Growing up on the farm as the next-to-youngest of seven boys and five girls, I got to know quite a lot about my siblings...both the good, and the not so. Each of us had certain attributes not necessarily held by the others. Some could shoot better than others; some could run faster; some could plow a straighter furrow; some were better musicians, etc.
One brother (Britten, nicknamed Slim) had a built-in attribute that none of the rest of us had; nor did we particularly want it. He had a sense of smell as keen as any hunting dog ever born. No kidding; he had a nose that would have been the envy of any bloodhound worthy of that name.
That particular attribute, totally beyond his control, got Slim into trouble on more than one occasion. I know this tale will sound like a joke, at best; or an outright lie at worst...but it is the pure-dee honest truth.
Slim walked out on the porch one morning, just before daylight, and sniffed the air like a bench-legged fiest. Papa was standing on the porch beside him, trying to get Slim in gear and started on a full day of plowing.
Slim said: "Papa, I smell a squirrel in that sweet gum yonder. Want me to go git the .22 and kill it for supper?"
That kind of nonsense would make Papa grit his teeth and squirm every time. It really rankled his hide to hear Slim talk like that. Naturally, his response was: "Naw...what I want you to do, is what I tole you. Git them mules hitched up, and git over yonder to the Bulger Field and start plowing!" About half an hour after Slim was gone, Papa took his shotgun, walked out to the sweet gum tree, and killed the squirrel.
One time, our older brother, Ben, was home on convalescent furlough from the Army. He had just been released from Walter Reed Hospital, after being wounded on Eniwetok Island, in the Pacific. Ben was a no-nonsense kind of guy, with little or no patience for foolishness. He had already heard about Slim and his ‘nose', ‘cause Mama had mentioned it in letters she'd wrote to Ben when he was overseas.
They were out in the back yard one day, and Slim went into his ‘sniff-the-air' squirrel dog routine.
"Hey, Ben...there's a couple of squirrels in that ol' hackberry tree yonder. What say we go kill ‘em for supper?"
Ben didn't say a word. He just grabbed Slim by the bib of his overalls, picked him up off the ground, and shoved him back against the side of the house.
"Boy, I'm about to knock the tar out-a you. I've heard a-nuff about that smart alec nose of yours to last me a good while!"
"Wait, Ben! I ain't lying...I can smell ‘em. I know there's two squirrels in that hackberry."
Ben shook Slim like a rag doll until his back teeth rattled, then he set him down and shoved a finger in his face.
"Aw-right, hot shot. Here's what we gon' do...I'm goin' in yonder and git the shotgun. Then, me an' you are gon' walk over yonder to that hack-berry. If there ain't two squirrels in that tree, I'm gonna whup you so bad, you gon' think lightnin' struck. You hear me?"
"Y-y-yeah....I hear ye'. I know they there Ben...I can smell ‘em."
Ben went in the house and came out with his 16-gauge double barrel and a few shells. When he stepped off the porch, his jaw was stuck out, his teeth was grit, and he had fire in his eyes.
"Don't jes' stand there...git to it!", Ben ordered; "...an' remember I'm right behind ye'."
They walked down to the little branch that ran just beyond the edge of the back yard. Slim leapt across the four-foot-wide stream and, when he landed, he turned around to face Ben, who was still on the yard side of the branch.
"Uhhh, Ben...one of ‘em is a black fox squirrel."
Wa'al, that tore the rag off-a the bush for good and all. When Ben's feet hit the ground on the other side of the branch, he started joogin' Slim in the rump with the gunstock every step he took.
"Git over there on the other side-a that tree and shake a bush...and shut your face!"
Slim circled around the hackberry and grabbed a scraggly little sapling that was close by. He got it to swaying back and forth until the top of the sapling was thrashing against the hackberry. He wasn't trying to watch for squirrels or anything. His total concentration was on being the best bush-shaker in the County.
Suddenly, Ben throwed the gun up and shot. Down tumbled a red fox squirrel. He shot again, and down came a cat squirrel. Both of them landed right at Ben's feet. Slim kept on shaking the sapling like he was trying to tear it up by the roots.
"Hey, ye' don't need to shake it no more", Ben told him; "I done killed bof' of ‘em."
"Naw, Ben...there's another'n up in ‘ere. Honest. And it's a black-un, too. I can smell ‘im"
"That's a-nuff, now. You ain't got to keep on lyin'. We already got two squirrels, just like you said. Now cut it out. I ain't gon' whup ye'."
"There he goes, Ben! Git ‘im!"
Ben looked up, and yonder went a black fox squirrel, scooting towards the top of that hackberry tree like his tail was on fire. Ben was so surprised, he just stood there with his mouth open. Both barrels of the gun had already been shot, and he hadn't even reloaded. He finally got the gun broke open, fumbled around in his overals and and dropped a shell or two; then he was able to get one shell in the gun. Just as the squirrel squatted to jump out into another tree, Ben shouldered the gun once more.
Boooom! Down came the squirrel, almost landing on Slim's head. He grabbed it up and with a big wide grin, helt it up for Ben to see.
"See? I tol' ya there was a black-un up ‘ere!"
After a fine squirrel, gravy, and biscuit supper that night, Papa and Ben were sitting out on the front porch in rocking chairs. Ben told Papa about the way the hunt had come about. He concluded by saying that he was awful glad he didn't have another shell in the gun...he wasn't too dang sure he wouldn't have used it on Slim. Ben said all he could do was chew Slim out for lying about there being just two squirrels in the tree. Papa just grunted, and nodded in agreement.
Slim's keen sense of smell was infallibly demonstrated so many times, when we were growing up, that it made a believer out of everybody in that community. It wasn't only Slim's ability to smell game that caused a few eyes to open; he was also a phenomenal shooter, with eyes sharper'n a chicken hawk. He very seldom missed when he shot at something.
Many a time, I recall Papa handing Slim three .22 cartridges, and telling him to go git three squirrels for supper...and Slim would bring back at least three squirrels. He has, on occasion, been able to kill two squirrels with one shot; by waiting until two of them were side by each before he shot. He could shoot better'n anybody else I've ever seen, before or since; and I've seen some fine shootin' in my time..
Papa liked to eat the squirrel heads, too. Slim had got into the habit of shooting squirrels in the head when he hunted, so he wouldn't tear up the meat so much. Finally, Papa told Slim to start shootin' them in the neck. Which Slim did from then on, with rare exception.
One day, Papa and Slim were hunting together; Papa with his double 12-gauge Remington, and Slim with his Henry single shot .22 rifle. They came up on a den tree with several squirrels in it. Papa told Slim that he could take the first shot with the rifle and, when he missed, Papa would shoot the squirrels with the shotgun, when they were running. After Slim had killed five squirrels without missing, Papa had just about all he could stand of that, so he started shooting first.
One squirrel was running so fast along a limb that he looked like he was stretched out five foot long. Papa took two shots at him and missed both times. Then, Slim shot him in the head with the .22...whilst he was running. The only thing Papa could do then, was chew Slim out for not shooting the squirrel in the neck!
Slim is up in his seventies now. His eyesight may have faded a bit, and his ‘smeller' may have been throwed out of kilter a little by the pollution in the air, but he can still shoot; and he can still put supper on the table with a single-shot .22 rifle.
One of my favorite memories, from when I was a kid, was being with Papa up on the Square in Magnolia, and listenin' to him brag to the members of the Nod, Spit, and Whittle Club about Slim and his keen nose. He told them that Slim was the best dang squirrel dawg in Columbia County.
"As you fellers know", Papa said, "a real good squirrel dawg is hard to find by these days. I jest wish I could teach the dang boy to bark!"