By Jack Cawthon 2005 |
I didn't know Sergeant Argyl Husking. But from what I learned from the folks around Big Puf, he grew up on Little Wheeze Crick, far, far up on the upper branches about as far as one could stick a butcher knife. He walked three miles to a school bus stop and then rode 12 miles more to attend Tri-Holler Consolidated High School. I was told that I might learn more by talking with one of Sergeant Husking's classmates, a fellow named Toddles Pratlow.
When I asked where I could find the right Pratlow, I was told that he would probably be in his "office." Where is that? I inquired. "Why, the bar over at the Over Easy Inn," I was told with a grin, as if any fool should know that without asking.
I'm not much for bars, but being the dedicated reporter that I am, no place is off-limits in my pursuit of truth, justice and the American way, as I was sworn to in my chosen profession, although I have yet to determine at an advanced age what mine might have been.
There was only one vastly overweight, red-faced, not to say red-necked, patron at the bar when I entered. I figured that I had found my man. I swung into a seat beside him, extended my hand, and introduced myself as a columnist for the Hur Herald. "Her who?" he burped, a question with or without the burp, that I am always asked, and as always I feel a little exasperated that the Weavers hadn't settled, say, in Jolo. Ignoring further explanations, I told him I needed a little information about a Sergeant Argyl Husking who grew up on Little Wheeze.
"Buy me a couple of beers, buddy, and I'll tell you more than you'll want to know about anyone from here to hell and back, which is the same as Little Wheeze and back," and he croaked a laugh, displaying bad dental health which had been practiced upon by those dentists of renown, nature and intemperance. But by then the ice of conversation had been well malted.
I must stress that I don't usually pay for information, as my journalistic ethics prohibit such. However, the tabloids do it all of the time, and surely their reporters must have been exposed to the same high standards in journalism school as was I, so what the heck, I thought, rationalizing as any good reporter would under the circumstances. Two beers it was, but when Toddles ordered he asked for the large 40-ounce size bottles. I have been around hill folks who equated two beers with two cases, and in a few cases, several cases from two delivery trucks. I knew I had to work fast before the word got out that I was in a bar ordering beers and before all the information leaked out of Toddles. I know the good Methodists and Baptists, and a few snake handlers, who read this would not approve of a good boy like me from Gilmer County sitting around in a bar with beer guzzlers.
"So, you want to know about ole Argyl," Toddles said with a smirk. "Strange kid," he observed. How so? I asked. "Never played sports at all," Toddles said, and for the first time I noticed he was capable of deep thinking. "Always carried books around with him," he spit with obvious disdain. "And he whimpered like a dog when the coach made fun of him and called him a sissy in phy ed class," Toddles said with obvious superiority. "Wouldn't even hit back when the jocks pounded him!" he grinned that famous grin again.
Why do you suppose he joined the military? I asked. "Thought he was gonna git above his raisin', be somebody bettern us," Toddles scowled. "Don't see me doin' that, no siree. I know my place!" I had to agree, but silently, as you know what alcohol can do to some people and I most certainly didn't want my name in the Herald associated with a barroom brawl. Toddles had practically chugalugged the first 40-ounce bottle and had twisted off the cap of the second, and I felt that soon my source of news would be going down the drain.
After leaving that scene of ill repute, I soon found myself in one of those lonely little family cemeteries that are so numerous in the hills. A large crowd had gathered around a gravesite, and by it sat a coffin covered by an American flag. A local preacher had finished speaking words that preachers for ages have spoken over the dead to lessen the loss for the living. Those deliveries, while sincere, often only smooth the surface, not ever fully penetrating and relieving the hearts of those who have lost the most.
Slowly and mournfully the sound of Taps mingled with the cries of an anguished mother who had been presented the tri-folded flag of her country.
As the last sounds of the bugle echoed away from the surrounding hills there followed a silence most certainly of the grave. But then suddenly there came a soul-rending wail that rose up to the heavens and caused the hair to stand up on my head. It was a sound of anguish I prefer not to hear again. As everyone turned to look, there stood one of the biggest, mangiest hound dogs I had ever seen, his head tiled upward as if listening for a reply.
I later learned that the dog was called Big Dog and had been Argyl's constant companion on many a trek into the hills. Some would say the bugle sound caused him to cry out in pain. But not I. Big Dog was venting his own lament for his dead companion who would never again roam the hills and hollers with him, I believe with a passion.
I wondered if Big Dog's lament should not be recorded and played at the end of those "honor rolls" on TV, when American casualties of the day are recounted. Our president insists that we are "exporting freedom," but with that export comes almost daily the import of flag-draped coffins. When will this trade issue be resolved? And for what?
Sergeant Husking may have hoped to better his life the only way he could. Perhaps it was patriotism or the recruiter who promised the money and the opportunity for education and the chance to "see the world." After all, there was nothing for him in the hollers. But he has returned to those same hollers, and, who knows, should you believe, as I sometimes do, that ghosts are among us in our dark hills and valleys, then maybe there will be sightings of a man and a big dog happily traipsing through familiar haunts once again.
As I left the cemetery, I noticed one of those little yellow ribbons that are so numerous and which was stuck on the back of a beat up old pickup truck. The ribbon bore the words "Support Our Troops," but someone had marked on the other side of it in large black letters, "By Bringing Them Home." What better wisdom could be expressed this Memorial Day?