Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Final Crow Down. Part Three of The Betty vs Rooster Trilogy

(If you haven't been with us for the last couple of days, we've missed you! More importantly, you've missed out on the first two parts of this exciting trilogy. Since you've been out, you know, doing those Very Important Things you've been doing, you'll need to catch up with our story by going back and reading Parts One and Two. Hopefully you can do that without straining yourself. We want you to be in good shape for this final installment. Pace yourself.)

Part Three

Finally, one day I had to make a trip to the barn. I surveyed the terrain. All clear.

Halfway to the barn door, I heard the spiny footsteps behind me. I turned and saw him, his laser-like eyes locked on target. Any thoughts of my standing up to the rooster left my head when I saw his determination, made clear by the forward tilt of his upper body. I sped up, listening to the talons hit the dirt with increasing speed. I jumped behind the plow but he was waiting for me on the other side. I took off across the yard, ran for the barn door and there, one second later, my father appeared, pitchfork in hand. It was too late for the rooster to switch into innocent poultry mode. Finally, I had a witness and better yet, a witness whose role on the farm included swinging an axe.

And so I stood the next day and watch axe come down. I thought it was Independence Day for me. The terror of the barn yard was going to our Sunday dinner. My mother took the body to the house and boiled the water to pour over it. (The hot water made it easier to pluck the feathers out--my job.) As she was carrying the water from the stove, she stumbled and the boiling water spilled on her upper legs. I watched as the pan bounced off the kitchen floor and my mother fell to the linoleum, crying out in pain and grabbing at her flowered house dress as though it were on fire. My sister screamed at me to go get my father as she knelt at my mother's side. As I ran down the barn, I felt the urgency of the moment. I had never seen my mother cry before. When my father helped her in the car to go to the doctor, I feared she would never return.

Our neighbor Mary came to take the rooster away to pluck and cook it for us and the next day my father and my sisters and I sat at the dinner table, the rooster, in pieces in Mary's casserole dish before us. Instead my our usual busy, bustling Sunday dinner, we were quiet, downcast and subdued. My mother was in bed and in pain from the burns and my older sisters had done the best they could, but the dishes were spare, burnt, and unfamiliar. I looked at the meat on my plate. When Mary had brought the cooked rooster up to our house, she had apologized, saying she had boiled the bird for a long time, but could never get it tender.

I looked at the steaming mound of flesh on my plate, understanding the sense of victory I had expected to feel was fleeting and inconsequential because it wasn't true victory at all. If instead of having my father kill him, I had faced this rooster down, if I had had the nerve to stand up to it, to give it one swift kick when it came racing toward me, it might have left me alone. Instead, it had ruled my life for five weeks and had resulted in my mother being burned, the overwhelming feeling of sadness at the table, the feeling of failure clinging to the inside of my stomach.

I forgive that little girl on the farm, but I keep her, and the sadness she felt in mind when I face a rooster in my life. The price of avoidance is high and I am still learning that it's merely temporary respite from the rooster who waits around the corner. Those roosters of self-doubt and fear get big fast and can shadow all else in our lives. When we run from them, they match us step for step. Convinced by their well-rehearsed show of bravado and authority, we forget we have power over them. Procrastination is powerful food for the rooster and makes it stronger. I wish I could say I always face my roosters head-on these days, but sometimes I let them dominate my landscape for much longer than I should.

Years ago I came across the skeleton of a rooster on display at a natural history museum. I stopped and looked at a skeleton of a rooster there strung up with fishing line, suspended in the air. I saw the small airy, fragile bones. The tiny head, the bony spine, the thin ribs, the twig-like legs--this had made up the foundation of the rooster who had terrorized me? I knew I could take just one of those bones and snap it between my fingers. What effect small muscles and a pretentious showing of feathers can produce on so small of a base! And we ourselves contribute additional muscle upon this flimsy architecture by giving the roosters in our lives more power than they deserve.

I stood for awhile, looking at the rooster skeleton.

I could see right through it.


Brian said...

Early one morning in '94 I awoke to a new sound for a city boy -- a rooster crowing loudly outside my bedroom window, a couple of feet from my head. I went outside and there he was, and I tried in vain to find an explanation. He meandered away.

The next morning and for the next couple of weeks, the same thing. I was quite annoyed, and even tried calling Animal Control, who came to the house but failed to catch him, leaving instead a note that said, "Unable to apprehend rooster as he flew over the fence into another yard," or words to that effect.

Once I tried shooing him off with the hose, and I remember distinctly, as I shot a jet of water in his path, seeing him actually stop running and think.

Turns out he belonged to a family that had just moved in next door. They must have contained him, as he stopped coming into my yard in the mornings. It wasn't so bad hearing him crow from one yard over.

One evening I heard Jake (as I had named him) screaming. I imagined the neighbors strangling him or perhaps swinging him by the neck overhead in preparation for Sunday dinner. Thoughts of Jake's demise made me very sad, as I had come to anticipate his morning wake-up call and had come to terms with my earlier sense of outrage at this rural intrusion into my comfortable city life.

Jake didn't die that night -- I heard him a few times after that, but then nothing.

So I guess for me, the rooster is a symbol of new, irritating things that I eventually learn to live with and sometimes even end up liking. I've found that's an important survival trait in our modern world.

Bossy Betty said...

Love it! This reminded me of how irritating I found people who spoke loudly into their cell phones at the airport were to me at first. I tried hosing them down too, but it didn't work. Oh wait, I still find these people irritating. Any suggestions?


Que Merrill said...

I believe your sister had good advice. Run at them kicking!

Brian said...

Stand near them and sing that Gordon Lightfoot song over and over. They will quickly move away. If that doesn't work, report their suspicious behavior to security.