Once upon a time a perfectly wonderful dog roamed ridges and left his mark in valleys around Holly Fork. Fearless and friendly, old Rock ran free and unfettered the way all country dogs once did. He was one of a kind, a splendiferous sort of hound that shows up maybe once in fifty litters. I know he was a tremendously special animal because despite the fact he died over fifty years ago, my family still talks about him.
Get my dad together with one of his brothers, throw in a cousin or two, let them sit together for an hour. It's a rock solid safe bet somewhere in there one of those children of the Great Depression will mention "old Rock," and they'll tell tales that would be raggedy and threadbare, if old stories aged like old clothes.
They'll remind one another how Rock would watch to see what sort of gun they picked up when it was hunting season. If a kid walked off into the woods with a .22, the dog knew to watch for squirrels, but a shotgun meant it was a day to run rabbits and jump grouse.
One day when my father hunted with Rock, that wonder of a dog ran two rabbits, found three squirrels and on the way home pointed a grouse. Try and get your registered hounds, the ones carrying more names than an English prince to do that, in the course of a single afternoon.
They say Rock didn't steal eggs and was braver than any other three dogs.
Not to mention he knew to leave skunks alone.
You'd think those old men would agree on who Rock belonged to, but there's no real consensus on that question. My father thinks he was Uncle Son's dog, but Cousin Carl claims Rock belonged to a family that lived a little farther along the ridge. Maybe he didn't belong to anyone, any more than you or I do. I get a picture of a dog who stayed wherever he felt like staying. There wasn't any such thing as dog food back then, and Rock probably hung close to the homesteads where supper scraps had the most meat and grease.
And he might've favored cabins where there were youngsters to run with.
Every now and then I get some interesting email, like a few months ago when some guy in Germany wrote to ask if dogs like Rock could be imported, and if so, what was their breed? His question was prompted by seeing an Internet home page with Rock's picture, along with a few words about him. That German guy wanted a dog like Rock in the worst way.
What he saw was an animal that looks to have weighed maybe sixty pounds, a mix of two or three different hound breeds, staring straight into the camera, not a bit intimidated. In the picture Rock's got the lean look of a dog who spends considerable time on the move, traveling so far and so wide across ground he claims as his own, he never will get fat.
I once read the ancient Greeks believed that so long as a man's name was remembered, that man was immortal. If that's so, maybe old Rock still runs our ridges. Go out and stand on your porch of a late evening, and listen hard. If, way off in the distance, there echoes the triumphant, trumpeting bay of a running hound, maybe it's his voice. Who's to say? Rock's name is remembered, and will be for some time to come.
Once in a while I hear my nephews asking each other, "Did Papaw ever tell you the story about that dog they had back on Holly, the one they called Rock?" And old stories that never wear out get another telling.
Know something? Fifty years after I'm dead, I'd like to be remembered as fondly, as intensely as old Rock.