I’ve personally known a couple of roosters in my time. My first was a little banty rooster gifted to me by Mr. Raeford Driver – probably to win my affection or offer apology after making me mad as fire at church by calling me a “pretty little boy”. I was 4 or 5 at the time and he teased me mercilessly. At first I would argue with him, trying to tell him that he was wrong and that I was a girl, for Pete’s sake. But he was unmoved and would shake his head and say that couldn’t be right. Every Sunday that I saw him it was the same, “There’s that purty little boy!” (big smile) and me (big frown) arguing “no! I’m a girl.” He clearly enjoyed the interaction but me? Not so much. One Sunday as we were leaving church I said so to my parents, “Mr. Raeford makes me SO mad calling me a boy!!” They laughed (again, not funny!) and told me that he was only teasing but I was unconvinced. I suppose Daddy may have told Mr. Raeford what I said because one day he showed up at our house with a big smile, a twinkle in his eye, and the small, beautiful rooster as a present. I was thoroughly delighted. It didn’t stop him from teasing me at church but I stopped arguing. Instead I just smiled ‘cause you gotta forgive someone who gives you a rooster, right?
Daddy allowed the rooster to live uncaged and so he hung around our yard, mostly in our garage with our dog, Buck, who had the freedom of our back yard and garage but was tethered by a very long chain so that Mama could reign him in easily if company showed up. He was a sweet, loving dog to my immediate family. He was also loyal to a fault and in his mind if you didn’t live there, you didn’t belong there. My Uncle Leamon and Uncle J.E. (actually J.E. was a cousin but in the South an adult cousin moves to the rank of “uncle”) hated him because despite their attempts to befriend him with tasty treats Buck remained firm on his opinion. He would chase them the length of his chain and then stare at them, growling and making it clear they were unwelcome. Mama would have to pull on Buck’s chain and tell him it was okay for them to come in. Uncle J.E. always shook his head and laughed it off. Uncle Leamon cussed under his breath about “that damn dog”. Once Mama heard someone hollering and ran to the door to find Uncle J.E. standing on the roof of his car and Buck barking and growling at him from below. It seems that Uncle J.E. thought he could pull up close enough to the door to gain entry before Buck could get him. But finding the screen door locked his only avenue of escape was the top of the car. When Mama arrived to save him he asked her why in the world she kept the door locked when she had Buck???
You may think that Buck was ill tempered and dangerous but not so. He was sweet and patient with me and my little brother who was in the crawling, toddling stage around that time. I played on and around him every day while he ate, sniffed around, or slept in the yard, garage, or sometimes in our house. He never bothered our cat or any of her kittens either. And when the banty rooster came to live with us he did not seem to mind one bit. In fact, that brazen little fowl had the nerve to roost right on top of ole Buck when he was lying down. It was common to find the two of them napping together – Buck snoozing with the little rooster hunkered down on his back. I don’t remember what happened to that little fellow but he was a character – strutting about, crowing and flapping, and allowing me to rub his sleek feathers and eat food out of my hand.
As a side note about Buck: he was a large black and white Pointer that Daddy used for bird hunting. Interestingly, whenever Daddy took him off his leash and Uncle J.E. showed up to go hunting, Buck showed no signs of animosity toward J.E. Clearly, Buck was able to separate his jobs into distinct categories that did not overlap – guarding our family and hunting quail. It’s probably why J.E. could so easily let go Buck’s firm position when he was guarding and Leamon could not. Leamon didn’t bird hunt. J.E. did – and he could appreciate a good bird dog. And Buck was a good bird dog.
The next rooster I knew personally was some years later. I was around 10 and my brother was maybe 5 (at least he hadn’t started school yet). We had a brood of chickens and it was my job to help gather eggs, which I mostly loved doing – except for one ornery brown hen who invariably pecked me whenever I reached under her for eggs, no matter what clever trick I employed to outwit or distract her. Mostly the flock stayed in their pen but sometimes they would fly over the fence in their clumsy, graceless way and peck around in the surrounding field and garden. No matter, Daddy could easily corral them back into the safety of their enclosure before nightfall. Besides the girls were protected both day and night by a very large and handsome bird who was surely the King of Roosters and in his mind absolutely the King of All He Surveyed. He was a typical rooster – strutting around proudly, flapping his wings in grand display, and crowing to alert the world that he was alive and well. He led his girls to safety should need be and scratched up treats for them hiding under rocks, leaves or sticks. However, his benevolence extended only to his flock of hens. All others he eyed keenly and with suspicion. His haughty flapping was warning enough for dogs and cats and me. I gave him a wide berth whenever I had to gather eggs and he kept his sharp eye on me. Unfortunately, at some point in his reign, he decided that my brother was a threat to his domain and the battle was on! One fateful day wee Douglas ventured too near the King’s perceived borderland and the ostentatious rooster flew onto his little back and latched on with his great talons, spurs out, squawking loudly, flapping his enormous wings, and pecking mightily. It was a terrible sight to behold!!! And it was especially terrible if you were the big sister watching your baby brother being assaulted and no amount of yelling, screaming, swatting, beating, or flailing was to any avail. The rooster was wild and strong and I was helpless against it. Fortunately, Mama came, armed with a broom, and beat the attacker off. That evening at dinner we all related the horror to Daddy. I don’t remember what he had to say about it but I imagine he thought we were being overly dramatic about the incident. After all, the old rooster had never displayed such aggression to or around him. Not to mention, Daddy was 6’2” so the rooster probably didn’t seem big or scary to him in the least. I suspect that if he had witnessed the awful scene himself that would have been the end of that ole bird right then and there.
At any rate, the rooster became my poor little brother’s constant nemesis. If the chickens were all safely enclosed there was no problem. But if the King happened to be out and strutting about then anything from a minor skirmish to a full on battle was likely to ensue. Sometimes he would just chase Douglas – who learned to run pretty fast. Sometimes he would attack full on. It always ended the same way: Douglas crying, helpless, and running; me screaming, flailing my arms, and trying unsuccessfully to beat the wild bird away; Mama coming to the rescue and knocking the attacking bird off her baby boy with a broom. One evening at supper after we had recounted yet another such brutal incident Daddy looked at my brother and asked, “You know what we’re going to do about that ole rooster?”
My wide-eyed little brother slowly shook his head “no”. And Daddy said, “Well, come Saturday I’m gonna get my hatchet and we’re gonna chop that old rooster’s head off and cook him for Sunday dinner. What do you think about that?”
My brother nodded and smiled with both relief and glee, “Yes!” he nodded affirmatively. I figure that he thought Saturday couldn’t come soon enough to suit him.
Now, if you know me, I assume that you think I would have been opposed to such a callous course of action against one of God’s creatures. And, as you know me today, you might be right. But let’s look at this in the light of the 1950’s. First, and most importantly, there was my little brother to consider. I had adored him from the moment of his birth and I had only grown to love him more. In fact, seeing him tormented by this pitiless beast time after time only fueled a fierce charge over his small being. I had come to view the dutiful rooster as a spawn of Satan. And secondly, I was a country girl who knew about Fall hog killing time, slaughter houses, and I’d seen my sweet gramma walk calmly through the yard with her chickens clucking and pecking all about, snatch one of them by the head, deftly swing it around in circles a few times, and begin plucking feathers from its lifeless body while she strode back to the house to cook it for dinner – all so swiftly and gracefully executed the chicken never made a sound. And neither did I. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I was eating her heavenly fried chicken and good ole biscuits. It was just farm life.
Saturday came and there was an air of excitement at our house akin to the State Fair. Big stuff was going to happen and our whole family was going to be there to see it happen. So when Daddy decreed it to be THE TIME, Mama, Douglas, and I marched out to the site of execution like folks going to a gallows picnic. Daddy had a block of wood used for such occasions and his trusty hatchet laid out. There was some distant squawking in the chicken pen and Daddy emerged holding that big old rooster by his feet and strode up the path to where we were awaiting the main event. He asked Douglas if he wanted to do the deed but much as he may have wanted to, one look at that large, fierce bird and young Douglas shook his head “no”.
I was unprepared for the swiftness of the execution for it took less than a minute for Daddy to have the rooster’s head lopped neatly off. And because there was no need to have hold of a headless bird Daddy had let go and stepped away. That’s when the true horror began for my poor brother. In case you’ve never witnessed a chicken get its head chopped off let me enlighten you to the fact that its body does not need its head to continue to move around for a while after the deed is done. This now headless fowl was no different. His brain had already sent the signals to his rooster legs to run and for his rooster wings to flap – so run and flap he did with blood spurting out of his neck all the while. The bizarre zombie bird began running in crazy spiraling circles that grew wider and wider. In the first turn he appeared to run directly toward my brother. Of course, naturally horrified, Douglas took off running, too. Regrettably, my brother chose the same wildly spiraling course as the crazy beheaded rooster. As Douglas ran he glanced back at the unholy creature and each time the blood spurting headless flapping rooster seemed to be running directly for him. Douglas’ eyes were wide and round with fear as was his mouth but I’m not sure that he even made a sound. The only sound I could hear was the sound of my parent’s laughter. In the end, Douglas headed up the hill toward our side door and thankfully the engine running the dead bird wound down and the zombie bird landed with a thud onto his side – stilled at last and relieved of his duties as King of the Chickens. My parents’ pity for their small son’s ordeal overcame the hilarity of the event and they retrieved him from the porch where he was trying in vain to open the storm door so he could retreat inside the house. Mama hugged and comforted him but I could see the corners of her mouth were still smiling. Daddy put his arm around Douglas’ shoulders and walked with him to see that the devil bird was at last defeated – and rightly so, by the King of the Castle!
I honestly don’t know if I laughed while the whole experience was unfolding because, to tell the truth, it was mind-boggling to witness. I think I was just staring in unbelief. But I have to admit that I have laughed quite a lot since then remembering that unanticipated, incredulous, and hilarious spectacle! From my brother’s point of view, however, it was the stuff nightmares are made of. He probably needed therapy afterwards but hey! It was the 1950’s and we lived on a farm. So there – and here’s where I shrug my shoulders.
P.S. As an adult – and a big sister who cannot help herself – I occasionally relish in giving my little brother a replica of a rooster as a Christmas gift. (He’s an adult now and hopefully has had some therapy so why not?)
And one more P.S: I’ll bet you’ll never hear the term “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” without this scene coming to mind. (wink)