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James R. Stout

The Night The Beast Bought The Farm

            I was 9-years-old and had a yearning to be a woodsman. I had been enthralled with the movie tales of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone as well as the many western movies and television programs of the day. I had won first place in a contest in The Cub Scouts and the prizes were an official Scout knife, a flashlight, and a pup tent. I must have bothered my mother for 3 or 4 months begging her to let me sleep out in my pup tent. She wasn’t too keen on the idea, but I Dad was sold on it. After all, he had been in the Boy Scouts back in the 1930’s and had been in love with the camping and outings that were part of the Scouts. Finally, my mother relented one Saturday night when we were visiting my grandparents on their farm. There was a cedar tree to the right of the front porch that was just big enough to pitch my tent under. I think that there was a wee bit of betting by the Baptists in the house that night as to how long I would last out in the tent.

            When it came time for everyone to go to bed, I dutifully gave my parents a kiss goodnight on the cheek and headed out to my tent. Our dog Rex would be my companion on this adventure. I had already set the tent up, put a quilt and pillow (my groundsheet and saddle bags) in the tent, and had my trusty dog to warn me of any potential bears or mountain lions. Of course, there were neither of those critters in that part of East Texas anymore, but it was an adventure to be sure. I had my Boy Scout flashlight as Rex and I made our way out to the tent. It wasn’t long before the lights in the house started to go out. My grandparents turned out their light first, then my sisters, and finally my parents. It took about 3 or 4 minutes for my eyes to fully adjust to the darkness. Did I say darkness? It was more like being in a closet. There was no moon out that night, but the stars were incredible. I laid on my back with my head outside the tent and marveled at the night sky. This was long before there was light pollution like there is today. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face without the stars in the background. Rex curled up beside me with his head resting on his paws and we both started to doze off.

            Sometime later in the night Rex started to growl and awoke me from my slumber. When he stood on all four legs with the hair on his back bristling and his lips drawn back in a grimace, I knew that there was something outside and likely awfully close. I listened. At first, there was no sound. Then I heard the sounds of an animal nearby digging in the dirt and making enough noise to set me to worrying. Was it a raccoon? A rabbit? A SNUNK? I was afraid to turn on my flashlight for fear it would cause the unknown animal to attack me. I laid there listening to that animal for what seemed forever. It sounded like it was getting closer to the tent!

            There I was stretched out with my feet against the back of the tent when something on the outside of the tent started to poke against my feet. Well, I froze at first. Then the better part of valor took over and I screamed at the top of my lungs and jumped out of the tent. Rex started to bark loudly and ran around the tent in hot pursuit of whatever animal was trying to consume me. I probably looked pretty silly doing an impression of the Wildman From Borneo with my flashlight bouncing light here and there and Rex literally going crazy. Well, this was not going to go unnoticed by the folks inside the house. In what seemed like an instant the place was lit up like a Roman candle. I hightailed it up onto the front porch and out stepped my grandpa with a .22 rifle in hand. Dad was right behind him and shined a floodlight onto the yard. Within seconds the .22 banged out a couple of shots and the doggone biggest armadillo that I had ever seen flipped on it’s back and promptly died.

            Meanwhile, I was standing there in abject fear wondering how I was ever going to go back into that tent and sleep. It turns out that was an unnecessary pondering. Out stepped my mother in her yellow robe and she made the announcement that I would be spending the night on the couch that made into a bed in the living room. No argument from me. I still wonder who won the pool on how long I would stay out in the tent. I must admit that I had conflicted emotions at the time. On the one hand, I felt like it was silly to have gotten so scared and end up safe and warm on my grandparent’s couch. On the other hand, I was mighty glad to be inside the house. Keep in mind, I was only 9-years-old. With all these years to reflect on that event I think it was pretty brave of me to take on that task.

            So, here I am safe and warm in my house on the last night that I will spend in it. Moving time is hours away. I’m going to miss living out here in the sticks. I’ll be going out on the porch in a little bit and look at the stars, try to nail some armadillo’s hide to the wall, and listen to the night sounds in the country. Oh, I’ll get back to visit my sister and brother-in-law out here in the country and from time to time get to enjoy this life. I feel a little bit like I did that long-ago night. I’m a little bit scared of the new life to come, but awful glad to be on a new adventure. Here’s to all the adventures that you experience in your life and if you ever get a little afraid, then embrace the fear and move on down the road a bit more.

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