Memories of beasts gone by

I WAS AWAKE before 6 this morning and listening to the chickens.

I have a history with chickens.

The poultry next door are the most recent. Around 6 or so, they begin to wake up and converse. It’s not the rooster, which has a distinctive morning call. No, it’s the hens, which also explains the constant chatter from their apple tree roost.

I was born in Atlanta, but I’ve hardly ever lived there. My parents and my sister lived in Atlanta for decades, but not me. When I was about six months old, we left Atlanta and headed to my maternal grandparents’ 500-acre farm in Southwest Georgia between the towns of Sylvester and Albany.

In later decades my parents and my sister returned to Atlanta, but I never went back except to visit. It’s a beautiful city, especially in the Fall.

Among the Herefords, rabbits and cats on the farm (we never messed with pigs and there was just one dog. I’ll get to him later) there were chickens, about 2,000 of them at one time.

The chickens were my father’s doing. He intended to make a living off chickens while becoming a famous writer. Neither of those notions panned out.

One dark summer night in Georgia, a large chunk of those 2,000 chickens was stolen. I remember Sheriff Andy and Deputy Fife standing in the kitchen the following morning. We never did get those chickens back.

New ImageDuring those chicken days, my father would give me baby chicks that he figured were not going to survive.  You read that right. My father gave me dying chicks as pets, and they did. Die, that is.

But I played nursemaid with each for a few days, keeping them in shoeboxes. They didn’t look ill to me when I got them. But they always died.

On that farm, we raised rabbits for profit, but my sister and I had one rabbit we considered a pet. We named him Rusty due to his color. One afternoon at dinner, as we were finishing up, it came out that we had just eaten Rusty.

I’ve written about some of these events, years ago, so it may sound familiar.

There was a dog on the farm too. He was named Pepper. He was a frisky, middle-sized dog of unknown mongrel heritage, and the only (almost) dog my sister and I ever were allowed to have.

Pepper was still there when we left the farm after six years. We then saw him only during our frequent visits up from Florida.

For First Grade I went to a Catholic school in Albany, even though we were not Catholics. Between First and Second grades, we abandoned farm life — chickens, cats*, Pepper, rabbits, Herefords — and moved to Jacksonville, Florida.

I never lived in proximity to poultry again. Till now.

The neighbors’ apple tree in which they roost abuts the property wall, and the chickens on occasion jump down to our yard and walk around. I’m not fond of this because chickens are nasty animals, and then there’s the poop.

But their visits are short, and they’re capable of the brief flight back to the apple tree, back to their own home where they belong.

Especially when I shoo them!

And every morning they greet dawn with chatter, reminding me that I once lived with their ancestors, thousands of the bloody things.

* * * *

* Sometimes there were up to 25 cats!

29 thoughts on “Memories of beasts gone by

    1. Ms. Shoes: We would have a pooch except for a couple of factors. They crap in the yard. And they make travel more difficult. Not like we travel all that much, but I want to know we can up and go at a moment’s notice if the urge strikes. Dogs complicate that. And there’s still the crap. If I were to get a dog, it would be a standard poodle, not one of the small yappy ones. Standards are very intelligent, and they don’t shed. That’s another problem with some dogs.

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      1. Felipe: Crapping in the yard is no big deal to me. Going out and picking it up isn’t a problem. If you regularly walk a dog, (which is also good for you, as you already know) they will wait to poop on the walk, which you pick up and deposit.

        The travelling part is a problem though, as well as a dog’s life in Mexico. We brought our dog from Canada to Mexico, only because the people who asked to take him I deemed unfit. Searching the dog required about two hours a day, and he got a disease from the ticks which affected is life, probably shortening it by five years, and having him sick for months at a time.

        You may be making the proper decision. At least you like dogs. W.C. Fields said something about people who don’t like dogs.

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        1. Kris: You may feel that picking up dog crap on a regular basis is no big deal, but I beg to differ. Big-time.

          As mentioned elsewhere, my parents never let my sister and me have a dog. Then when they retired relatively early, even earlier than I did, they moved to that very same farm in southwest Georgia after my mother’s parents had both died. Then they decided they weren’t such foes of pooches as they had thought. They got a Dalmatian, which they said was dumb as a rock. They gave him away. Then a doberman which was a very sweet pooch, contradicting his race’s vicious reputation. He got hit by a car. Then they got a beagle named Missie. They said he was the best of the bunch.

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          1. Felipe: My father loved dogs, my mother hated them. He got us a Collie, my mother put it outside any time nobody else was home. It disappeared. My father got a purebred Labrador puppy from a co-worker who bred them. It had a short tail, so he couldn’t sell it. My mother put it out, and I think someone found it wandering and took it home. When we were teenagers, Dad got a St. Bernard (at a time when they were separated). Whenever she had the chance, she put it outside. We let her know it would not be good for her if the dog went missing, after we found him wandering a few times. Then she started putting him in the basement. A miserable woman, still is at age 94.

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            1. Kris PS: Thinking further on your story, one must wonder why your father kept bringing dogs home knowing how your mother would react? Was a bad idea for his kids and a bad idea for the dogs too. Sounds like there was lots of psychological warfare going on. I don’t think your mother was the sole guilty party.

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              1. Probably a lot of truth in that. Dad never really interacted with the dogs, but the effort to get the St. Bernard was huge. He had it flown from Toronto to New Brunswick. They had to transfer planes in Montreal, where it escaped from its cage and was loose running around the runways for over a day. It was only a puppy then, nine months old and ninety pounds. We used to exercise him by having him tow the Volkswagen.

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          2. Having known two Dalmatians through dog-sitting for friends, I wholeheartedly agree with your parents. Neither were canine intellectuals.

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            1. Perry: Good one. Yes, my parents were less than complimentary when speaking of the beast.

              I don’t know why your comment was sent to moderation. Shouldn’t have. WordPress is flawed.

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  1. I love the animal memories. So you ate Rusty, but what became of Pepper? We always had a dog when I was growing up (one at a time); my dad backed the car out of the garage over one that was too dumb to move.

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  2. I am struck how many threads of our respective lives have similarities. Well, not so much similarites as perhaps echoes. Farms. Chickens. Grandparents. And the unspecting ingestion of pets.

    In my case, it was a mallard duck pair, Cinderella and Prince Charming (if I am remembering correctly), who unknowingly committed the capital offense of eating the strawberries in our garden. My uncle Frank dispatched them. My mother cooked them. I believe it was about half way through the meal when someone acted as town crier to deliver the news of the deed done fowl. It took me years to eat duck again.

    As for dog, I ate a sample in survival school. Along with cat and other items not usually found on western tables. The dog was edible. The cat was just as bad as you would expect a cat to taste. I am not certain even buzzrds would eat a cat.

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  3. I think trespassing chickens should suffer the same fate as Rusty.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Redding, CA
    Where we await a follow-up post mentioning “fowl play.”

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    1. Kim: I agree in principle, but in practice I just wait for them to leap back over the wall. A time or two I’ve opened the front gate and shoo’ed them into the street. Way back when — before I realized they could get back over the wall by themselves — I went next door a couple of times and politely asked the surly neighbor woman to come get them. But I’m not messing with her anymore.

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        1. Kim: I have a surfeit. (There’s a word you don’t get to use every day.) The surly family is on one side. The Deadpan Yardman lives just beyond the sex motel on the other side. Actually, he’s improved considerably over the years, and I shouldn’t call him deadpan anymore because he’s not now. And his wife is quite nice. The kids too. But I’ll continue with it because The Deadpan Yardman has a nice ring to it.

          But I still have a surfeit of surly neighbors. Anyone who says Mexicans are sooooo friendly should come hang out in my hardscrabble barrio a spell.

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    1. Ricardo: With the passage of many years and the use of non-addictive, mind-altering substances, yes, my problems are not monumental at all. Perhaps they never were. Maybe I need a dog.

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  4. I retired in November of 2004. For Christmas that year, my oldest son bought me some newly hatched chicks. Then he built me a chicken coop and ran up about five thousand dollars on my American Express buying supplies and tools. I kept chickens in my backyard until 2014. We were eating eggs three times a day. I gained a lot of weight.

    This was kind of illegal in the City of Phoenix. But I have a high wall around the backyard. My agricultural pursuits were small potatoes in comparison to some of the illicit farming taking place in our neighborhood. The neighbors kept silent; they loved the eggs. The chickens have been gone for four years, and the smell still lingers on.

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