When I first met Mr. Eb I couldn’t have been more than five or six years old. Mr. Eb was somewhere in his early seventies and still going pretty strong.
Daddy, Mr. Eb and five or six other fellows had been out coon hunting the night before, and Mr. Eb had lost some dogs. Daddy drove over the next morning to see if Mr. Eb had found his dogs and he carried me along with him. We got there just as Mr. Eb was coming out of the woods with his lost dogs.
He invited us in for breakfast, along with them five other coon hunters, who’d stayed the night. Mr. Eb scrambled some eggs, along with a little white bacon and some grits, some canned salmon and hoecakes–putting together a pretty good meal.
When we got through he gave me some coffee, which being young I didn’t get much, and I was in high cotton till Mr. Eb got a wet rag and wiped the plates and turned them upside down on the table like they’d been when we got there. This kind of upset me, but I knew better than to say anything. Later on Daddy said Mr. Eb did this because there was a new fellow there and Mr. Eb wanted to see what he was made of, and he’d wash up everything later. Daddy said Mr. Eb was raised up right but he liked to have fun with people, make them think he was a crazy old bachelor. I remember Mr. Eb saying, “If that plate was clean enough to stop eating on, it was clean enough to start eating on.”
From time to time I was allowed to go on some of their hunts. We’d stay out pretty late with the dogs, and when we got back to the house Mr. Eb would start cooking up what he called his midnight supper. We’d all sit around and eat and then the men would maybe have a few. My daddy never was a drinking man, one reason they liked having him around, I guess, and he was handy to drive and ketch the mules and dogs and whatever needed doing. Now the men didn’t get drunk, mind you, but they did have a dram or two and they’d sit around the fire and tell stories, especially Mr. Eb.
My Daddy’s brother used to say Mr. Eb was a right good yarnspinner, and I remember my aunt used to say he was a bodacious liar who’d probably bust hell wide open, but I don’t think there was ever any harm to his stories. He just liked to stretch the blanket a bit.
I remember this one time we were over there, talking about dogs, mostly, and somebody asked Mr. Eb what was the best dog he ever owned. Mr. Eb loaded up his pipe and had a little drink, and then he sat back and said, “Well I’ll tell you. The best dog I ever had was back when I was a young fellow. I couldn’t have been more than twelve, because it was only a few years before daddy got killed when that tree fell on him. He came home with the prettiest little liver-and-white spotted puppy you ever saw, a little bitch, just weaned. ‘Well, Eb, here’s the pup you been pestering me about since you was old enough to walk. Mr. Tuttle found him over at the gristmill, said somebody must have lost it or dropped it. This’ll be your dog, and you’ll be responsible for taking care of her, but I’ll help you get her started.’ I remember we named that dog Uno ’cause daddy said it meant number one in Mexican. He’d learned that in Texas during World War One.
“Well, at first we kept her shut up in the dogtrot at night, as there was still a few big panthers and bobcats and such around—you know young pup’s a right tender morsel. When she got some size to her we started letting her have the run of the place day and night. She’d patrol the yard and let you know of any varmints afoot. We tried her with the other dogs, but she just fell in by me and showed no interest.
“One night one of the boys brought a cousin along from some place up north, and he wanted to know why we’d brought a German shorthair on a coon hunt. Said he knew they was versatile but he’d never heard of one hunting coon. Said these German shorthairs were bird dogs.
“When I heard that me and Uno went to see Mr. Porter, the only bird hunter in these parts. He took one look at her and said he’d be privileged to help me train her.
“I hunted her awful hard for the first three or four years, being a growing boy and having a lot of energy and time. I went two three times a week with Mr. Porter and even more with just Uno. Uno was a natural. We never really had to train her. Mr. Porter said we just gave her a bit of polish and a lot of opportunity.
“She was such a fine bird dog that pretty soon she was known county wide, and lots of folks came to hunt with me and tried to buy her. If I could have bred her I could have gotten rich, but she never come to heat. That was both bad and good, as although I’d have no get from her I’d also never have to miss hunting. We both purely loved to hunt.
“I got pretty attached to Uno, and then when Daddy died we got even closer, out there hunting all the time. I guess I had ol’ Uno till I was probably seventeen or eighteen. I remember one morning she went hunting without me, and she never came home that night. I went out looking for her the next morning and found her on the ditch row, all swole up and stiff enough to have been dead quite a few hours. As near as I could tell she’d run afoul of a rattler.
“Of course I was heartbroken, and I didn’t know quite what to do and was carrying her out the woods toward a little spot where she’d pointed her first bird and close by Daddy’s resting place, and I run into Mamma’s friend Mr. Moss. ‘Son, is that your dog, Uno?’ And I said, ‘Yes sir, it is. I think a snake musta got her.’ And he said, ‘Well, boy, I know how much store you set by her, and I know how much you’re going to miss her. So what you going to do now?’
“I was just holding back, and I said, ‘Well, Mr. Moss, I just don’t know how I’m gonna part with her. You know I ain’t got no puppy, nor a likeness, nor even a picture. I don’t know what I can do but bury her, but I just wish I had a picture of her or something to remember her by.’
“Mr. Moss said, ‘Son, I can do better than that. I’ve done a bit of taxidermy in my time, and I believe I could do a pretty good job on old Uno. You could keep her at the house and have her to remember the good times, if it wouldn’t bother you to do that.’
“Well, I thought about it and at the time it seemed like a pretty good idea, and I said, ‘Mr. Moss, I’d be much obliged, and I can pay you a little along and along. I don’t know how much something like that costs.’ And he said, ‘Aw, son, it don’t cost that much. The most expensive thing is the eyes, but I’ll tell you what, we could just fix up Uno like she was sleeping and just use some marbles for the eyes. It’d be just like she was sleeping in front of the hearth. If you want to do it, I’ll take her on to the house now, and I’ll start the preliminaries and everything but there’ll still be time to change your mind.’
“So I gave her to Mr. Moss and told him to go on with it, and I went back to the house, moping around, and finally Mamma asked what was wrong. I told her old Uno was gone, and how I was out a dog with the season just starting, and how I wished she could have had puppies or I’d at least have had a picture. Mamma was upset, too, and asked where I buried the poor old thing, and I told Mamma I hadn’t buried her, that I’d run in to Mr. Moss and he said he’d fix her up to where she looked like she was alive, and I could put her in my bedroom and have something to remember her by. And Mamma just had a tizzy! She thought that was a terrible thing to do to that poor old dog, man’s best friend, and wondered how I’d feel if she’d had Daddy mounted after the tree fell on him, and wondered if I planned to have Mr. Moss stuff her when she died, and she just went on and on till nothing would do but for me to go tell Mr. Moss not to do it.
“I knew Mr. Moss was kinda particular about Mamma, and I knew he wouldn’t do nothing to rub her the wrong way, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll go over there first thing in the morning.’ But come morning the mules had got out, and it took a while to catch up with them and get ’em back in the barn, so it was well into the morning by the time I got over to Mr. Moss’s.
“I told Mr. Moss what Mamma had said, and he said, ‘Son, I’m kinda betwixt and between now, but I guess I can go on and take care of her for you and you can put a little marker out there, if you want, but tell you the truth I come home yesterday and I didn’t have nothing to do, and you know a dog skins just like any other hide, the sooner it’s done the easier it slips off, and I went ahead and skinned your dog already, and buried her body over near that little spot by the gum you like, but now I guess we’ll have to take the hide over and bury it with her, sort of put it all together. I know the whole thing seems kinda strange, now, and I wish we’d never started. I hope you don’t hold it against me.’
“‘No sir, it was purely a kindness on your part, but you know Mamma.’
“‘I’ll take care of it, and I’ll work something out with you about the marker to smooth it over with your mamma.
“I went on home and got back to work, and I kept wondering whether I’d done the right thing, and I’d pretty well made up my mind that Mamma was right and I didn’t think much more about it until about three or four weeks later, when I had to go to Mr. Moss’s store to get something on Mamma’s account. I was talking to Mr. Moss while his sister was getting up a few things for Mamma, and Mr. Moss said, ‘Son, I hope I didn’t take too much liberty, but you know I’d already done most of the work, and although you said not to mount it… Well I got to looking at that thing, and I figured that hide was just too pretty to waste, so what I’ve done is take that hide and make you the finest pair of shooting gloves that’s ever been seen in this part of the country. You can wear them hunting and keep it between me and you and the gatepost; it’ll be like having your dog along on the hunt, part of her anyway, but now if I’ve taken too many liberties you just say, but I’d just like you to have them.’ He brought them out from under the counter in a paper parcel. Mr. Moss was a master craftsman, and he’d taken his time, and had softened and slipped the hair but had left long cuffs with the hair still on to show the color and texture.
“Well, I knew it probably wasn’t the right thing to do, and I knew Mamma wouldn’t like it, but I didn’t want to hurt Mr. Moss, and I couldn’t hardly part with those gloves, they was so beautiful and the craftsmanship was so good, and I said, ‘Yes sir, I believe I do want ’em,’ and I took them gloves, wrapped them up in paper, stuffed them down my shirt and went on home.
“I kept them hidden for a while, but after that, whenever I’d go deer hunting or squirrel hunting or coon hunting I’d wear them. I don’t remember exactly what became of them—I guess it’s been over fifty years now and my memory ain’t what it used to be—but I remember a peculiar thing happened to me one time wearing them gloves. I had gotten up early one morning and gone squirrel hunting, and I remembered some lighter stumps I could get at easy and had made up my mind to go back and pick up one or two for kindling, so after I’d killed several squirrels and was heading back I laid them fine Uno shooting gloves up there on the wagon seat and commenced to heaving at one of them stumps.
“Directly I heard this noise, and I looked around and there was a big old cock partridge a fluttering and a floundering and a flapping and going nowhere, ’cause them Uno gloves had dropped off the wagon seat on him and had a choke hold around his neck. I walked over and dispatched him, but I had to pry them gloves loose, first, and I’ve said ever since I don’t reckon bird dogs get no better than ol’ Uno.
Uno_ published in Gray’s Sporting Journal_November-December 2004