One weekend about 15 or so years ago, (my God, has it been that long?) my cousin Jeff and I loaded up his son Jason, aged ten, and my son Sean aged eight, along with Jeff’s black labrador retriever named Sam and off we went to four-wheel it through the marshy bottoms to camp out on Jeff’s 43 acres of land that lies on both sides of the South Sulphur River.
A few years later, we built a cabin that we still go camping at every year, but in those days our campsite consisted pretty much of tents, tarps and a wooden electrical cable spool that we used as a table. Anyway, we arrived shortly before dark on a Friday evening and just got our tents set up before it was time to light our campfire and turn on a couple of Coleman lanterns. Somewhere not long after setting up the tents and about half-way through a bottle of Wild Turkey, Jeff decided to have a bit of fun with the boys, so he gathered them around the campfire and told them to be on the lookout for really evil creatures called “Tallywhacker Bush Bats” which were notoriously thick in the very woods where we were camping.
“Why are they called Tallywhacker Bush Bats?” asked Jason. Doing a wonderful job of keeping a straight face, Jeff answered, “because they hide in the bushes where you can’t see them, and when you go to use the bathroom, they pounce on your tallywhacker and bite down on it with razor sharp fangs and then suck all the blood out of you.” Now Jason and Sean both snickered and laughed when they heard this preposterous description, but when Jeff and I kept our faces more or less straight, they began to have second thoughts. “There’s no such thing as a tallywhacker bush bat . . . . is there?” “Are you SURE?” “Have you ever seen any?” Soon, we had them going. “What do they look like”, they asked. “Well,” Jeff answered, “they aren’t really all that big, just about the size of a big squirrel, which makes it easier for them to hide in the bushes. But even though they aren’t really big, they have long snouts, just big enough to swallow your whole tally whacker, and sharp teeth about 2 inches long that clamp down where you can’t get loose while they suck the blood out of you.”. At this point, they were true, saucer-eyed believers, although I think I almost blew the whole thing when I added, “most people are really scared of them, but there are some local guys that like to catch them and take their teeth out and make pets out of them for some reason.”
Somehow, Jeff managed to keep from choking on a big gulp of the Wild Turkey he had been in the process of swigging down and he quickly added, “the main thing is, boys, don’t go where it’s too dark, because they hate bright light and love to lurk in the dark until some poor unsuspecting guy comes along and pulls out his tallywhacker.” I don’t think we ever had a brighter campfire than the one those boys kept adding wood to all night long! And I don’t think that either one of them ventured more than 10-15 steps from the campfire to relieve themselves of all the cokes they drank. To make it worse, whenever one did go and the other wasn’t looking or going at the same time, we tossed a few sticks out in the bushes to make them jump. And of course, half the time that Jeff and I had to heed nature’s call, we rattled the brush and came scampering back, claiming breathlessly to have narrowly escaped a close call.
Finally, when all the hot dogs and chili had been eaten and the last of the Wild Turkey had finished off the last of Jeff’s and my brain cells, we headed off to our tents, my son Sean clutching to my trouser leg and shining the flashlight to and fro at every imagined shadow and sound until we got in the tent. Nearby, Jeff and Jason were repeating pretty much the same ritual, and then I heard Jeff say, “Have you seen Sam, Jason? Oh crap, I hope he hasn’t gone down to the river and gotten all muddy. SAM. SAAAAAAAAM. HERE SAM! Ah, there he comes, and he looks dry. Good dog, good dog, come on in the tent and keep us warm, boy.” For a few moments, there was silence.
Then Jeff said, “Jason, did you crap in your pants? Sheweee, that smells horrible!” “No, Dad, it wasn’t me, I promise” “Well I didn’t do it, and it smells like pure sh__!” “Me either, Dad, it must be Sam”, and then a few seconds later, “Man, it’s getting worse!” At that point, the flashlight came on in their tent, and Jeff commenced to cussing, “Sam you stupid blankety-blank dog, you’ve got crap all over you!” “Look, Dad it’s all on his jaws – he’s been eating somebody’s crap and it looks just like that chili you made”. “Yeah, well it smells like sh__, and now it’s all over our damn sleeping bags! Who in the hell was the idiot that took a dump close to camp”? My son Sean started snickering, and pointing to himself, and I, thinking about how close he likely had been to the campfire when he took a poop due to our stories of the Tally Whacker Bush Bats, started laughing. Then Sean started laughing, and soon Sean and I were both roaring with laughter, which didn’t help Jeff or Jason’s moods while they got up in the cold night air and tried to clean off their sleeping bags as best they could, all the time cussing and bitching in the direction of our tent.
Finally I just couldn’t resist yelling back, “Hey, I can’t help it if you have a sh__ eating dog!” And Sean added, “yeah, and don’t let one of those bush bats get you while you’re cleaning all the poop off!”