The Great Cur War
by bj max
Dogs chase cars. Personally I’ve never tried it, but it must be fun or they wouldn’t risk life and limb at every opportunity. And they love to chase noisy motorcycles too. Many is the time I’ve almost gone down dodging some pooch that thought it would be great sport to gnaw the tire off my front wheel. Now Southerners love their dogs and in rural west Tennessee there’s never been any such thing as leash or containment laws so, like politicians and TV reporters, Old Spot was free to roam the countryside, irritate everybody and make a general nuisance of himself.
There was this family of rednecks that lived in our little community and they had a pack of old Redneck dogs. They all lived together in a run down sharecropper’s shack and on those hot and suffocating summer days, them old dogs hung out under the front porch, wallowing in the dust where it was cool. Passing pedestrians kept a wary eye on the old shack. Their pace, as well as their heart, picked up a couple of beats as they approached and if they looked close, they could make out several pairs of beady little eyes peering at them from the dark behind the steps. Already on the verge of panic, a low grumbling growl was all it took and the passerby would break into a dead run, screaming bloody murder.
From the moment they sighted their potential victim, the dogs were on super alert and the smell of fear would set them off. They would explode from under the porch, streaming billowing contrails of dust; race across the yard at an angle calculated to intercept their quarry before he, or she, could reach a chicken wire fence that marked the boundary of the old place.
Have you ever seen a human being run down a blacktop road at fifty miles an hour? It’s an incredible sight. Unadulterated fear is a fantastic motivator and a champion greyhound would have been hard-pressed to run down one of these fleet footed fraidy cats. The stubby legged little mongrels never had a chance, but you would have been hard-pressed convincing their intended victim.
Garland, the tiny community in Tennessee where I was born and raised, consisted of a public school, two churches, two country stores, a cotton gin and a blacksmith shop. One of my fondest childhood memories is that of being awakened by the pinging of hammer against hot steel as Mr. Jessie, our blacksmith, beat out plow points, sharpening them for the farmers. His shop was on the corner of what we called the Lane and in my mind’s eye, I can still see him in that dark and sooty old cave, hunched over his anvil, his head ensconced within a galaxy of sparks. Mr. Jessie lived in a world of fire and brimstone and his hammer rang out all over the neighborhood signaling the beginning of spring. This was an exciting time for a young boy because it meant that summer vacation was just around the corner.
It was the “Fabulous Fifties” and the baby boomers were coming out. There were at least fifty kids under the age of eighteen living in our little town and it was like growing up in a “Little Rascals” comedy. With a crime rate of zero, this Rockwellian setting was a near perfect place to live and grow up. That is until 1959. That was the year Sears and Roebuck made its mechanized assault on our quiet and palatial community. It was the year of the Mo-Ped and it changed my life forever.
To those of you not familiar with Mo-Peds, they were a combination of motorbike and bicycle. “Mo-Ped” is an acronym for motor pedal and the pedals were necessary. The thing was so under powered it had to have help climbing hills. The pedals also came in handy if you ran out of gas. Top speed was about thirty-five MPH, down hill with a brisk tailwind. Right out of the box the little bikes were noisy and grated on the nerves of the adults so naturally, our first modification was to remove the muffler. We wanted more power. What we got was a remarkable racket that thrilled us to no end but it drove the older generation of our tranquil little township to the brink of insanity.
Mo-Peds had a one gallon gas tank and got about a hundred and fifty miles to the gallon. It was nothing for us to go through three or four tanks a day and never get more than a mile or two from home. Up and down the main drag and ‘round and ‘round the lane, all day long, buzzing the neighborhood and shattering the nerves of anybody over thirty. It wasn’t uncommon to see adults standing in their driveways or kneeling in flower beds with both hands covering their ears, mouthing colorful allegations concerning the legitimacy of our birth. Like confused chameleons they would turn purple, and as we rode by they would fling leaf rakes and pruning shears across their lawn in a desperate attempt to eradicate this obstreperous pestilence loosed on them by those damned carpet baggers in Chicago.
While our parents were dealing with threatening phone calls and worrying about the red X’s painted on our doorways, we were having the time of our lives…..with one exception. That pack of old redneck dogs. Unlike our human population, they were, to put it mildly, ecstatic about our new machines. Chasing a human being on foot has its moments, but chasing a human being on a weirded out horse was something else again. It added spice to their mundane existence and to the delight of the adults, them old dogs ambushed us several times a day making our new life in the fast lane miserable. They became a major obstacle in our pursuit of happiness and were spoiling all the fun. Something had to be done because summer vacation would soon be over.
We armed ourselves with heavy sticks but this only heightened their enthusiasm and the ill little band of terrorists attacked with a vengeance. Growling and snarling they would seize the sticks with their powerful jaws, shake their heads viciously and try to pull us from our mounts, and tumble us into a virtual alligator pit of snapping teeth. A positively horrifying experience. We tried rocks. Hurled from moving bikes they proved to be ineffectual; inaccuracy having negated any defense potential they might have had. We were at the end of our rope and decided that it was time to seek professional help.
Enter my little brother, Taterhead, and his friend, Gerlie Bee, both veterans of the Mongrel Crusades of ’52. They were about three feet tall, baby-faced and to look at them, innocent as a lamb. But looks can be deceiving. They would smile oh so sweetly all the while cooking up one of their devilish schemes. They were well schooled in most of the black arts. Extortion, fraud, blackmail. Blackmail being their specialty. “I’ll tell Mom” was one cunning ploy they used successfully on several occasions. Normally we wouldn’t associate with such a detestable pair of black hearted pirates, but desperate situations call for desperate measures. As it turned out, Taterhead and Gerlie Bee were already working on a secret weapon and it was in the final stages of development. They had devised a simple and brilliant solution. So simple I wonder why I didn’t think of it myself. Water pistols. Loaded with six ounces of household ammonia, water pistols would prove to have a devastating effect on the unruly canines.
After several hours of target practice and some intense instruction on chemical warfare, our instructors laid out a plan of attack. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, was to infiltrate enemy territory, entice the enemy to engage then neutralize them with extreme prejudice. Heavily armed, we formed up and just before moving out, Taterhead and Gerlie B. shook hands with each of us, made the sign of the cross, and wished us luck. At the demarcation point I looked back and silently wondered if I would ever see home again.
Nearing the old sharecropper shack, we downshifted and slowed to a crawl. Beads of perspiration dotted our foreheads as the tension grew. Crossing the outer perimeter of the enemy stronghold our squad leader gave a pre-arranged signal and we began gunnin’ our engines. The dirty mangy dogs took the bait. Furious at our blatant attempt to antagonize them, they erupted from under the porch and came tearing across the yard, bent on our total destruction.
With great courage and discipline we held our fire till we could see the whites of their beady little eyes, then opened up with a furious barrage, firing point blank directly into their nostrils filling them with our toxic streams. This stopped the bad tempered little mongrels dead in their tracks. Stunned and staggering they attempted a counter attack. But before they could re-organize, we executed a rehearsed circling maneuver and were boring down on ‘em, blasting away. The few we missed on the first pass met us head on and a terrible battle ensued. In the confusion of combat, some of us had our breath taken away by friendly fire, but the remaining combatants zeroed in on the stragglers and finished them off one by one.
Regrouping down the road, we waited while our squad leader cruised the battle zone assessing damage. Dogs were lying all over the road, crying and gasping for breath. Their legs quivered and went stiff as a poker. Rigor mortis appeared to have set in and for a minute we thought we had killed them. But they finally gained their footing, buried their noses in the grass and took off. Churning the turf like demented combines, they disappeared into them old cotton fields back home, their attitudes thoroughly and permanently adjusted. Flushed with victory, we returned home to a rousing welcome.
At first, the water pistols were purely a defensive system, but the operation proved to be such great fun that it became a routine pastime for us. However, one or two bursts was all them old redneck dogs could take. At the sound of an approaching Mo-Ped, they would cringe with fear, tuck their tails, and retreat deep into the darkness under the old house.
Seeking further targets of opportunity forced us to range farther and farther from home. This pleased the adults immensely, giving them much needed relief from all the clamor and preserving their sanity at the same time, I’m sure. I’ll never forget the summer of ’59 and the Mo-Peds that had such an influence on my life forever.
Merry Christmas from Dixie.