The Last Hunt: The Dog Did What?
James (Jim) E. Cameron, M.D. was one of my all-time heroes, a gentleman of unparalleled integrity and superior scholarship. His interests in addition to medicine were catholic. He had a wide range of hobbies that he studied and mastered like an academic. Jim was our family doctor. He wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I applied to medical school, and when I returned home to practice internal medicine and medical oncology about a dozen years later, he invited me to share space in his office until completion of the Medical Arts Building where I would eventually practice.
The following spring, he nominated me to be a counselor to the State Medical Association from our district, and in April, he and I drove to Huntsville together for the annual meeting. During the trip, we exhausted a wide range of topics and segued into a repartee to see who knew the most Ogden Nash limericks, which segued into who knew another limerick of any sort. Finally, we began telling hunting stories.
“Verbie Lee Boone hunted birds with an English setter,” he said with a wry chuckle. “And he had a Jack Russell terrier that he hunted squirrels with. Somehow he discovered that ‘Jack’ would fetch doves much better than his setter, Joe. So one day he took him quail hunting to see if he would fetch quail. And indeed he would! But being so small, Jack had trouble keeping up in the high weeds and broom sage. Sometimes Verbie Lee would carry him in the game pouch of his hunting coat until his services were needed, but sometimes Jack would ride on the back of the setter. Ol’ Joe didn’t seem to mind. Once when I was hunting with Verbie Lee, Ol’ Joe and my setter were pointed in high weeds, and we would never have seen the dogs if Jack hadn’t stood on his hind legs and commenced doing back flips on Joe’s back.”
“That’s amazing!” I said skeptically. Whereupon Jim cocked one fuzzy gray eyebrow and stared at the doctor he had delivered as a baby 33 years earlier. He fell silent.
After we registered at the meeting, we separated and went about to the various programs that interested us. Later I found him at the “Early Evening Attitude Adjustment Session.” Jim was seated at a table with three older gentlemen who were laughing at the top of their voices. Upon seeing me, he motioned to join them. His introduction of each was respectful and lavish in approbation and spoken as if from a script that had been prepared for presentation of some high honor. Each of the elder doctors grabbed my hand as if I were a celebrity. Once the greetings were done, Jim took the last draw of his whiskey and ordered another round for the table.
“John was the only baby I ever dropped on his head at delivery, but he is making a fine doctor anyway.” The older doctors broke into laughter, and all shook my hand again. “And John is a bird hunter of the highest order, even claims to have the finest young pointer in the state.”
“Tell him about Verbie Lee Boone’s bird dog, Jim!” one of the men demanded. As we all leaned in to hear, Jim’s eyes narrowed as he looked directly at me.
“Owl Eyes Moncrieff had no formal law-enforcement training, but he had worked as a security guard at the mobile-home factory. He had Graves’ disease, and Dr. Henderson here removed his thyroid years ago, but the exophthalmos continued. His eyes bugged out like a stepped-on frog, and hence the moniker. There was no game warden in Tallapoosa County at the time, so somehow Owl Eyes was appointed as ‘acting assistant’ until one could be hired.
“It was a cold afternoon, and Jack had made himself comfortable in Verbie’s game pouch. Owl Eyes happened to ride by and spied him with an impressive lump in the back of his coat, so he decided to make a game check. Not believing that the pouch contained only four birds, he demanded to examine the coat for himself, whereupon, he inserted his hand, awaking the comfortable, sleeping dog. The startled Jack immediately gave the strange intruding hand a vicious bite. Owl Eyes screamed like a panther, and his protruding eyes exaggerated his terrified response! Upon catching his breath, he glared at Verbie Lee and shouted, ‘I don’t care what you have in your damn coat, but you better kill it before you get home!’”