Thursday, March 19, 2009
Unlike our grain farm today, the farm where I grew up was a mixed farm and we had livestock and all the usual animals. We didn't call cats and dogs 'non-essential animals' back then because the dogs were for chasing away coyotes and other predators and rounding up the cattle. Cats were very essential as mousetraps on legs. The dog I remember most was named Lassie because he looked exactly like the collie on the then popular television show, "Lassie." He was a gentle, kind dog and helped father round up the cattle and bring them into the yard every evening. I loved and still remember those deep brown eyes. They were sympathetic and looked deep into mine and I felt Lassie understood my silly schoolgirl bawling and babbling. There was one place on our farm even Lassie wouldn't venture and that was the hen house. He didn't bother the chickens and the chickens didn't bother him, but there was another bully in the building. The old rooster. I still have nightmares about that old mean bird. He was nasty. I used to argue with mother that he could fly and she would say, "Don't be silly, Ethel. Everyone knows that roosters can't fly," and that would be the end of it. I would tell her that he hated me and she would say, "It's his nature. He is just being protective. He doesn't much like me either." "But mummy," I'd groan, "He just waits for ME. One day when I come back without any eyes then you'll have to believe me."
Every day my siblings and I had to gather the eggs and we took turns. Unless my older sisters were helping with kitchen and garden duties, they would be excused so it was up to Brian and me. Brian always threatened to shoot it with his .22 Caliber Rifle and for once I didn't say, "I'm telling!" He would have had my full support but we both knew if something every happened to that white rooster, the two of us would be in really big trouble.
If mother was baking a cake, then we had to go fetch fresh eggs. I liked to disappear if I knew she was baking but too often she'd see me and I'd get my walking orders.
That old rooster would lay in wait. I was always at a disadvantage because it was dark inside and by the time my eyes adjusted, with a flutter of flying feathers, he would come soaring from the rafters and swoop right for my head. I would enter with my arms flailing to scare him off but that made it rather difficult to find the eggs and put them safely in the basket. If I returned with only several eggs, mother knew there should be more. I disliked the chickens. They were noisy and had terrible bathroom manners. It was hard to collect the eggs because they would just drop and plop them in weird places. Between this and collecting wood from the woodpile where mice liked to hang out with friends and family, these were my two most dreaded jobs.
Safety helmets weren't on the scene yet, otherwise I would have insisted on wearing one for the sole purpose of gathering eggs. Instead, I would often find mother's blue enamel bowl that she used for shelling peas and plop that on my head. Getting it to stay on was another matter and I never did master it.
One day when I entered the hen house, the rooster got me straight away. I didn't have a chance to even look for the eggs or him. Despite mother saying he couldn't fly, that day he did. I ran out of the building screaming with that darn rooster right on my head, his talons deep in my scalp, beak pecking my head. This brought the attention of my brother who was hunting rabbits and he came running from the bush next to the house. He had his beloved .22 in his hand and I went running straight for him. His brown eyes were huge as he stared at me running across the yard with the rooster balanced busily on my head, big chunks of brown hair hanging from his beak. Brian picked up his rifle and I was yelling, "SHOOT HIM!! SHOOT HIM!" Then as he started to take aim, it dawned on me that he might not be real accurate so I started waving my arms, yelling at him to stop. Had I been going down hill, I know I could have flown that day too. I watched in alarm as Brian set his rifle down because he was laughing, actually enjoying the show. I figured I was bleeding to death and I would go to my young grave while my brother did nothing but laugh.
Eventually the rooster decided he'd taught me lesson enough and leaped down in noisy victory. But not before I turned around and gave him a swift kick in the area where he can't lay eggs. As he ran and half flew back to the henhouse I was screaming at him that someday he'd be on my supper plate and I couldn't wait for the day!
With Brian in tow and still laughing, I went screaming and yelling into the kitchen. "Ethel," mother said sternly, "Calm down and be quiet. You're going to wake the dead." Feeling the raising lumps on my head, my fingers a bit bloody from checking, I started shrieking again. Mother came and looked at my head while Brian told her what happened. She put Watkins Petro Carb salve on my injuries and told me it is lucky that I have such beautiful thick hair, then told Brian to go back and get the eggs.
I grabbed my blonde doll, Rita, and went outside to sit on the step. Brian looked back, "who am I," he laughed, throwing his hands in the air waving his arms, moving sneaker-ed feet as if dancing.
I cuddled Rita and quiet enough so mother wouldn't hear I said, "I hate you."
Today there is no marking where our homestead used to be. I rarely travel that way but when I do I am shocked the driveway, the trees, the buildings are all gone and you'd never know a family lived and loved in that spot. It's all field, grain that blows in the wind, season after season.
In time Rita and the old rooster just disappeared and since, I have sat with Brian on many steps, laughing together. My sisters and brothers are my best friends today because we share something so unique, so wonderful, and sadly, so fleeting and fragile.
Still it haunts me, and Brian, if you are reading this, I have to know. The day of the rooster, were you really going to pull the trigger?
(Message From Brian)
Ethel, just a couple notes.
Those aren't chicks (referring to an old photo I emailed my family, see left) - they are baby ducks.
Lassie was a she, and who said I was aiming for the rooster?
Love and peace,