I moved to Bristol, TX in 1976 just before the bicentennial celebration of the USA. I remember walking across the street from our house with my Mom and Grandmother to attend the 4th of July celebration at the "ball-field" as the local baseball/softball diamond was called in that time. As I watched Jody Taylor singing Margaritaville from the back of a flat-bed tractor-trailer that stretched between 3rd and 1st bases across the pitcher's mound I truly believed I was witnessing something great, and in relative terms I was correct. Jody was the coolest guy in glasses singing one of the coolest songs of the Dazed and Confused era.
The debate raged heavily at the time about the lyrics of the classic Jimmy Buffet tune as to whether Jimmy was saying "my outlaw shaker of salt. my lost shaker of salt, my lost jigger of salt, etc." We did not have Google and no one printed lyrics in the album covers or on a leaflet accompanying an 8-track tape which was the highest form of audio-cool at the time. If you had a CRAIG tape deck (and it was always called a deck) you were very popular. Nevertheless, I did not know the accurate lyrics to Margaritaville until I started scamming Columbia House for CDs in the late 80s, and by then I didn't give a shit whose salt it was so long as I was able to drink a marg. and blow out my flip-flop with relative frequency.
Bristol is a town that with only 500 inhabitants managed to have its own sub-dialect of North Texan, (Brest-uhl) a convenience store/grocery, a pool hall, a skating rink, a baseball field with concession stand, 3 churches, a justice of the peace, but no schools. There was a super cool school building which had been the Bristol school Pre-WWII and was now the deep left field wall (The Red Monster, if you will) of the ball-field. There were of course children in Bristol; including my little brother and I, and we along with the rest of Bristol's kids had to be bussed to one of 3 local school districts. Depending on which neighborhood you lived and/or which side of the street determined if you went to Ennis, Ferris, or Palmer schools. This was pretty much the way in which the kids of Bristol, Texas were organized; by school district and that is just how simple it was to create often violent rivalries in a redneck town.
In essence, the most compelling components of my youth and the most shocking really happened to me in the 6 years I lived in Bristol. I rode bikes, had motorcycles, rode the bus, got in fights, got beaten up, lit fireworks, made gas bombs, went to pool halls, witnessed guns being drawn on people and saw animals gratuitously murdered in the name of good sport all while often being lulled to sleep by the revving of a 440 cubic inch engine being prepped for another show of ego along the lawless stretches of FM 660. I always knew that road was one 6 short of hell and it never failed to disappoint.
People may try to tell you that we were not rednecks or that we were somehow a notch above the local Bristol bumpkin because we moved from Irving (suburb of Dallas) Texas and our families had been pretty much the first suburbanites of the baby boom. However, don't let anyone fool you. We lived a life that would make Jerry Springer edgy and the pride, anger, and miscreant depths of the local ne'er-do-well were the impetus behind great films like Deliverance, Dazed and Confused, Winter's Bone, and Natural Born Killers. Yes, we may have been the educated family on the block, but doesn't that make our crimes all the more egregious because we knew the life we lived was flawed and yet we carried on as if it was irreparable?
This post contains graphic commentary and very disturbing imagery. If you are easily disturbed I would seriously consider skipping this post
This is part 2 in the series of how I came to become TBA
I could feel each bump in the back of my legs, back, and neck as the 1974 Ford F250 4x4 Truck (no one in Bristol said Pickup under the age of 50) bounced along the rows in the Bristol bottoms. These river bottoms were the places where people went Woof Huntin' or Keye-oat (coyote) Huntin'. There were no wolves in the Bristol Bottoms but woof huntin' was what we kids called coyote hunting because to a kid a coyote looked a lot like a wolf. To the adults with the spotlights, coyotes looked like easy prey.
We were running off and on the road at about 20-25mph it seemed and my Dad's very good friendMoondog was driving the truck. This monster vehicle was outfitted with a lift kit and tires with tread that naturally cut through the tilled rows of cotton along the bottom-floor near the Trinity river. These rows were called buster-beds by the "hunters" and they made for one hell of a bouncy ride, but boy did they ramp the anticipation and excitement of the hunt. In the back of this two-tone cream and burnt orange truck was unique structure that looked much like a modern-day moving pod. The box was made from 3/8 inch plywood and was painted a strange shade of red. There was a length of rope attached to a door lever near the top of the box which ran along to the cab of the truck and through the window.
The tailgate of the truck was removed to allow the door of the box to drop and open completely flat when the rope was pulled from the cab of the truck. Inside the box a team of beautiful greyhounds waited anxiously to be released and begin the chase; a chase that would wind up inevitably injuring one or more of the dogs and of course resulted in the untimely and very violent death of the animal being chased. Inside the truck was an L shaped handle that was bolted through the roof to a spotlight capable of blinding someone or putting out security lamps along city streets that had an electric sensor or 'lectric-eye in Bristol-speak.
WhileMoondog drove the truck, my dad would man the spotlight. I wanted so much to play with the spotlight, but I was told to keep quiet and not complain although my very skinny butt was being pounded up and down as we went down the rickety roads. At one point my dad was shining the light in a sweeping pattern when the very captivating glow of animal eyes came to our immediate attention:
Steve: Is that one?
Dad: I don't know, get closer
Steve: I think that's him
At that point Steve turned from the safety of the rough road into the hell of tilled dirt, debris, and scrub that made up the central bottom land. I heard the engine roar and suddenly everything and everyone in the cab was bouncing like we were being shaken by the giant hand of God. Wooooo! Yee-hah! the shouts were piercing from the adults in the truck including a late teens tag-a-long whose name escapes me, but whose mouth I will never forget. In just a moment it seemed we were right on the heels of a small coyote and I asked my dad why we needed so many dogs for 1 animal. My dad explained to me that when something is fighting for its life it can put up an amazing fight even against terrible odds.
At that moment, Steve pulled the cord and I heard the large piece of plywood crash into the steel truck bed with a slap. And in one blink I could see the white coat of the greyhound called Lightnin' racing past the driver's side of the truck and gaining quickly on the coyote. The coyote veered and weaved, but this was wide open country and there was no way the animal could evade us. In moments the action of running came to a halt and a coyote was now fighting for his life against a 4 ton truck, a spotlight, 3 bloodthirsty humans, and 5 larger, faster, stronger greyhounds. However, against unreal odds the coyote fought valiantly. The headlights and spotlight bathed the earthen stage before me in an extra-terrestrial light and the gnashing of teeth, the whimper of pain, roaring, growling, misery that I saw before me disturbed something deep inside of me; although I could not take my eyes from the scene.
While my male tendencies and fight or flight were pushing my heart rate into the stratosphere, the ballet of movements from the talented combatants and the certainty of death to come pulled the parts of my heart attached to my mind and soul in completely different directions and the tears began to flow. I did not know this coyote, but I did not have any idea why he deserved this; why he likely was going to leave his mate or his pack just because he or she had been singled our for elimination. I was riveted to the 50 inch widescreen of 1976; the truck windshield. I was captivated by the looks on the faces of the men in the truck who I adored, and I was certain that I was missing something.
I was sure that I must be too young to know why this Swan Lake was being played out before me with Foreigner's Hot Blooded raging in the background. I assumed this is just what men did and that animals were put on the planet for the pleasure of eating, petting, and destroying at our hegemonic whim. It was not until much later in life embarrassingly that I realized what I had witnessed as a kid was barbarism and waste on a level that is hard to pinpoint. After that night 2 of the dogs were mangled pretty badly and bleeding profusely from their wounds. The dogs would live, but they would not move the same ever again. I remember they were cared for dearly, but much like a soldier who has been injured in war the consolation they were given seemed to suggest if they had just been a bit faster or the enemy was not such a fierce adversary things would have gone differently.
As it was, I remember staring down at the shredded corpse of the coyote and realizing just how small the animal had been. I remember thinking to myself, we had a whole truck full of guns here, why did we not shoot the poor animal and spare it and especially the dogs all the grief? I was told the dogs loved to run, and of that fact I have no doubt. However, even at the time I thought isn't it our duty to protect our domestic animals from their own destructive instincts. The dogs likely thought the coyote was a threat to their master as all the noise and the growing scent of testosterone would suggest; but the coyote was no threat to us or likely to anyone's livestock or egg production. Even if the coyotes were a threat, it would have been much easier to trap or shoot them. What took place on a regular basis in the Bristol Bottoms was a cruel sport akin to the Coliseum days of Rome and in many ways continues today in the cockfighting and dog fighting that still runs rampant among those that remain so close to the violent tendencies of our ancestral males.
Bristol taught me many things and the church there taught me that evolution was bullshit; and I agree, but for vastly different reasons than the church does.