Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Roar of the Lion -- Purr of the Cat

Neil O. Jones

Oft times in the early morning stillness of those Texas summers, I would awaken to the irregular tap-tapping of the screen door bumping against the door jamb, as our cat, Ming Fuey, scratched and pulled till she jerked it open enough to get her head in. Two more bumps against her belly and hips and she could pull her tail right on through.

A little before I did, she had caught the whiff of homemade sausage frying. Daddy, standing with spatula in hand before the stove, would look down as she marked him and begged by rubbing back and forth across and between his legs. He liked to reach down and pick her up by one ear, hold her frozen body up to eye level, turn his head on angle with hers and say, “What do the animals in the jungle allow, cat?” Then he’d laugh as he dropped her and took up cooking again. Ming Fuey would shake her head back right, then take up marking and begging again with each pass through his legs. After breakfast he’d pour the sausage grease over the table scraps that he’d split between her and our dog, Chewber.

Daddy—big, round-chested—who cowed from no man or object in his way, made his entrance into the house a bit more dramatic than the cat. And everybody knew when the old man was home. He always drank when he had money, and you could tell he had been drinking by looking at his car. If it was caddy-wampus in the driveway, or if it had missed the driveway completely and had a wheel hung in the ditch, Daddy was home and had been imbibing a mite. His vehicles always had dents on both sides, battle scars from those that got in his way on the trail between the beer joint and home. And there was no difficulty hearing him. He was loud and profane when he was sober and louder and more profane when he was drunk, plus the whiskey brought out a disposition akin to a stepped-on water moccasin. Anytime I was in my house playing with friends and Daddy came in the front door cussing and yelling, the kids skedaddled out the back door with me close behind. I played more at my friends’ houses than the other way around.

At times he was another man. I never saw him turn down helping any white man in a tight spot. When a family was moving in the house across the road, Daddy was there quick to help the man tote in the refrigerator and stove. That night, Daddy fried up a bunch of catfish he had caught and made sure the new family got plenty, as well as giving them more fresh fish packed in ice for another meal. Later, I was outside with the man and Daddy. Daddy nipped his whiskey and passed his bottle to the new neighbor, and one pass to me, all the time telling bawdy jokes that kept us laughing.

One summer Saturday morning, I was watching my favorite Tarzan, Johnny Weismuller, on TV. Just as he had made his yell through cupped hands to rally the elephants to his side, I heard Chewber outside barking and popping his chain as he lunged out at something. Then I heard the clanging sound of a trash can falling over. Daddy was in the kitchen stirring red-eye gravy to go along with our fried country ham and biscuits. As soon as he heard the can fall, he lowered the fire on the stove and walked through the living room to the closet to get his favorite twelve-gauge, which was loaded like all the guns in the house. I watched as he pushed the screen door open with his bare foot, stepped out on the porch, and raised the shotgun to aim. Two scavenging dogs next to the overturned trash can looked up long enough to see the black eye of the barrel leveled on them.

One dog sensed trouble and took off in a run up Arden Road. The second dog looked confused as he saw his partner high-tail it, then was turning his head toward Daddy when he got it—a swarm of number nine bird shot that stung him from head to tail. The sprayed dog tore off down Arden Road, yelping in time as his paws crossed in, reaching and pushing to gain ground a bound at a time. Daddy raised the Remington to his shoulder and racked in another round. He raised his sighting up slightly and led the first dog. Then he squeezed-off another round. The target let out one loud yelp, tucked his tail, and pulled in his rear end as he ran, so whatever it was that bit him could not quite reach him next time. Down the other direction, the first-shot-dog’s yelping turned to a long continuous squall after the second shot, which was not even aimed at him.

I stood beside Daddy, taking it all in, ears ringing, nostrils filling with burned gunpowder. He put the gun butt against his right hip with the barrel pointing skyward. Then he laughed and yelled to no one in particular and to everyone in earshot. “And stay away you sons of bitches or I’ll part your eyes with an aught-six round, I will!”

Mr. Turentine in the house just beyond our lot came out on his porch cussing. “What in the damn hell is going on out here?” Then he saw Daddy with his shotgun still smoking and purred, “Hey there, Worley. How’s ever’ thing this mornin’?” Seeing the trash can mess, he said, “I hope you got them dogs. Damned nuisance is all they are.”

Daddy racked another round in the chamber, put on the safety, spit off the porch and said, “I got ‘em—all I aimed to anyway. I don’t ‘spect ‘em back for a while.”

The dogs were out of sight, but their squalling could still be heard.

“I reckon not,” Mr. Turentine said. “Not if they got a lick of sense between ‘em.” He opened his screen door and threw up his other hand, “And good morning to you, sir. Y’all come see us.”

“Y’all too,” Daddy answered. Then to me he said, “Get out there and clean up that mess, and get my shells.”

“Yessir.” I jumped off the porch and got the shotgun shells and examined them. They were in good enough shape for Daddy to reload. I put them in my back pocket and went to the garage where I was able to drag open one of the doors enough to get in and get a broken-handled shovel and a worn-out, c-curved broom. Cleaning up was easy, as all the time I was reliving the moment. Once, I held the broom to my shoulder in deadly aim and swung right to left and made that second shot he did, only I dropped a charging rhino that flipped head over heels from my perfect aught-six round that split his eyes.

I swept up the last of some eggshells and coffee grounds. I found a half piece of burned toast that somehow got past the animal scrap pile from a previous day. Heading back to the house, I saw Chewber in his doghouse with his head lying on his paws. He looked up at me, big eyes begging. I squatted down to reassure him with a head rub and the piece of toast he devoured in three crunches and a gulp.

Back at the porch, I sat down on the steps and played with a shotgun shell. I heard Ming Fuey’s purring just before I felt her rub against my bare back. Reaching behind me, I pulled her to my lap and petted her in long, even strokes. It was then I noticed that the only sound was her purring. No birds chirped, no one’s TV or radio could be heard, no talk. Nothing moved. Then I heard a clear clink and knew it was his whiskey bottle that he bumped against the plates as he pulled it down from the cabinet for his first drink of the day.

The lion had roared and the others in the jungle, motionless, peered silently through the blades of blinds and decided there was no outside need that could not wait a while longer.


Neil O. Jones has taught college English courses for thirty years. He writes humorous personal essays and reads at local open mic events. Read "A Tale of Two Chickens" at Southern Neil is also published in Perceptions 2005.

© Neil O. Jones

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012