Armadillo Hunting with an Old Man

Tracking vermin with a shotgun, a flashlight, and Grandma's new Buick

| March / April 2006

Glenwood, Arkansas, probably sounds rural to you. It is. The hillbilly half of Arkansas is kind of Southern -- sweet tea comes with supper (maybe fried chicken, squash, and okra), and mistrust, a three-syllable word, is how folks feel about outsiders. It's also kind of Appalachian hillbilly. A geographer who grew up in Arkansas says that the state is culturally split, a diagonal divide running from northeast to southwest. He says the two parts are (1) hick -- the hill-less half in the southeast that once grew tons of Southern plantation cotton, and (2) hillbilly -- the other half. The two halves, he says, are also hygienically distinct. People are either 'pickers' or 'blowers' (referring to the preferred method of sinus management), and the two vary along the same line that divides the state's hills from its flatland. I spent the summer of 1988 in the blower/hillbilly half.

I split my days between attending classes at a small university in Arkadelphia and playing tag -- along with my 85-year-old stepgrandfather, Amos. Although he was slowing down a bit, Amos could still work circles around most people and talk in even bigger circles, usually about how he could work. Amos and I did lots of stuff that summer. We grew seven gardens, as he saw it. (I saw it as one garden with some grass strips running through it.) We picked fruit. We cut down a tree. We made a rock garden (that made eight). And we spent hours puttering around on the mountain roads of Montgomery County, me staring through the bug-smeared windshield of his hell-and-back Ford pickup as he drove.

I guess ritual is a sort of psychological cement, perhaps a type of meditation. The Bodhisattva may live today in rural Arkansas. Though I never quite nailed down exactly when it would happen, I learned soon after moving in that twice a week -- every week -- Amos and I were going armadillo hunting. They tore up the garden, the flowerbeds, and the lawn, he said. They had to be dealt with.

Sometime after dark -- after supper but before ice cream -- he would put down his newspaper and magnifying reading light. Turning in his recliner to look across the house at no one and nothing in particular, he would say, 'Well, mum, I reckon me and my partner'll go get the armadillos.'

My grandmother, who I think was humoring us, always answered, 'Alrighty. Y'all kill a bunch.'

'Oh, don't you worry about that. We will. We will. Won't we, partner?'