by Tim Gilmore, 11/12/2017
If the Canadays didn’t keep Jingles chained to the back porch, he’d wander off to find a fight, and the place Jingles best knew to find one was “the quarters.” 1959. 1966. The dogs back there knew Jingles well, and if they caught him coming their way, they were ready.
Jingles was a stout old farm dog. His legs and underside and snout were white, and a tan gray marked his back and sides and the patches around his eyes. He was tougher than the venom from a rattlesnake twice his length.
If Jingles didn’t know you and you stepped within length of his chain, he’d nip your leg hard. Joseph says Jingles didn’t like anyone he didn’t know, but the dog loved the Canaday boys fiercely in that staunch and devoted way that only dogs can love. Joseph knew Jingles through his first three Callahan addresses—the tin-roofed digs, the foreman’s house, and the old Johnson house.
In an old photo of Jingles, one of the workers’ houses stands in the background, to the right of his snout and chain. Jingles perches on the back steps and a similar house to the Canadays’ first, likewise along Musslewhite Road, is visible just behind his tail. This photograph may be the only extant image of a house from “the quarters.” You can see it in the sliver, cut off at the right border, showing one tall window and more than half the house.
Could the houses in the quarters really have been that small? Joseph says they were. They look like slave quarters. He says they did. They look like the tabby slave quarters preserved at Kingsley Plantation. He says that’s how small they were.
Cecil Musslewhite, Sr. died in 1950, not quite a decade before a seven year old Joseph first moved onto the Musslewhite farm. When Cecil, Sr. moved down to Nassau Country from Georgia in the late 1920s, the commissary was already there. Most likely “the quarters” were too.
Joseph thinks it’s possible “the quarters” were slave quarters, originally.
Though Jingles lived for a long time, years and years, Joseph was a little boy during the dog’s long life and doesn’t know how long, if long at all, Jingles’s long life lasted.
The Canadays had Jingles at two houses on the Musslewhite farm and then at the Johnson house. That’s where the rattlesnake bit Jingles in the throat.
“His throat swelled all up and poor Jingles didn’t eat for several days,” Joseph says. “The flesh rotted all around his throat where he’d been bitten and poisoned.”
Joseph’s daddy had inspected the dog’s wound, too late to extract the poison, and discovered only one fang mark. Though Jingles looked to have starved himself to death, the venom didn’t kill him, and after about a week, Jingles began again to eat. At first he ate little, then ravenously. He ate and ate and came back to himself and recovered.
Weeks went by. Jingles recuperated fully. His throat showed a mess of scars, but the dog was hale and healthy.
It was normal for dogs to corner rattlesnakes. The dogs could smell the snakes’ vicious earthen musk before people did. If people smelled it at all.
Joseph says it’s the same old barn that corrodes and leans beside the Johnson house today. Jingles trapped the rattlesnake against the rusting sidewall. The dog barked ferociously, more viciously than a farm dog usually barked up a snake. Joseph’s daddy killed that snake too. It wasn’t the seven foot long beast that stretched across Musslewhite Road, but this rattler was yet a monster.
“Four or five feet long,” Joseph says, “and thick around as a softball. And the snake had only one fang.” Two fangs full of venom, he says, Jingles couldn’t have survived.
Rattlesnakes are born fully fanged and venomous and capable of killing. Adult rattlesnakes shed their fangs every couple of months, keeping at least three spare pairs in waiting.
Whether the one-fanged rattlesnake Jingles cornered was the beast that sunk one fang in his throat, it’s impossible, all these decades later, to determine. Whether the Musslewhites’ black workers’ “quarters” once were slave quarters, or the plantation merely echoed the prototype of the Southern slave plantation, only informed conjecture and historical plausibility can now best attest.
Surely Southern white historical revisionism haunts these woods and fields like the specters of black workers white children rarely saw in their daily lives, like photographs of dark-skinned workers recorded less frequently still, like historical records that elide black lives, like the voices of slaves we never will hear, the pain we’ll never know.
But some deepwoods beast fastened its malevolent mouth on Jingles’ own loyal throat.
And somebody worked those fields and lived in those quarters and gave their earnings back to the commissary. And their lives mattered too.
I know the dog’s name. I know not that much, even, about the people. I love the dog. I love the people.
I sit out in the field at night, early November, the first cool evening breeze, and welcome any truth that comes to me.