I been on this bay since nineteen and forty. I seen a heap of changes, seen a lot of people come and go, the taxes get so high and jobs so low that most of my friends’ younguns moved off from here. There was a time when an oysterman or shrimper could make a purty decent living, but them days are about gone.
It was back in the early nineties I started to oystering for real because of a lucky accident. I was working the old drawbridge just about the time of my retirement and every time I climbed the ladder up to my control room, my knees would hurt like nothing you ever saw.
I was up there in the control room one sunny day rubbing Vicks on my knees, when I looked down on the causeway over toward Eastpoint on the other side of the bay, and right that minute watched a small Winnebago hit the soft sand on the right-of-way and go skidding on its side down the right lane coming my way. I got on the telephone right quick and called the sheriff, then almost slid down that ladder and run down the bridge to the causeway. The sheriff come up just as I reached the camper, and with some young folks coming from the beach we managed to get into the camper cab and see that the man and woman inside didn’t make it, because they weren’t wearing their seatbelts.
We was standing around looking for ways to help out after the ambulance got there, when out of the wreck come one of the beach kids holding a purty little poodle just a shivering and scared, the little blue ribbon around his neck loose and speckled with blood. I hate to see critters hurt, so I told the sheriff I would take the dog home and me and Marcella would tend to him until such time as the Winnebago folks’ family could come for him.
Nobody never did come for him. I wanted to call him Bruiser as a joke. But he was anything except a Bruiser, a prissy little dandy, traipsing around on his tiptoes and wagging his hips like a movie queen. After his pink nail polish wore off, Marcella got to painting his nails with harlot-scarlett and learned from the dog groomer in Panama City Beach how to trim his coat so he could have little puffs at his feet and tail end and a roly-poly tutu at his hips.
Since his family never come, we got permission from the sheriff to keep him. The time we found out he was real different was the fist day in the fall when oyster season opened and I had the weekend off. I got out my old oyster tongs from the shed and loaded everything in the boat Friday night, then dark and early–long about four—had myself some strong coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich and headed out to the boat.
It was getting the boat unhitched and floating in the marina, when I first seen that fool dog stashed away up under the bow on a pile of rope. He wouldn’t come out when I tried to coax him, so I said to him, “All right, little feller. You just stay there. I guarantee you’ll want out about the time we get to the oyster bar, but you’re stuck. I aint wasting my time to carry your little carcass back to the house.
So, Poodle Dog spent the day with me on the bay. He had the time of his life, running around that oyster boat, sniffing the oyster clumps dripping with bay mud, and when I shucked a couple for my lunch, he was right there sitting up, begging for handouts. That fool dog knew good oysters—he only wanted the biggest, fattest ones.
Next free day, I got out my oyster tongs and started for my boat when Poodle Dog shot out from under the house like a bat out of a dead cypress. He left me and Marcella standing there agawk when he bounded up over the trailer hitch and onto the bow. He stood there with his right paw forward, pointing toward the bay. I took him down twice, but both times he hit the dirt, he twisted around and took a couple of flying leaps back to the bow, and last time he hit the deck and hid behind the crankshaft anchor just as far back as a dog can get. He scrunched up in there and hid his head down in his paws. I just give up, figured that wind out of the south would kick up some chop in the bay and maybe slosh up his head and belly and maybe cure his new hobby.
Turned out, I was the one got surprised. Soon’s we hit the bay channel and turned out toward the oyster bar, Poodle Dog come out of hiding. On the slow shallows over to the bar, he poised up on the bow, closed his eyes and breathed in real deep like you do to smell a violet. Then, right at the edge of the bar, he took to trembling, shook his rear end once, then crouched over the side, squeaking and peering down into the baywater. Of a sudden, he stood erect and pointed, pretty as you please, straight down toward the water.
I already knew he had a gormay nose for fat juicy oysters, but I was in for my surprise. Maybe he knows something I don’t, I thought. Won’t hurt to stop and see what he might do. So I cut the Johnson, and before I could set down my Mountain Dew, that mutt dove head first straight in the bay. And just like that, he was back to the top of the water, paddling with a granddaddy oyster tight in his mouth, bay water mud dripping onto his black curly fur.
If that don’t beat all I ever seen, I thought. If I’d had a camera, I’d atook a picture. I reached over to take it from him, not believing the size of that oyster. Straightway, Poodle Dog was gone under again.
We went back to Apalach with the fattest oysters I ever ate. Before the month was out, Poodle Dog was a Panhandle celebrity. Papa Joe’s Oyster Bar Restaurant was begging to buy at premium prices all the oysters we could bring in.
Poodle Dog could out-sniff all the local oyster hounds, including that ugly redbone belonging to the Clerk of Court. And get this, that redbone had gone to the Oyster Hound Finals in Ireland three times. Poodle Dog got invited to the state fair in Tallahassee and the fishing show at WPAC Panama City, all just to show his stuff. And he did us proud, too.
Poodle Dog was never after that a worry to us except one time at the state fair, a magician came through with a couple of pink poodles. They was all girls and Poodle Dog made a sniffing fool of hisself, but once we got home to the bay he straightened back out to his oyster hound self.© 2013 Dawn Evans Radford – All Rights Reserved — Published in ApalachicolaBay.com by permission of the author. No further reproduction authorized without written permission of the author.