When I was a young boy, my parents would travel to Houston, Texas as often as they could to visit my sister. I recall the trips fondly, Dad would select a different route each time, always looking to save an extra ten miles from the last trip. This was the early 1960’s, and Eisenhower’s fine interstate system wasn’t entirely completed, so two lane roads, Highways, were still often the best way to travel.
It was on one such trip, on the way to Houston, that Dad led us deep into the Ozark Mountains! What a great place. The roads would wind up one big hill, down the next, and it took many more hours than Dad ever expected…but wasn’t it worth it for the scenery. Even as a small boy I recognized we were somewhere special. And, honestly, I don’t think many outsiders ventured into those hills too often. This was well before Branson, Mo. became a tourist destination. This was well before the United States became smaller because we all managed to shove ourselves into the same cookie cutter mold of fast food, fast travel, and fast paced life.
So, when it was well past time to eat and our stomachs were rumbling louder than the hard working engine of Dad’s Buick, Dad finally accepted that he could not will us out of those mountains and to Houston any quicker whether we ate now, or after we found flat ground. Dad finally picked a cafe that met his approval. It was a large addition on a house, just off the Hwy. A fine example of ingenuity, “Honey, time to go to work!”, open a door and there you are in your cafe.
It was inside, while we ate, that the local folks would sneak an attempt at a glance at we strangers, try as they did, to do so without disturbing us. But Dad was not fond of being among new people and not meeting them. It wasn’t long before the cafe was loud with chatter and buzz among the men, while their wives glanced at each other and winked whenever their husbands would boast a complete lie or stretch the truth enough that it would beg to talk just to end the torture
Yes, Dad could get a room talking, comfortable, feeling like everyone in it was eating at the same table, when he felt like it. And this cafe was comfortable with us enough that when we were ready to leave, the locals drew me into their fun and games. As Dad was drawing a tip from his pocket, an older gentleman, slender and tanned as leather, turned his face towards me, “When you get on the road boy, watch out for the coonarac!”
“Huh?”, I educatedly responded as would any eight year old. Then the men in the cafe had at me like a pack of wolves.
The man spoke again, “The coonarac, son! Haven’t you heard of it? It’s a critter that lives in these parts. Watch out for it!”
Then a man thinner and taller, but white as a napkin entered his piece, “I live up the hill, boy. I got them coonaracs living in my corn! I hear them at night, in my tall corn. They watch me. They climb up on my roof and try to get into my attic! They come up on my porch at night! Watch out for ’em!”
I was getting a little scared. Dad was deliberately letting them speak with me before he would pay the bill. Dang it but he could have helped us escape, but he didn’t!
Finally, a man who I honestly can’t describe after all these years, except to say his voice was deep, southern and scary enough just by itself, slowly put the end to these warnings of this strange, horrific animal that I was well past beginning to fear, “The Coonrac, young child. I spend nights in my cabin preparing my sermons for Sunday. I speak my words aloud and with my candle I can see the glowing read eyes of the coonracs below my floorboards listening to the words. I can see them, watching me, listening!”
Now Dad finally rose to pay, and I was inches behind him. The first man grabbed my arm and I lurched a bit, “You scared laddie?”
I couldn’t make the words to answer. “When you are in that car and traveling, just keep saying coonarac over and over, young man, and you’ll soon enough not be scared…if you trully listen to your own words.”
In the car, I did as the skinny old man said, and soon enough I wasn’t scared anymore.
Now, if you are reading this….say coonarac to yourself and see if you learn the mystery of why I was no longer scared of the mythical coonarac! Try it! COONARAC, COONARAC, COONARAC…
The moral is, always listen to your own words.
Dan (Leave a comment…be the first to solve the riddle. Good luck!) That’s the Spirit!