Now, with the passing of Dec. 31, 2020, a 50-year statue of limitations has expired on a tale that my grandmother imposed on said humble scribe who fortunately, through occasional exercise, moderation in pork products, and lucky genetics, has still managed to retain the essentials of said tale. As to why my beloved Granny was so insistent in trying to wait until she was long vacant from the telling of the tale, I make no judgment and will leave that to the reader for their own rumination.
Go back 50 years ago. (Warning: the next sentence includes a description of gruesome death, so skip to the last paragraph if you are easily upset or already bored). A chicken truck had a cage of live chickens fall from the back as it passed my boyhood home, resulting in the immediate and ugly deaths of the four of its unfortunate occupants. Fortunately, a fifth chicken emerged unscathed from that carnage and promptly wandered into our yard.
At that time, I had hand-raised a flock of nine chickens from an incubator my dad had built for me. Consequently, I was more than pleased with the new arrival, which I promptly named Mildred. Being an industry-raised chicken, Mildred dwarfed my little bantams, standing a good foot taller and easily weighing 20 pounds more. Despite her best efforts, she was immediately ostracized by the flock, who wanted no part of this strange and dangerous looking new immigrant. Not knowing the protocols of cage-free chicken decorum, Mildred took to some interesting behaviors, which included resting on top of the family car during the day and sleeping at night on our clothes-line pole. It is in connection with the former that my Granny comes into the picture.
Visiting us for Christmas, she volunteered to run to the grocery store for a few items my mom needed. Not noticing Mildred perched on the roof, my grandmother put the car into gear, pulled to the end of our driveway, then turned on the busy street to the store. At first, all the people honking and waving their hands at her as she sped down the road bewildered my grandmother. Being a visitor to the town, she thought maybe the locals had their own customs of highway etiquette she was not observing. It wasn't until she stopped at a light nearly a mile down the road that a man pulled up next to her and said "Lady, you got a chicken on your roof!" Pulling over, she saw poor Mildred, feet firmly attached to a chrome strip on the roof, flapping her wings, looking terrified. Not knowing what else to do, my grandmother promptly turned around and drove home, Mildred flapping all the way to the chorus of honking horns as cars drove past the strange sight. Finally returning home, Mildred released her herculean grip on the car and fled to the back yard. My grandmother fled inside our house.
The writer Chuck Palhniuk once observed: "Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken." It might be said too, with a wink to these times, that you don't have to be a chicken to learn that sometimes if we can just hold on, the terror will pass. We can make home again.
Sey Young is a local businessman, father and longtime resident of Bentonville. Email him at [email protected]