In 1932, when I was 3 years old, Mama’s garden at our Nebraska farmhouse was important. Laid out in rows and plowed free of weeds and crabgrass, it was planted with a selection of vegetables. The yield meant my family rarely bought food. The bounty grew, poured into the kitchen and was canned, preserved and sometimes given away. Since my siblings, Hobart and Sara Ann, did lots of the work, they had an interest in the harvested crop. Hobart and Sara Ann kept a watchful eye, and anything amiss inside the garden’s tight fence was attended to.
Mama attended a county agent’s demonstration at a neighboring farm where the agent’s wife had hatched an incubator full of leghorn chicks that were now pullets. They would soon become part of the henhouse, and food for her freezer less those she sold.
Mama was partial to the leghorn hens that laid abundantly. When they stopped laying, they usually became soup, pie, casseroles with noodles and so forth. This was their life in the fenced area of Mama’s chicken run. She bought twelve of the beauties, all pullets ready to lay — so she thought. But soon it became apparent there was a chanticleer rooster amongst the mix that was forcefully attending to one of her hens.
He had a beautiful red comb and full body but he was hardly past adolescence and he had begun to care for her hens and gave fierce attention to ferreting out rodents, foxes and an occasional skunk, driving them off with fury. Hell hath no scorn like a rooster supreme. No one was above his suspicious stare — you tarry, you suffer.
One day, Hobart came out of the gathering of eggs with the chanticleer perched on his back, industriously pecking his scalp, until he forcefully removed the angry monster and ran for the house proclaiming, “I’ll kill that bloomin’ bird if that happens again.”The area around the outdoor toilet was abundant with earthworms. The chanticleer regularly was out there, suspiciously eyeing the ground, thumping until he retrieved whatever was in the dirt. Any child exiting the outhouse unaware learned to swiftly run for the house, with the chanticleer in hot pursuit.Hobart and Sara Ann spied potato bugs on the plants in the garden that needed to be removed before they did damage. Mama paid a penny for ten bugs, which made it even more attractive. Papa would equip the two with a bucket of kerosene and big hats to ward of the July sun. They bent to their task, catching the voracious bugs, dropping them into sudden death in the lethal tincture. They were so busy they did not see the chanticleer enter the open garden gate and strut down the rows, spying them industriously at work. He strutted about, turning his head, eyeing them with one eye and then the other.
Suddenly, the rooster attacked them. They set down their buckets, threw their hats to the wind and fled. Screaming was heard long before they came running into the house, wounded and upset. Both swore to kill that chanticleer on sight and never go near the garden again unless he was caught and beheaded.
Mama had a dilemma. Kill her prized rooster or lose the respect of her workers. What to do? No amount of pleading would assuage their wrath. Papa came from his accounting office and couldn’t keep a straight face: “How did the gate happen to be open in the first place? You should never do anything around here unless you are aware of what’s happening around you, especially so far away from the house. Remember when Hobart fell out of the black walnut trees and was laid up all winter? Or when your sister, Viola, walked into the milk house, observed a skunk and hit him with a shovel, ignoring that he was aimed right at her with a load of skunk urine?” Papa chuckled to himself, remembering Viola’s dilemma. “Sure, you’ve got some injuries, but nobody died from it, a little tincture and you’ll be fine.”
Hobart swore revenge on the rooster, and if he caught him outside the chicken run, took after him with corncobs like the assault of a machine gun. His aim was so exact the rooster would fall in his tracks, wobble around, eventually recover and stand up. Hobart reveled in the assault.
The chanticleer lived out his life in the chicken run. Hobart and Sara Ann never left the garden gate open again. The family often reminisced over Mama’s chanticleer.
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