“The Dog Man” - A Year On A Tennessee Mountain
The Dog Man
The most interesting thing of all by far was right at the base of the mountain we where we lived. “The Dog Man.” The road to our cabin went right passed his, um, place of residence. At first we thought we would just die if anyone came to visit us since they’d have to pass by his place. It was a dump! Literally! There was a tall lean-to type building that might once have been used to dry tobacco. It was filled halfway up the walls with debris of all types. Visions of rats and various varmints filled your head when you looked at it. The yard itself was strewn with trash and vehicles ranging from frames to caved-in motor homes. Oh, and yes, there were dogs. Lots of dogs. The Dog Man himself lived in a mobile home that should have been condemned. He actually occupied only part of it. He lived there free with the assumption he would clean up the mess left behind by previous residents. He would from time to time call in friends and begin a cleanup. Unfortunately before the cleanup effort made a lot of headway it would evolve into a party. Before long his yard was right back to looking like the town dump. We could not imagine what the person who lived there could be like and we weren’t sure we really wanted to find out. Lucky for us we did.
Talk about your most unforgettable character. This guy had long, often dirty, hair. His front teeth were missing. His “uniform” was a pair of cut off sweatpants. That’s it, cut off sweatpants, nothing else. He was disabled, but at that point hadn’t been able to receive disability payments. On Sundays he hauled water out of the stream to wash up. He’d put on clean, neat clothes and wait for someone to show up to take him to church. Most of the clothing he had was donated by the church, as was his water bill payment whenever they learned he was once again without water. Most of the time he was able to keep his electricity going on his own.
The Dog Man had a heart of gold. He had $500.00 a month to live on and he willingly shared that as he did his home with any dog needing food or shelter. He had a small potbelly stove out front where he would cook huge pots of chicken for the dogs to eat. He had to rely on the good nature of the local folk to transport him to discount grocers. There never seemed to be a shortage of those willing to help. He had a rough looking exterior and he hadn’t lived an exemplary life, but you couldn’t help but love the guy – and his dogs. I made sure I always had a big bag of dog biscuits in my car and they came to know the sound of my vehicle and came running knowing I’d be tossing treats out to them. Often The Dog Man would be out, too, and come to my window for some great conversation. He had some tales to tell!
After we became good friends with him I actually began to call him “The Gatekeeper”. Anyone coming or going had to pass by his place. He kept us informed if an unknown vehicle was on it’s way up or if one of the mountain folk was on the warpath. Crazy as it seems, when we had to be gone we had him watch our place for us. We drew up a paper he could show the authorities to ensure them he had a right to be there if questioned. Here we were trusting all we owned to this crazy looking character who went to the mental health clinic at least once a month and probably sold some of his medication down on the town square once in a while when times got really tough. Sometimes you just know when someone was put into your life for a reason. You know – this is a true friend – regardless of his circumstance.
My husband and I met The Dog Man when we decided to leave life in sunny Florida to experience the tranquil life we imagined would come from building a cabin on a mountainside in Tennessee. We sold our home and both of us took six months off to build said cabin. Actually, my husband did most of the building. I did the designing, picking up and untold amounts of the “hold this while I do that’s”.
At first life was pretty primitive. We had a shell – no water, no electricity. We spent our nights in a campground on the other side of yet another mountain, but most of our waking hours were at the building site. This meant carrying in water for drinking, cleaning and washing up. It also meant using virtually any container as a toilet and dumping it into the deep ravine stretching out in front of where our cabin was going up. We were only a mile or two from a small town, so we did make frequent trips for the more involved toilet necessities.
We soon became a familiar sight at the local Ace Hardware and Hardee’s fast food establishments. Try as you might you never quite figure right every single thing you need for that week's planned job and when you do that much physical labor while walking up and down the mountainside, you don't skip a meal - or a chance to sit down and rest a bit.
The things we saw on our rides to and from town seemed to transport us back in time as often happens when traveling through rural areas. There were beautiful acres of farmland with contented cows grazing on the mountain slopes. At the base of one slope stood the oldest house in the county. It is now weathered gray, but you could easily imagine someone once being proud of that tiny two-story house with a porch. This quaint structure now serves the resident cows quite well as a unique feed trough. It is comical to see the rear ends of cows facing the road while their heads are poked inside the low windows chewing away at the hay or feed the slow moving farmer has provided.
Another thing that caught our eye every time was this contraption that ran halfway downhill from a mountainside home. It would remind you of those crazy things you see on television where you put in a ball and it rolls to knock something over that turns something else that flips this or that and so on, only on a much larger scale. We had great fun trying to figure out what the heck that thing really did. Eventually we learned it was part of a molasses production of some sort. It was only put to use once a year.
Where We Are Now – Where He Is Now
Now several years later we are happily back in Florida. The Dog Man finally got his much deserved disability and moved from the rat hole. We haven’t seen where he now lives, but we keep in touch. It sounds like he is living more respectably. He has a decent house, a vehicle of some sort and has downsized to just a few dogs. He still lives simply, but more comfortably. He is even able to shower on a regular basis!
We just don’t realize how many people in the U.S. go without the things we take so much for granted. Too many people in that area live near or below the poverty level. Although it would break my heart to see some it, I also admired them for not apologizing for the way they live. Most had little or no yard with what they did have being somewhat messy, but generally they kept themselves and their homes neat and clean. Some were perfectly content to continue to live life as they’d known it from generation to generation. Others would strive to do a bit better while still others would venture out to see what life offered on the other side of the mountain.
We did not find the idyllic lifestyle we thought we would on that mountainside in Tennessee, though we came out of the experience with some special memories and even more special friends. We also learned a special lesson. Give a person a chance. Don’t judge by outward appearances. When you do, you aren’t just cheating that person you may well be cheating yourself. It is said, God works in mysterious ways. One of those ways surely is sending you a message by the least likely of messengers. I think now when I am tempted to turn away I’ll wait to see what I can glean from the oddly placed opportunity. I hope you will, too!