About an hour southwest of Lubbock, TX, surrounded by sand, barbed wire fences, and rows of cotton straight as a rifle barrel, sits a small town called Seagraves. There my mom and dad met and married. There most of my family lived when I was growing up. And there a lifetime of memories were made for me in those days when life was still simple and good. And there, one night, on the outskirts of town, it happened.
My dad’s dad raised greyhounds. Though I called him Granddaddy, I’m fairly certain the dogs called him God. He certainly earned their adoration. I can recall on several occasions when he’d stop by the butcher, pick up a box or two of meat scraps, and cook up a veritable feast out back for all the hounds. They had his very tangible love, and he had theirs.
I was a boy who loved dogs, who loved hunting, and who loved his Granddaddy. So, you can imagine, that when we could make a league of these three loves—hunting with dogs with my Granddaddy—I was on the tiptop of the world. We’d wait till it was good and dark, load about eight greyhounds into the back of his old blue Ford, and drive into the boondocks. Once there, as Granddaddy poked along mile after mile of dirt roads, I’d stand sentry in the truck bed, with eager dogs milling about my feet, and spotlight barren fields for the telltale glowing eyes of one soon-to-be unlucky rabbit. When the eyes shone, I’d slap the top of the truck, he’d hit the brakes, and the pack of dogs would explode from the vehicle. Their speed is the stuff of legend, and rightly so. As long as I kept the light trained on the rabbit, no matter how fleet of foot he be, he’d soon be meeting his Maker.
But for as long as we’d been hunting, I’d been hearing from Granddaddy about how much he wished we’d happen upon a badger some night. Not because badgers are speedy; a fat dachshund could outrun one. But because they’re the Mohammed Alis of the animal world. Their hide has titanium mixed in it. They have the bite of a pit bull. They’re a beastly combination of a god, devil, and tank. Put a badger in the middle of a pack of dogs, and you’ll witness the acme of war. But time after time, plenty of pairs of rabbit eyes shone in the darkness, promising a chase, but never those yellow eyes of hell, portending a battle.
Until one night, an idea popped into my head. While Granddaddy was hooking up spotlights and arranging leashes for the dogs, I sat in the cab of the Ford and prayed a very short, very simple prayer, that on this night, God would give us a badger. I didn’t pray for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, or world peace. All this ten-year-old wanted was a badger. So that’s what I asked for.
On ordinary nights, before the actual hunt began, we’d stop at a field to let the dogs run about, empty their bladders, and load back up for the spotlighting. But on this particular night, we didn’t even make it that far before the long arm of the Lord reached down from above, picked me up by the shoulders, lifted me to heaven, and pointed to those huge ears of his that, somehow and someway, are always open to our prayers, even when we pray for badgers.
The fight lived up to my expectations. I expect the dogs suffered more than their adversary. There were plenty of yelps, a few screams, and enough bloodthirsty growls to fill the empty night to capacity. One of the dogs got into such a predicament with the badger that my Granddaddy leapt to his rescue, somehow getting the dog out of the badger’s jaws, but also becoming a near casualty in the process. After half an hour or so, when the dogs were all fought out and the badger was a little weary himself, we let him waddle away while we regrouped and loaded up to search for more civilized prey.
When we got back home around midnight, Granddaddy and I were stripping off our hunting clothes. He showed me what had happened. When he’d stepped in to rescue his beloved dog, the badger had lunged for him with tooth and claw. He’d ripped through the pair of insulated overalls, the pair of jeans, the pair of long-johns, and the sock. And there on his leg was a miniscule scratch, just deep enough for a small trickle of blood, now long since dried to his skin. Awfully close.
Call me a fool, but I’ve long wished that the badger had ripped through my clothes that night. And that his tooth and claw had sunk deep enough into my skin to give me a scar that’d never go away. I could use that scar now. It’d do me a world of good to see it etched into my body, to remind me every time I saw it that we have a God who has ears, who answers prayers, even little prayers by little boys who love dogs, and hunting, and Granddaddies—and who, as men now grown, for whom life is not quite as simple and good as it used to be, fight to believe.