Birthday Memories – Part 7

As I stepped into our yard I quietly moved toward my dad’s kennel. Dad’s prize winning bird dogs, Sandy and Jim (my namesake), were delighted to see me.

Jim was a pure bred boxy male setter with caramel colored spots on a short white hair base. His most distinguishing feature was his voice that sounded more like a bloodhound–than a prize winning quail dog.

Sandy was an impressive black and white long hair bitch setter who my father claimed was smarter than my dim-witted Uncle Homer. Sandy could locate a covey of quail faster than any dog I had ever known; Uncle Homer diurnally could barely locate his false teeth.

Sandy deeply loved me. She was older than I and my father claimed that raising me had fulfilled her frustrated maternal instincts that had been severely curtailed when my father had Sandy spaded.

On this morning they wanted something I did not have: they supposed that I was a harbinger of a bird hunting expedition or at least a romp over to Mr. Stalling’s pasture to harass his two yearlings. While my father loved unconditionally and unimaginatively never wavered on that score, not even jokingly, Helen loved unconditionally in a whimsical, mischievous way. While Jim and Sandy were undeniably my father’s dogs, they, like the rest of us, recognized and accepted Helen ‘s peremptory influence over everything. They, unfortunately, had embraced Helen ‘s teasing love rather than my father’s steady, consistent love.

I sincerely apologized to Jim and Sandy and I vigorously scratched their prickly ears. Sincere appeasement accomplished nothing. Sandy and Jim rudely snubbed the young offspring of their master by turning their backs and growling.

They were my father’s bird dogs; I was merely his son. They pressed home their superiority. They were acutely aware of the differences of our station and pushed it to their advantage at every occasion that offered itself. They knew full well that no little league game or school activity could compete with a bird hunting excursion.

There was no advantage to be gained this morning, however, and my father’s canine wonders had nothing else to do with this pretentious interloper except ignore him.

I abandoned my station at the kennel and as I advanced across the yard I first heard and then saw an old army surplus red and white stripped biplane crop duster with “Weevil Killer” written in bright yellow Roman script on the side dropping DDT on old man Henley’s nearby cotton field. Small sticky clear and odorless droplets accumulated on my arms and clothing. The oily residue left fading marks on all my shirts.

We were told never to walk on the lawn. Our yard was the final remnant of my grandmother’s legacy to my father. She had given our mansion to my father her youngest son and to my mother as a wedding present. The house was hard enough to give up; her sacrosanct yard was impossible. In fact, Helen often walked along the edge of her creation next to the magnolia tree lusting for the hybrid St. Augustine that was no longer hers.

My father maintained loyal deference to her by guarding that yard. We all honored Helen by staying off the lawn. Today, though, I did not fear Helen. I knew that she had stayed up late last night to play bridge with her friends and rarely hazarded an early morning promenade after a bridge game.

My name is Jim, named after my Uncle Jim, my mother’s brother, and the Jim, that is, the prize winning bird dog my father really adored. I was proud to be named after Jim, he was a fine animal. And, my Uncle Jim, too, was okay but never received any ribbons or anything like that. Like most southerners I was never called by my Christian name: friends called me Jimbo and my Uncle Huey insisted on calling me Jimmy–a name I abhorred above all of them. My mother had experimented with my middle name–Parris–but thankfully she abandoned her efforts when she discovered that a two syllable first name massacred our last name. Besides it sounded like a pretentious Yankee.

The Kennel was a large enclosure that bordered Jim Maier’s house. It was surrounded mostly by privet hedge. Allegedly there was once a fence in there too. In fact the fence was gone. There were wishful remnants, but the fence had long ago succumbed to damp rot and angry termites.

The dogs did not know that so they never tried to escape. Within the confines of this surrogate fence the ground was bare of grass, any kind of grass. My dad never overcame his guilt of slaughtering my Mamaw’s beloved St. Augustine but he had to have a bigger pen when he borrowed T-Bone Arnold’s Black and Tan deer hunting hounds two winters ago. Only one section had any grass, the left corner where a cane rattler bite Jim last summer. For one whole week Jim lay in the corner next to my father’s grape vines–whose anemic fruits were regularly digested by Jim. Jim liked the grapevines. They presented an illusion of coolness and privacy that was rare in a Southern dog pen overrun with fetid dog feces and putrid dinner scraps. Occasionally Jim staggered to his water bucket, a discarded Jim Dandy Lard container, but other than that Jim stayed absolutely still. Jim never stayed still. He moved around all the time. Not even the one hundred plus July afternoons could keep him still. But he rarely moved and we were sure that he would die. After a week though Jim limped over to the gate and licked my dad’s hand. Since then we all–dogs and boy–avoided that corner–even though we had observed Dad mercilessly slaughter the snake with a kaiser blade.

After checking for rattlers, and moccasins–who sometimes crawled out of the bayou to warm themselves in Helen ‘s St. Augustine–and for other snakes who purported to be harmless but nonetheless gave me the creeps–I crawled among the green privet hedge foliage and disappeared from view. I needed to think.

Within the confines of the hedge itself, there was a surprisingly large amount of room to rest. I was completely hidden from sight. Only the dogs with their olfactory genius knew I was around.

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