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  • Susanna C.H.

Guest Post: Split Dogs and Skunk Funerals

My husband told me about a dog he had when he was a boy. The dog had Beagle ears and body with a Chihuahua head, legs and tail. It yapped like a Chihuahua and had a nose like a Beagle. And it was fast.

One day his dog was running two rabbits when it ran slap into a mowing scythe that someone had left with the blade sticking straight up. The dog was going so fast that the blade cut him clean in two. But the dog didn’t notice. One half took off after one rabbit while the other half chased the other rabbit. Took five minutes for the dog to realize it was cut in two, then it just dropped over.

Larry grabbed up the two halves of his dog, wrapped them in a flannel shirt and took it to the house. He soaked the wrapped-up dog with turpentine. Turpentine is said to be the best medicine you can get for cuts, scrapes, burns, bug bites, snake bites, chiggers, ticks, lice, croup, chest colds—you name it, turpentine will cure it. Larry figured it ought to work on his dog.

It worked all right. In three weeks the dog was looking pretty pert so Larry unwrapped the flannel shirt. The dog was healed up as good as new, except for one little problem.

You see, when Larry wrapped up the two halves of dog he was so excited that he got it wrong way to. So the dog had two legs up and two legs down. Turned out to be all right, because the dog could run just as fast on two legs as he could on four, and when he got tired, he just flipped over and ran along on those other two legs. And according to Larry, his dog could bark out of both ends.

His story reminded me of one in The Memories and Writings of Harold David Somerville, vol II. Mr. Somerville was a rural carrier in Sandyville, West Virginia during the 1930’s and 40’s, and his memories of his years as a mail carrier fill two volumes. As I was reading the part about mail delivery on Joe’s Run (which is where I live), I came upon an unusual tale. Some hunters were out late and heard a mournful sound that frightened their dogs and made the men’s hair stand on end. Upon investigating, they saw a procession of polecats (skunks); it was obviously a funeral procession, for the skunks were carrying one that was obviously a corpse. The ceremony of burial is described, even to the pall-bearers; according to Mr. Somerville, the men who viewed the event said that from that day on their dogs were no good for hunting polecats.

True stories? As true as the listener believes them to be.

Tall tales, usually called lies in West Virginia, are part of Appalachian storytelling heritage. I wondered if the tradition of lying was dying out, but a few years ago I attended a farm auction where the bidding was heavy on a wooden ironing board. A man near me said, “You know, I once had a dog who was such a good hunter that all I had to do was show him a skinning board and he would bring me a coon or a possum just the right size for the board.” I knew immediately where he was going—this was a tall tale I knew and often told along with The Split Dog. I sat back and listened, glad to know that the old stories are indeed alive and well, and that people are still telling them.

Did I ever tell you about the fish that Sherm Holstein caught? Why it was so big that it’s too big to include in this story, and will have to wait for another time.

Guest post by Susanna C.H.

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