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.

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* Sometimes there were up to 25 cats!

Down the Magic Dirt Road

MAGIC DIRT: the idea that geographical location will automatically transform the behavior of an individual or group of people.

This concept comes to us from Theodore Beale who writes under the name of  Vox Day. I’m reading a book of his that’s titled SJWs Always Double Down: Anticipating the Thought Police.

SJW stands for Social Justice Warrior, those ham-fisted, left-wing fanatics who enforce Political Correctness in the timorous world of white people.

But SJWs are not the focus today. Magic Dirt is. I happened upon this phrase and concept of Beale’s this week and, coincidentally, as if by magic, I had been thinking about something very similar lately.

Beale was born in Boston and now, apparently, lives in northern Italy upon his Magic Dirt. I was born in Atlanta and now, totally, live in the high mountains of Middle Mexico upon my Magic Dirt. We apparently both noticed the phenomenon, but he’s the one who stuck a name on it, not me.

Both Beale and I moved from American dirt to Latino dirt. I think that’s important. I believe that one who moves from American dirt to, say, Canadian or Australian dirt would likely not notice a great difference in dirt quality, its odor, consistency and color.

But does one change markedly on moving to another nation? I think it depends. I have, but I’m not sure to what extent, but it’s noticeable to me.

Let’s focus on moving to Mexico. There are no adjoining nations on earth that are so different, so if you really want a change, just fly over the Rio Bravo. I have long described Mexican life as akin to living in Alice’s Wonderland.

Cats with big smiles and no bodies that live in trees.

I’m sure the degree of change, the effect of the Magic Dirt, depends on how you live here and how often you go back where you came from. It also depends on if you know the language. It depends on the people you hang out with. If you marry into a Mexican family, that’s about as tight as a foreigner can get.

You’ve slipped through a barely open door. If you’re not in the Mexican family, you’re an eternal outsider, an intruder. You do get the smiles.

A Mexican’s face is a mask, and so is his smile.

— Octavio Paz.

If one heads back over the northern border regularly. If you are married to another foreigner. If you do not speak Spanish. These and other elements will affect the effect of the Magic Dirt upon your mind, heart and soul.

How do you know the Magic Dirt is below your fingernails?

One good indication is that the wackiness — often sheer lunacy — of Mexican life ceases to annoy you, or at least to a far lesser degree.

If you wake up due to the 6 a.m. explosions on the nearby plaza but go directly and easily back to sleep, that’s Magic Dirt. If people explain an issue by citing something totally illogical, and you nod or shrug, that’s Magic Dirt.

Walking daily over Magic Dirt can be unsettling, or it can start to feel normal. It depends on the individual, one supposes. And time.

Jalapeño cornbread

cornbread

THE PASTRY WORKSHOP is off and running, as they say. It debuted Monday with jalapeño cornbread, something I first enjoyed in Texas in the late 1990s at a popular gumbo restaurant just behind the Houston House Apartments where I lived a miserable year after my second wife tossed me into the street.

But let’s not wander down the sad alley.

While in Houston 10 years ago, en route to Atlanta, my Mexican bride and I lunched at the gumbo joint, the name of which escapes me, and the gumbo was accompanied by yummy* jalapeño cornbread. A Georgia Cracker by birth, I’ve eaten lots of cornbread in many guises, but never before with jalapeños, a Mexican twist.

When we returned to our mountaintop Hacienda, my wife began making jalapeño cornbread, and we have it every night to accompany the big salads I prepare to eat upstairs in the recliners while we watch Netflix.

The proper flour is not common here, but we find it in the state capital in a natural food store.

Unlike all her other tasty goods, she does not make jalapeño cornbread to sell. It’s just for us, and a friend who lives down the road gets some on occasion too.

Now and then I make gumbo which is a stupendous addition to jalapeño cornbread, or perhaps it’s the other way around. No matter. It’s a great way to live, and I pray it continues for a long, long time.

* * * *

* Some years ago I was criticized for using the word yummy. But here it is again. Do forgive.