Today being All Saints' Day, I'd like to conclude my Dia de los Muertos series with a story of one of the few members of my family who is almost assuredly a saint: my grandpa-by-marriage, Tom Queen.
Grandpa Queen was a good man. He did right by his wife and family. He worked hard, made a decent living, and passed on valuable lessons to his grandchildren. In particular, he used to enjoy watching my husband struggle with their old, rusty push-mower to cut the lawn, advising him, "Boy, you've got to be smarter than the equipment you're working with." Possibly the only time Grandpa Queen was not a saintly man was when he decided to kill and eat the old Leghorn rooster. Even then, there were extenuating circumstances.
My great-grandmother liked to tell stories she swore were true of demons who inhabited the houses of wicked people, and ghosts who lurked in homes where she had lived. While she was growing up, she swore, there was an incident of a beautiful woman standing in a fountain weeping. When some men when to approach this mysterious woman to find out what was wrong, she transformed into a pig and charged them, escaping into the countryside. I never took those stories seriously (unless it was very late and kind of stormy outside), but when my husband told me about his grandfather and the chicken, I had to wonder.
Grandpa Queen had a bona fide wooden leg. He also had a chicken coop that contained a number of hens and the meanest, nastiest, most evil rooster this side of my great-grandmother's demon stories. Feeding the chickens or collecting eggs was a harrowing chore, because as soon as anyone entered the chicken pen, the Leghorn rooster would come charging from whatever corner of the pen he had been scratching in to attack the intruder. Not only did he have no qualms about biting the hand that fed him, he would also diligently claw, peck and spur the hand as well. Grandpa Queen had to be careful to keep firearms and explosives away from the chicken pen, because there was no telling what that rooster might do. A young boy at the time, my husband lived in dread of feeding the chickens. Every chore involving the henhouse was an exercise in survival. The Queen folk learned a number of tricks for dealing with the savage bird, from using galvanized garbage can lids as makeshift shields, to trying to toss the laundry tub over the Leghorn to trap him beneath. But Grandpa Queen had a special weapon. He had the wooden leg.
True, it may sound cruel, but Grandpa Queen and that rooster had a special ritual. Grandpa Queen would enter the chicken pen, and the rooster would come rushing at him. Grandpa Queen would wait until just the right moment, then haul back with his wooden leg and kick the bird like a football, sending it flying across the pen. The moment that rooster hit dirt, it would be running like fury back toward Grandpa Queen, with vengeance in its beady little eyes. But by the time it got there, Grandpa would be ready with more of the same. In the time the mean little beast spent airborne and en route, Grandpa Queen was usually able to get the feeding and watering done with no problems. Anyone else attempting this trick was inevitably shredded by the rooster's leg spurs, which could deliver some serious gashes, tearing through pants and requiring stitches. But Grandpa's wooden leg gave him a certain immunity to the chicken's attacks.
Not, as it turned out, a complete immunity.
It so happened, on the final day of the Leghorn rooster's life, that Grandpa reared back to give the chicken a good boot as usual, only to find that the chicken had adjusted its tactics. Sick of having its swipes shrugged off, the rooster had apparently put everything it had into the assault. The result: one of its spurs was now solidly embedded in Grandpa's wooden leg. Grandpa tried shaking it off. The chicken stuck with him. He tried prying it off. The chicken still had one spur free, and it used that remaining weapon to attempt to kill the man he was stuck to. Grandpa Queen was in a predicament indeed. As long as he kept his leg extended, the chicken could not harm him. Any other move resulted in flying feathers (the chicken's) and blood loss (Grandpa Queen's). It was like having a tiger by the tail. Only a lot less dignified.
It was a long drive to the vet office that day. And an even longer hour spent in the waiting room, trying to ignore the stares of the other patrons as Grandpa Queen sat patiently waiting to see the veterinarian with a furious chicken stuck to his leg. When he finally made it home that night with an angry Leghorn rooster in a box, he quietly informed his wife that they would be having chicken for dinner that night. The entire family agreed it was about time, and although it was not the most tender or the tastiest chicken they had eaten, everyone pretty much unanimously agreed that it was the most satisfying chicken dinner they ever had. Especially Grandpa Queen.
Kinda makes you wonder, though. Which was smarter: the chicken or the leg?
This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.
0 Reader Comments