We moved to Bullmarket back in the summer of 1958. It was a heavily wooded area of southern Mississippi back in those days. Even now, some fifty years later, there still isn’t much to that place. Oh, they have a lot more homes, a few stores nowadays. But, nothing that would make you want to move there. Back in 1958 there was Red’s Meat Market. That was it insofar of businesses in that area. Bullmarket Elementary school is where I would be going to school starting in September of that year. Don’t bother going to a map to look for Bullmarket, Mississippi. I doubt even in this day and time you would find it on a map. Strangely enough, there was some entertainment back then. About two miles, from where we lived in Bullmarket, was a drag strip. Of course, I use the term “drag strip” rather loosely in describing that place. It was a quarter-mile asphalt, no bleachers to sit and no lights. In fact, there wasn’t even any bathrooms for the many folks who would show up there after Sunday service. It cost a quarter to get in there to watch the events of the day. But, my brother and I somehow managed to sneak in without ever being caught.
As it turns out, those Sunday dragsters were all that we had in way of entertainment in Bullmarket. There just wasn’t anything else. Sure, we could go exploring out in the woods. But, even that got old since we couldn’t lose sight of the house. If we got lost in those woods….well, I suspect they still wouldn’t have ever found us. School was about the only thing we could look forward to during that summer of 1958. Night time was a different matter. At night we would hear the lonesome howl of what my father said was most likely a stray dog abandoned by its family. We called him the “White Dog of Bullmarket.” We knew he was white because one night he tried to get in the chicken pen. My old man got up out of bed, got his shotgun, went out the backdoor and fired a shot at the dog. I only managed to get brief glimpse from the light of the gun as my old man pulled the trigger on his .12 gauge shotgun. In that brief moment, I saw a dog of desperation, of fear and wanton hunger. My old man’s aim was never any good. The White Dog escaped death that night. I saw him one other time one night when I was coming in the house late at night. The White Dog just stood and stared at me from atop a small mound of dirt near our home. I remember not feeling scared. I think the White Dog just wanted some normalcy to his life again. I felt sorry for that dog. I had no idea what to do to help him. He would still howl at night. This went on for about two months. It ended the day my father brought a scrawny looking beagle to our home in Bullmarket.
We had no warning from our father that he was bringing a dog into the family. Of course, with him, that was par for the course. He did whatever he wanted to, wife and kids be damned. When my father picked up the 9-month old beagle out of his Ford station wagon, I thought it was just some dog he was keeping for somebody at work. That was not the case. “Here’s y’all a dog. All of you been whining about a dog. Now, you got one. Take care of him…and I mean it,” said my father. I looked up at my old man and again tried to think of what did I ever do to deserve a man like this for my father. At 7-years of age, I already had a deep hatred for him. Now, since I was the “oldest” among my siblings, it was incumbent upon me to care for a dog that I didn’t want. Hell, I had begged my father for a collie, like Lassie on TV! The fact that I wanted a collie was reason enough for him to never bring home a collie, I suppose. I looked down at the beagle, who was twitching nervously and looking rather pitiful.
“What’s his name?,” I asked my father. “Mister, and don’t let me catch you calling him anything else. His name is Mister,” replied my old man. I was already starting to hate Mister. It wasn’t his fault my old man was a tyrant and an asshole. But, I had to take my anger out on someone, even if it was this poor dog before me. “Tell your Mama to give you the scraps left over from dinner and feed him,” my old man told me. For the rest of his life, Mister lived off of scraps from dinner. Once in a great while, we would eat steak. Mister got all the bones and whatever meat was left. That was extremely rare. Well, at least, in poverty stricken Mississippi it was rare. There was no such thing as “dog food” back in them days. There was no such thing as taking the dog to the veterinarian either. No shots, no nothing for the family dog. If your dog got sick, he was on his own.
I found out later on how my beloved father was able to get Mister. In 1958, if a dog didn’t hunt in the country-side (hell…most all of Mississippi is country, even today) of Mississippi, he didn’t eat and he didn’t live. Most of the time, the only way people got meat back in those days was hunting deer, rabbit, squirrel or, in some cases, opossum. The problem with Mister was that he was “gun-shy.” That means if someone would shoot a gun, (rifle or shotgun most likely), Mister would want to run away. He wouldn’t hunt after a blast from a shotgun filled the air. A dog that was found to be “gun-shy” in 1958 Mississippi usually spelled a death sentence for that dog. Most people just couldn’t keep a dog that didn’t pay his way. It just so happens that my old man happened to be at the house of the previous owner on what was supposed to be Mister’s last day on earth. My father, in a rare moment of compassion, asked the owner to let him have Mister, rather than him be killed. The man thought about it for a moment, decided he would let Mister live. So, it was a bit of fate that intervened for Mister to live to see his first birthday (November 17) that year. It was also a fateful day that would be intertwined within the very fabric of my young life in the years to come. If not for my old friend, Mister, I wouldn’t be here telling you this tale.