For reasons you’ll soon understand, I’m a little afraid of roosters. But I met this nice one a few weeks ago and he wasn’t mean. I wrote a haiku for him: Rooster Ballet Haiku.
That experience reminded me of The Story of Chicken, and I promised to share it with you soon. Now is the time.
It’s a Shared Memory
Shared memories make family stories the best. Usually starting with “Remember that time…” and requiring all who were involved to chime in to get the facts straight, family-memory stories gain a patina with age and become the stuff of legend.
Such is The Story of Chicken.
But alas, I am the only remaining member of our nuclear family of four and I realize now how much a family story relies on all of the voices. I will do my best to honor Chicken, and face correction from Mom, Dad and Steve when I cross over to the other side. Or perhaps they will speak through me as I channel them now. Let’s get started.
Grab a Coffee
Oh, and by the way, grab a coffee or a cold drink and be prepared to “sit a spell,” as my paternal grandmother Mema would say. The Story of Chicken is not short.
We Lived at the Beach
My childhood home of memory is the beach house on stilts we moved to when I was nine and my brother Steve was six.
The Canal City subdivision in Gilchrist, Texas is a tiny community perched on the Gulf Coast on the Bolivar Peninsula and a perfect place to grow up; I’ve shared with you before here on the pages of Glover Gardens that Steve and I were always planning to write a memoir called Surviving the Perfect Childhood. The Story of Chicken would have been a chapter.
Grandma Brought Us Her Unwanted Hatchlings
My maternal grandmother, Ruth, was a biology teacher at Yates High School in Houston, two hours north of us, and had run a class project to hatch chickens and ducks. The project was successful and produced adorable fuzzy little creatures – but none of her students in that very urban area of town wanted to take them home to raise. Neither did my grandmother (or rather, my grandfather).
A beach house with a canal behind it – our home was the perfect answer to Grandma’s dilemma. A Saturday visit from Grandma and Grandpa brought a couple of shoeboxes full of fowls, and we were enchanted. We named the ducks Wynken, Blynken and Nod (after the song and poem; here’s a link to Carly Simon and her sister singing it back in the day). Sadly, I don’t remember if the chickens had names. This is where another family member would have chimed in!
A Storm Took ‘Em All, Save One
There was a week or two of fun with fowl as we watched the ducks swim in the canal behind our house and the chickens run around pecking the ground and chasing each other. And then came a storm. It was either a very bad thunderstorm or a very mild tropical storm that swept over us from the Gulf, and when we emerged the next morning after hunkering down inside all night, all of our fowl were missing from their nests in the garage except one little white chicken.
Always very tenderhearted, Steve was only 7 at the time and was very upset about the loss of our little flock. He became very protective of the remaining chick, naming him Chicken and treating him like a lap dog.
Chicken Grows Up to Be a Big, Big Boy
Spoiled by Steve and fed table scraps, Chicken grew to be a mighty rooster. Huge, mostly white with ugly black mottling and a scary-looking red comb, he was formidable and aggressive, strutting around the yard proudly, chasing away possums and armadillo and scaring our cats into hiding.
We had the front house along the beach highway and beach-going strangers pulled over several times during Chicken’s time with us to ask what we were feeding him! Did I say he was big? It doesn’t sound believable now, but I swear he was 3 feet tall. Sadly, there are no surviving pictures of Chicken. But maybe he was a Brahma; they get really big. I read that they were re-introduced in the 70s and it would have been just like my grandmother to get a rare breed for her students to hatch.
Chicken Loved Only Steve
While carrying Chicken around and cradling him like a huge football, I distinctly remember Steve saying many times in a singsong voice, “Pet him, Mama; isn’t he soft?” Steve really loved Chicken, and Chicken loved Steve right back. They went together like peanut butter and grape jelly, or “PB&GJ” as my Mom would have said.
But there was a problem: Chicken was a one-person rooster. He tolerated Mom, most likely because of those facilitated petting sessions, but he absolutely loathed Dad and me. With a passion. And folks, you don’t know what passionate loathing looks like in a rooster until you’ve had a giant, angry one chase you.
Running the Clothesline Gauntlet
Our dryer was often broken and we had a clothesline downstairs strung between the pilings holding up the beach house. (I think we might have been poor during that period, but Steve and I didn’t know it.)
To retrieve my clothes from the clothesline, I had to take a broom with me to fight off Chicken, and Dad often used the pitchfork for the same purpose. Dad also used his briefcase like a shield when he got home from work to make the trek from the car to the stairs. Why was this necessary? Because when he saw Dad or me, Chicken would square off, put his head down, and come running at us to peck at our legs. Hard. I still remember the frightening sound his heavy, red rooster feet made as he thundered across the grass: thoomp, thoomp, thoomp, thoomp. I had to practice positive self-talk to get ready to go out and face Chicken: “I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.”
Once I only had the pair of socks I was fetching from the clothesline to fend off Chicken, and he drew blood on my legs. That was the beginning of the end of his days with the Harvell Family of Canal City in Gilchrist, Texas.
The Chicken Round-Up
Dad put the word out about a giant, available and (probably) virile rooster at The Corner, the local café where all the retired men met for coffee each day. He soon got the word that Houston, the telephone man (yes, his name really was Houston) was in the market for a rooster. Score! My clothesline experience was about to improve!
Houston met Dad at our house one afternoon to collect Chicken. I was home when this happened but Steve was not…probably by design. Dear Readers, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen two grown men, one of them in a business suit, chase an irate rooster with a fish net. Chicken gave them a workout! I think they might have had to use the cast net as a last resort. Of course I was rooting for Dad and Houston, but I did enjoy the spectacle. So did Mom, although it was several years before she’d admit it.
Chicken Rules the Roost
What happened next was always best told by Dad. Because Steve was really worried about Chicken settling in to his new life, Dad checked in with Houston a few days after the big intervention and resettling. Houston said,
Well, Frank, I thought I was going to have to get rid of him before my black lab killed him. The first day Chicken was here, that dog chased him all over the yard and wouldn’t leave him alone. But from the second day forward, Chicken got the upper hand, and if you drive by you might see him chasing the dog. I thought that dog had a little more fight to him, but I guess he’s no match for Chicken.”
A Happy Ending, and Some Input from My Sister-in-Love
Apparently Chicken was happy with his hen party, and Mom and Dad told Steve he left to start a family. Steve isn’t here to tell his side, but my “sister-in-love”, the marvelous woman he was married to for many years, tells me that Steve loved telling The Story of Chicken.
Steve talked about that damn chicken all the time. He said he’d love on it and call it a pretty Chicken. He also said you and Frank had to give yourselves a pep talk before you went outside knowing that chicken was waiting to ambush you and attack. Made me laugh every time.”
She went on:
I have a mental picture of Frank in a suit taking a last sip of coffee and a couple of deep breaths as he peeks out the window and then rushes out the door and down the stairs fighting off the chicken, using his briefcase as a shield.”
I love that my sister-in-love remembers this story from my brother’s retellings, and I think that The Story of Chicken will live on. Don’t you?
More about my brother and me, our shared perfect childhood and the complicated world we landed in later can be found at:
- How Far is Heaven? Remembering Kim-n-Steve
- Now You Know: a Poem for My Brother
- The Bee Poem, by Steven Harvell, Age 5
- my days by the water
- Two “First Day of School” Stories
- My Brother’s Suicide: Out of the Darkness and Into the Light
- Looking Back and Finding Joy: Happy 51st, Dear Brother
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