds for a few minutes. I took Barge's shotgun, checked both his and mine for safety, and wrapped them in a blanket on the back floor mat. In the meantime, he was coaxing the dogs into the back of the station wagon.

I had just straightened up from stashing the guns, when he slammed the tailgate. I heard one of the dogs yelp, and Barge let out a loud groan:

"Oh, my GOOD-ness!"

I ran around the car and grabbed him by the arm, thinking he was hurt.

"What'sa matter? Hunh?"

He pointed down.

The dogs were no longer a matched pair. On the sand, between Barge's feet, lay a two-inch-long section of deep-red, beautifully-plumed, dog's tail. He had slammed the tailgate on the end of the dog's tail, and cut it off.

"Buddy, what am I gon' do? What can I SAY to the man?"

I don't know what YOU gon' do, son....but me, I'm headin' for Californ'y and get inside of my aircraft carrier, where I can DEFEND myse'f."