When the dawn stopped cracking

Published 1:17 am Saturday, September 13, 2014

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. It provided us with eggs for breakfast, just-wrung fried chicken for Sunday dinner and a playground with many possibilities.

The limbs of an aging pecan tree hung over the chicken house and made a ladder to the tin roof, which was the “jumping off place” for many of our adventures.

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Aunt Mamie Belle dried peaches from the volunteer trees along the dirt road on the tin roof of the calf barn.

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

We didn’t.

My grandmother had peach trees 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. When we went back, our peaches were gone. Those old hens were dirty thieves. They had to be punished.

We climbed up on the tin roof and unloaded our BB guns on the chickens and the ol’ rooster.

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 backwards off the porch.” “You could kill somebody holding them under the water like that.” “You could kill somebody putting rope around their neck.” All kinds of stuff like that.

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

Mama said I could kill somebody hitting them in the stomach like that. She told me about this magician, Houdini. You could tie him up with chains and he was so strong he would pop them right off.

One day, a man punched Houdini in the stomach and he died. John Cross could have died, Mama said.

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. Please, don’t let John Cross die.”

He didn’t but the rooster was already dead.

I was so scared that my tongue was tied up. I was speaking in 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. I might just up and die myself.

I went with Dora to milk the cow and 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.”

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.

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

And, the dawn just stopped cracking.