The First Frosty Night Of The Season

A coonhound on a trail on a cold frosty night always reminds me of my father who was an avid coon hunter. Recently, while going through the homeplace well house, I found hanging on a nail, where my father had left it from his last hunt, his Rayovac eight-cell flashlight with a leather strap attached to it. I always marveled at how he could tell the difference of the bark of each individual dog on a trail with as many as five or six dogs in on the hunt. I, for one, never developed that ability and often found it hard to stay up late, but he could follow his dogs ’til sun up and still put in a full day’s work on the farm.

The other night as I was drifting off to sleep on one of our first frosty nights of the season, I could hear a group of coonhounds on the knob behind our house. As I lay there listening to the music of those coonhounds on the hillside, the memories of my father and his coon hunting experiences seemed to fill my head with many pleasant thoughts. I remembered his hunting buddies, places he enjoyed going, special dogs, funny happenings, as well as numerous stories he would tell from his nights of hunting. They were all good thoughts that also caused me to wish for the opportunity to just talk to him one more time about his favorite sport.  Daddy passed away in 2001, but those memories he left me seem to bring him back to me on cold frosty nights. The other night as I listened to those hounds on the knob, I looked over at the horn that he used to call in his dogs, made from a Texas Longhorn’s rack, hanging on the wall near my bed and thought back on those memories.

The years that I grew up on our Middle Tennessee farm was a time of “hands-on” education. It was a time of learning from the end of a hoe, the knee of a grandparent and true fact finding from the hands of a father who taught me what life was all about. It included a lot of hard work, but also many adventures of enjoyment by his side as we would do the fun things that farm guys did together while growing up. I found out really quick that nature could also be a real educator as well, because it always seemed that when work was to be done in the field or at the barn it either rained, was really warm or cold and changed when you least expected it.

In my employment “adventures” today, there have been those who have questioned my reasons for what I write in support of modern animal agriculture. My early upbringing has a lot to do with that. I was literally born on the farm in my grandparents’ log house. The day I was born, my parents were short of money to pay the doctor, but they were saving a hog for winter meat. They sold that hog to pay the doctor for bringing me into the world, and I have often wondered if my father ever had second thoughts whenever I would get into trouble and the price of hogs would go up. But, my understanding of animal agriculture came from a family that understood the importance of taking good care of your livestock. They were fed and watered before we were. In fact, we had running water at the barn before we had it at the house.

I can still remember as a small boy the feeling of his large, rough weathered hands as many times we would work together taking care of a small calf or baby pig. Hands that may have seemed rough to some, but were as gentle and caring as a nurse’s in a newborn wing of a hospital. That’s why today I support Tennessee’s farmers in what they do to provide us a safe and affordable product. They have had the same training I grew up with, in most cases, and today have the advantage of information from the best schools of agriculture you can find, plus they have that same inward concern that my father did all those many years ago for their animals. They also have an unexplainable desire to be the caregiver for God’s creatures.

I fell to sleep that night to that musical tone of those hounds, or maybe it was the memory of the one who taught me the truth about what being a real farmer was all about and who passed on that same inward concern and unexplainable desire to do right. Thanks Daddy, for your hands-on-training in more ways than you could have imagined.  

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 – Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com