My Papa told me that coons were bad to have rabies, or hydeephobia, because they was always fighting over whatever they were eating and spreading it by biting each other. Papa said that it was in their spit. I told that to Ms. Schillinger when our class was talking about animals that live around here. I raised my hand and said that coons spread hydeephobia with their spit, and that they could even give it give it to people if they bit ‘em and that my Papa had seen a man die of hydeehobia when he was overseas, and that they took that man out in the back and shot him in the back of the head with a pistol and then buried him and all his bed clothes so no one else might catch it. I said all that real fast before Ms. Schillinger could stop me.
One of the girls got real upset when I told that story, and Ms. Schillinger said that wasn’t the sort of story one told around girls and in class. She also said that the right word was saliva and that the word was pronounced “hydrophobia” but that the proper name for it was rabies. I like Ms. Schillinger. She’s real smart about most things, and she has a book on just about every subject. I guess it’s alright if I use hyeephobia and spit when I’m talking about coons and I’m not in school.
Papa already says that I don’t talk like most folks around here anymore since I took up reading books all the time and that I had to be careful or folks would think that I was putting on airs. Putting on airs is what they say when somebody tries too hard to sound smart. I did that one time when I was standing around the burn barrel with my uncles and cousin last February when we were killing those two big sows Papa had been raising. I said that there were ghosts in the old run-down Mitchell place and that it was haunted. I knew better just the minute I said it because folks around here don’t say ghost and haunted. They say haint and hainted. Papa looked at me like he wanted to smack me in the mouth. He never would though. He never has.
That’s why he took me away from my Daddy, because he would get drunk and beat me and my Mama. Papa came up in the shack where we lived over in Clem one morning and slapped my daddy so hard it sounded like a twenty-two pistol going off. He grabbed my Daddy by the belt and threw him out the back door into a frozen mud puddle. He told him that nobody was gonna beat on his daughter and grandson, and that if he ever came around again he’d shoot him in the head and feed him to the hogs. Papa said that two big hogs could make a man disappear overnight and there would be nothing left of him but a tooth in a turd.
Papa helped me and Mama gather our best belongings, and then we squeezed into the cab of Papa’s old Ford and drove back across the state line. I ain’t seen hide nor hair of Daddy since then and that was almost three years ago. Mama don’t talk about him neither. I like it better here with Mama and Granny and Papa anyway. This old house is big and drafty but that tall Sweetgum in the front yard is just about perfect at shading the front porch in the summertime. Papa said his grandad planted it on purpose when he built it up on the stone pilings way back in the day before he was born. I don’t know if he ever got to sit in the shade of it with his feet dangling off the side of the porch after busting open a big old black diamond watermelon that had been cooling in the well bucket overnight.
I started this story talking about coons and rabies and saliva and then went the long way around the barn, or as Papa would say, “I went around my elbow to get to my asshole.”
Well anyway, me and Papa were walking down by Sweetwater creek early last Spring when we came up on a coon standing by the water. I knew something was wrong because it ain’t common to see coons out in the daytime. They generally loaf around in the hollows of trees all day sleeping and waiting on dark to come along so they can go out galavanting and looking for a corn crib to rob. This old Boar coon was just standing there looking like he was swaying and about to fall over. He had cuts and scratches all over so I reckoned he had been fighting over corn and lady coons. Papa said they were serious about their screwing come February and March. This old fella looked like he had been real serious about it. When we got close, we could see that he was opening and closing his jaws like he was trying to chew and he was slobbering something awful. Papa told me that was the surest sign that he had the hydrophobia. He said that they always tried to get to water and drink but that their throats would be closed up and they couldn’t drink and so they would eventually start shaking and pitchin’ fits and would thirst to death. He said that man in Germany had done all of that till the doctor told them soldiers that someone oughta put him out of his misery. He didn’t say he was the one that did the work but I knew it musta been him by the way he told it.
Anyway, he pulled out that little twenty-two he always carries and told me I oughta put him out of his misery. I knew how to shoot it and could knock a tin can off the fence post just about as good as Papa could. He handed me the revolver. I walked up behind that old coon aimed carefully and shot him right down through the top of his head. The old boar kicked and flopped around like I had seen them chickens do when Papa would cut off their heads. Papa told me that they didn’t feel nothing and that they were just spasms cause the brain had been shut off so fast. The old boy finally went limp and Papa threw him in the creek and said that the turtles would eat him up. I asked if turtles could get rabies and Papa said that he didn’t think so, but that I might could ask Ms. Schillinger and she might know.
Alan Caldwell lives in Carroll County, Georgia, but is working on moving to his rural property in the mountains of Northeast Alabama. He has been married to his lovely wife, Brandi, for 35 years. He has one son, Caleb, who is a firefighter, a daughter-in-law, Chelsee, who is an emergency room nurse, and a grandson, Asher. Alan has been teaching for 29 years and spends much of his free time outdoors or reading. Alan has been collecting stories, mostly about his family, for over 40 years, but has just begun writing them.