This is not a religious column.

At a Wednesday night prayer meeting devotion, our preacher was talking about how God knows each of His children so personally, and he likened it to a mother’s being able to tell her own child’s cry from amongst a dozen other kids playing together. “Scotti always knew if one of ours was squalling, even if they were a block away,” he declared.

I had never thought about it thataway before, but now that Jon had called it to my attention, I considered that he had made a rather sexist statement. After all, it takes a daddy and a momma to make kids, so why didn’t he just say that a parent knew the kid?

But he failed to correct himself, so in the car going home, I called it to Betsy’s attention. “Now, I’ve had Lyme Disease, so can’t remember, but I reckon when one of ours was crying amongst a bunch of others, I could tell it, couldn’t I?” I queried my bride.

She snorted, “You couldn’t hear ours cry when they were the only ones in the house and it was two in the morning!” Then she made a further point, sarcastically: “But when that pack of beagles was running a mile away, you could tell each one of their voices!”

Her sarcasm went right over my head. A man is supposed to know each of his dog’s voices, and if these genetic scientists would work on breeding better hunting bays into our kids, instead of trying to breed up left-handed pitchers or nuclear engineers, we’d be getting our money’s worth. Who cares if they can clone sheep? But if they could have cloned the Belle of Brownspur, it would have been a million-dollar deal.

Belle was the matron of our beagle pack, and had one of those classic bays that people write books about. She passed it down to only a couple of her pups, Sam and Miss Adventure, but I could tell the three apart when they ran together. Sam’s was a deeper bass, and Miss Adventure’s was a little more soprano than Belle’s contralto, and Sam drew his out a little longer, though not as long as Bellowin’ Buford’s bay. Buford was a Plott hound, not a beagle, a contemporary of the great Jupiter Pluvius, who had the finest bay a Black-and-Tan ever bayed. Trouble, a Redbone of their age, also had a wonderful bay.

The rest of Belle’s pups, when they ran together as a pack, were easy to tell apart. Eric the Red was coarse-mouthed, more a bawl than a bay. He was the pack’s strike dog. Little Seven had a chop-mouth, and her sibling Thirteen was, to put it frankly, squeaky. One of those pups was unlucky growing up, and the other was uncommonly lucky, but they were a wonderful duet when they ran together, sort of like pulling a harrow with two bad bearings on it. Beaudine, whose brown-spot hairline resembled my brother’s then, had a squally-mouth voice, and was the one who cold-trailed best. Sam was bad to over-run a bunny’s trail, but Beaudine could be depended on to work it out when Sam went astray.

Aunt Rose used to resent being awakened by that pack of beagles running a rabbit through her hedges early in the morning, but Uncle Sam took me aside after her lecture on keeping the little hounds penned up, to say that he enjoyed their concerts, and not to worry about Aunt Rose’s tirades. “Her bark’s worse than her bite,” he winked.

Trigger, the daddy of that pack, never got to run with them, joining in with his high-pitched “Ki-yi-yi!” He caught a truck not long after conception, and never saw his progeny. Angel, his sister, and the pup’s aunt, never saw them either, though Seven inherited her chop-mouth. She was struck by a huge stumptail moccasin, right in our front yard, and died in my arms. The fang marks were over an inch apart, above her eye. Why it didn’t break the little miniature beagle’s neck, I never figured. Never found the snake.

Miss Adventure was the last of that wonderful pack to depart this earth, living to a ripe old age, though only having one litter of her own. We thought she was barren, but late in life she managed to conceive, and bore five pups. They were only a few days old when I found the mother coon that had been run over, leaving two babies orphaned. I brought Smokey and Bandit home and introduced them to beagle mother’s milk, and, lo and behold, Miss Adventure adopted them willingly! The little coons grew up with the little beagles, and the dogs learned to climb trees (at least, as much as their basic equipment allowed), and the coons learned to run rabbits, though they never bayed atall.

Betsy and I talked all this out on the way home, and though I enjoyed the memories, I reckon she made her point, and in doing so, reinforced the preacher’s sermon. I gave up.


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