Kansas Collection books


Birds of a Feather

Terrible Tom Turkey


    I was awakened one morning by the sound of a rooster crowing. At first I though I was dreaming.  Then I heard it again -- another rooster answering.  They were greeting the sunrise.  As I lay there gathering my thoughts, something didn't seem quite right.  We were supposed to be in a Holiday Inn in El Paso, Texas.  I punched my sleeping wife and said, "I hear roosters crowing."  She answered, "You're dreaming . . . go back to sleep."  So I did.

    A long time ago, I was awakened each morning at sunrise by a big Barred Rock rooster that tiptoed on the fence behind the wash house.  He was there all through the seasons, until cold weather drove him to shelter in the chicken house.  We named him Roscoe.  He was big, beautiful and belligerent.  He fought with all the other roosters and established himself as lord and master of the flock.  He had a beautiful feather coat of barred black and white.  His comb and wattle were fiery red, especially when he crowed.  Memories of Roscoe came drifting back.

    There were other feathered creatures around the farm.  The one that quickly got my respect was Terrible Tempered Tom Turkey.  He was big and mean.  He had only a small harem of three hens, that didn't do justice to his boastful appearance.  He would fluff out his wings and strut around in a circle before his hens, hoping to impress them with his machismo.  Terrible Tom had a bad habit of chasing little boys and then landing on their backs and flogging them with his powerful wings.  He scared the daylights out of Marsh and me and we were terrified of him.  Whenever we headed for the barn to play in the hayloft, we always made a wide circle around Tom.  When Grandpa was along he never bothered us.  Grandpa carried a cane and he never hesitated to use it on Tom if he showed any belligerency.  So Marsh and I took to carrying a stick that looked like a cane.  After that, we never had any more trouble with Tom.

    Grandma also kept a gaggle of geese around for several reasons.  They were good watchdogs and were usually the first to sound an alarm when someone or something strange appeared in the farmyard.  They were also useful to clean up the weeds in the yard and garden.  They grazed on green plants like cattle, and seemed to have a preference for weeds.  Grandma would shut them in the garden for a few hours each day, and they kept the weeds out of the strawberry bed and the rhubarb patch.

    Geese also had other uses.  They were delicious when roasted to a golden brown for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.  Their feathers were valuable when stitched into ticking to make a feather bed. They also had itchy feet.  Grandpa called them feathered gypsies.  Several times I was sent to the neighbors to drive them home again.  When winter came they had a nasty, dirty habit of roosting just outside the kitchen door.  That was when Grandma would assign me the chore of cleaning up the mess and then she shut them in the chicken house for the winter.

    Perhaps the strangest birds we had were the guinea fowls.  They were wild and raucous and preferred roosting in the trees all winter long.  On cold winter nights, they would move to the cedar trees.  They competed with the geese as watchdogs.

    The next thing I knew, my wife was punching me awake to go out for breakfast.  On the way to the restaurant I looked over the wall that bordered the Holiday Inn.  On the other side of the wall and on a lower level was the humble home of a Mexican family.  There in the enclosed back yard were two big white roosters and several hens with chicks.  By now the sun was up and these two roosters were busily eating their breakfast of corn and pellets along with the hens and baby chicks.  They were real.

    To this day, I m not sure just where my dream started and ended.  But being awakened by a crowing rooster beats an alarm clock.  And it brings back a lot of fond memories.


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