The rooster’s dead and I don’t feel so good

Published 10:48 pm Friday, March 19, 2010

Waking at the crack of dawn to the crowing of a rooster gave me a strong sense of place and a real feeling of belonging.

My grandmother’s chicken yard was just down the hill from our house and it provided us with eggs for breakfast and just-wrung fried chicken for Sunday dinner. It also provided us with a playground with many possibilities.

The limbs of an old-age pecan tree hung over the chicken house and were a ready-made ladder to the tin roof and the “jumping off place” for many of our adventures.

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My aunt and uncle over around Clayton used the hot, tin roof on their calf barn to dry peaches from the volunteer trees along the dirt road.

“Y’all stay away from them peaches,” Aunt Maniebelle would holler out the door every once in a while.

We didn’t.

My grandmother had a small peach orchard so “me and Betty Kay” decided to dry us some peaches on the tin top of the chicken house. We peeled the knotty peaches with our pocketknives, laid them on the roof and covered them with a flour sack. A few days later, we went back and our peaches were gone. Those old roosting hens were dirty thieves. They had to be punished.

We got our BB guns and climbed the tree to the tin roof and unloaded on the chickens and the ol’ rooster. You could see the path the BBs took in the air but the noise alone was enough to cause a commotion in the chicken yard.

A few days later, I heard my grandmother tell Dora, the dear, sweet lady who worked for her, that she had found her rooster dead that morning.

She didn’t say “shot dead” but I knew. We’d killed the rooster.

Back then children could kill things in a lot of different ways. Mama was always saying, “You could kill your little brother pushing him off the porch backwards.” “You could kill somebody holding them under the water like that.” “You can’t put a rope around anybody’s neck. You can kill them.” All kinds of stuff like that.

I’d walloped my friend John Cross in the stomach and he went crying home to his mama and “Miss” Odell told my mama.

Mama said I could kill somebody hitting them in the stomach like that. She told me about this magician that we knew about. Houdini. You could tie him up with ropes. Then put chains around him and put him in a box and nail it down and Houdini could pop right out.

Mama said one day a man just walked right up to Houdini and walloped him in the stomach and Houdini died. I could have killed John Cross just like that.

I got scared John Cross was going to die so I prayed, “Please don’t let him die. I won’t ever hit anybody in the stomach again. Not hard. Please, please don’t let him die.”

But the rooster was already dead and I didn’t feel so good myself. I was so scared that my tongue was tied up.

That was my first knowledge of the unknown tongue. I didn’t know what I was saying. I was just praying up a storm.

I was scared of what God was going to do to me for killing the rooster. God didn’t put up with stuff. He could make sores come all over you and send grasshoppers to eat up everything in the garden and then you’d starve to death and die. Our Sunday school teacher told us about that.

Every time I thought about that ol’ dead rooster my stomach would knot up and my mouth would go dry. I might just up and die myself.

Late one afternoon, I walked with Dora up to milk the cow.

While she milked, I held up the cow’s tail to keep it from swatting her in the face.

“If somebody shot a rooster with a BB gun, do you think the rooster would die?”

Dora laughed. “No, honey. You can’t kill a mean ol’ rooster with one a-them play guns. Roosters get too mean to go on living or too old. They don’t live hardly no time anyway.”

Well, I’d done all that worrying and praying for nothing.

A short time later, my grandmother got a new rooster and part of its job was to wake everybody up in the morning.

Life was back to normal.

However, in time, chicken yards became old fashioned and electric clocks replaced the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo.

I’d forgetten how much I missed the rooster alarm until one mornnig a few months ago when the crack of dawn was welcomed by the crowing of a rooster.

We’d been invaded by wild chickens.

Soon, a couple of hens and a rooster became a harem of ten hens and four roosters and all of their offspring.

Now, roosters don’t just crow in the early morning. They crow from sunup until sundown. Neighbors don’t like that.

Finally, a neighbor had heard enough. BAM! BAM! BAM!

The roosters were dead and I didn’t feel so good myself.

But this morning, I heard a distant and cautious “cock-a-doodle-do.”

Somewhere a rooster still lives.