|Where I'm From|
|Yardbirds I Have Known|
by Jim Allen
Remember that movie Crossroads that had Ralph Macchio and Joe Seneca trying to find the spot where the blues guitarist, Robert Johnson, had sold his soul to the devil? In the scene where Macchio and Seneca are riding on the tailgate of an old Studebaker pickup, the chickens and the goose in the cages are mine. That’s the closest I’ll ever get to fame.
The goose that had the cameo appearance in the movie was named Flick. He came to me as an egg from a guy who still used geese in his small cotton field to help control weeds. Flick was named so because he was born afflicted. His head was turned nearly upside down and his neck was so crooked that he had to have been seeing the world from a totally different angle than the rest of us. He’d start grazing in our yard and make big circles until he made it two houses down, then he’d circle back. Unlike other geese, he never bit anybody. As a matter of fact, he was so gentle that he’d sit in my lap to have his back scratched.
At different times we had King pigeons, Lahore pigeons, Giant Runt pigeons, various doves, pheasants, ducks and all sorts of chickens. Where I’m from, lots of people had birds. Some folks kept them for a source of protein, some had fancy birds for their aesthetic value and others kept them for entertainment.
A friend and I went over to an adjoining county to see a man about buying some banties we’d seen advertised in the Farm Bulletin. When we got there, we found the large yard surrounding his home scattered with little A-frame shelters made of corrugated metal roofing. To each shelter was tethered a rooster. I’d seen such places as I rode through the countryside, but I’d never been that close. They were absolutely some of the most gorgeous animals I have ever seen. He had Whitehackles, Sweaters, Hatches and a Kelso or two, but the one that impressed me most was the Roundhead breed. Huge chests, bright golden eyes, black saddle feathers that nearly drug the ground and iridescent red everywhere else that glimmered even in the shade of the big pecan trees they were under.
I forgot all about the banties and inquired as to the cost of one of the big birds. He went into a tale of how he shipped roosters to the Philippines, Indonesia and Ireland. Just from his hem hawing around, I knew I couldn’t afford one of his birds. He asked me what I planned to do with the rooster. I went into my own tale about going to the state zoo after finding out about a chicken give-a-way and chasing some half Ceylon Jungle Fowl down. I hoped to breed him with some of the hens I nabbed. He told me he had just the bird.
In a pen on his porch was a hunkered down rooster who acted like he was afraid of his own shadow. The man explained to us that Pepper (the bird’s name) had cowered in a fight and, because he was so pretty, instead of destroying him, he brought him home. He told me that he would probably always be "chicken" after the butt whooping he’d gotten at that last fight but that he might have enough spunk in him to make a chick or two. Two days later I let Pepper into my yard for the first time. Within 30 minutes he was getting gang beaten by three banties that could have used him for shade. He never would fight back…just learned to use those long legs to run.
Our bantam chickens ran free, foraging over our yard and the neighbors’. They were part of the landscape. Every morning they’d get a coffee can full of chops and scraps from our supper the night before. Pops grew enough tomato plants to feed us, half the town and the chickens. We ate their eggs, when we could find a nest, and the next door neighbor lady occasionally killed an extra young rooster to be smothered in dumplings.
Why did the chicken cross the road? At one time, it was probably running from my Aunt Nan. Aunt Nan hated our chickens. She lived on the other side of our house from our neighbor and my grandmother lived just beyond her. Every day we’d hear her screaming "Shoo! Shoo!" and then mumble something as she looked angrily toward our house.
My father hoed around his garden plants, my aunt used ground leaves as mulch around her flowers. Our chickens would scratch poor Aunt Nan’s mulch everywhere but where she wanted it. They also pooped on her porch, in her porch swing and on her car. Aunt Nan was a rotund woman who, unless she was going to town to shop or to attend mass, wore what some people call a duster or what we called a muu muu. For those of you not familiar with a muu muu, it’s a loose fitting cotton dress with colorful patterns that hangs just below the knee…made for the full figured girl, if you know what I mean.
We had a hailstorm one summer day and one of our hens got her neck broken. Aunt Nan brought a glass of iced tea to her front porch, sat down in an aluminum folding chair and watched my chicken flop around for 15 minutes until it stopped moving. She hated them that bad.
My brother and I would hide and watch her chase our banties with her broom then watch them chase her when they’d had enough. Once I felt really bad when a little Golden Seabright rooster snuck up behind her while she was hanging out clothes and spurred her in the back of the calf. It’s hard to teach an animal with a brain the size of a small acorn right from wrong.
I grudgingly gave the rooster to a buddy of mine to avoid a repeat attack. She was one of my favorite relatives of all time, but that day, I would have rather given him Aunt Nan.
Disclaimer: The story you just read is based on reality. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Any likeness any character in this story has to you, your family or anybody you know or have known is completely coincidental.