Once upon a time on my dad’s farm lived four young roosters who needed names. A good name can make or break a soul in this world so when dad called me at 8 a.m.in the morning, while I was at work, and asked my assistance in selecting names for his roosters, I was honored.
Since I had never seen his new roosters, I asked him to describe them for me.
The first rooster was black, small for his age and the first to learn to crow. He really had a thing for the lady hens. His most distinguishing characteristic was the long feathers that hung down on either side of his beak like sideburns. We named him Elvis.
Then, dad explained he wanted his other roosters named after Civil War generals. I am a Civil War buff, so he felt I would be the one to help him find appropriate military names. He stressed that the generals’ names had to be ones that he could remember.
I asked him to describe the other birds. One he said had dark red feathers, one was as golden yellow as ripe corn and the last one was speckled white and black.
For the red rooster I suggested the name Sherman as General William T. Sherman had red hair. Well, no, dad said, he’d never be able to remember that. So, I suggested General Grant? Nope, that one was too hard to remember, too. What about General Lyon for the yellow rooster? Why, you could just call him Lyon seeing how he’s yellow I patiently explained. Well, no, that wouldn’t work at all, because nobody had ever heard of this Union General Nathaniel Lyon and he’d never remember the name anyways.
The minute I heard the colors of those roosters, and knowing my dad, I knew where we were headed. I had learned the lesson long ago that no matter how much you wish it could be different sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and accept the inevitable.
“Well, dad, how about Geronimo for the red rooster and Custer for the yellow one?” I suggested. With a shout of excitement he said that would be perfect. We never did name the big black and white speckled rooster.
Roosters on a farm have short lifespans. It is not because they are good eating or too loud. Most roosters as they mature become aggressive. Some abuse their hens. The abuse can become so severe that the hens can die when their feathers get stripped completely off by the sharp talons on the rooster’s feet. Where an aggressive rooster roams no living thing is safe from attack, not livestock, pets or people.
Shortly after naming the roosters, I traveled out to the farm to see my dad’s new chicken flock. There were over a dozen hens and yes, those roosters sure were handsome lads. My favorite was Custer, the big yellow one. I am convinced that a more beautiful rooster has never walked this earth. He was big and his yellow feathers shimmered like molten gold when he strutted his stuff before those hens in the sunlight.
A watercolor portrait I painted of Custer that hangs on my dining room wall.
That was the one and only time that I saw all those boy birds together. Only a couple of weeks after my visit the rooster curse descended.
Very early one morning, not too long after my farm visit, my office phone rang. As I picked up the receiver I heard my mother’s sad voice loudly announce, “YOUR father has just shot Elvis!”
I must admit hearing that first thing in the morning on your work phone when you are press secretary for a state constitutional officer, took me by surprise. But, not as much as when dad had called me a few years back when I worked for the state legislature to inform me that, “Your brother has a huge beaver problem.” When I started to laugh really hard he in no uncertain terms reminded me that “I am still your father!” (Their beaver problem was the result of a beaver dam flooding several fields. Since, my job at that time was a constituent services representative for the state legislature, he had actually had called the right person and our Department of Natural Resources happily took care of his “beaver problem”.)
After I quit chuckling about the announcement of Elvis’s demise, I asked why?Mom explained in great and vivid detail that Elvis had become too randy with the hens and just wouldn’t leave them alone. He had stripped some of those poor female chickens almost naked of feathers. To protect the hens from domestic abuse…he had to go.
About a month after that mom called again. “Well, your father just shot Geronimo.” I was very sorry to hear that, because he was a beautiful bird. She went on to explain that Geronimo was constantly chasing her around the yard and attacking her. Try as she might to ward off his attacks with grandpa’s antique golf clubs, she was all bruised up from his sharp beak bites. Dad never kept any animal on the farm that attacked a human…friend or fowl. He had to go.
I tried to comfort mom by reminding her that they still had two roosters. She grimly responded that they only had one. So, I asked,”What happened to the other rooster?” She told me to talk to my father and handed him the phone. He told me he still had my favorite rooster Custer and that he was a good rooster nice to the hens and a good pet. When I asked him what happened to the big unnamed black and white speckled rooster, my dad, who has farmed for over 70 years, in a voice dripping with disgust growled, “He laid an egg and is nothing but a big fat hen!”
It was almost the end of summer and the chickens were now big enough to freely roam the yard, which can be good or bad. The good is the great improvement in the quality and taste of the eggs. There is really nothing better to eat, cook or bake with than eggs from chickens who dine on bugs and dandelions. The yolks get almost orange. The bad is that there is chicken poop everywhere on the ground, on machinery, on porches and warm and squishy between your bare toes.
It seemed that good times had finally arrived for the farm’s chicken operation. While dad and mom were busy farming, the chickens enjoyed their freedom and laid plenty of eggs. Not always in the nest provided in the hen house, however.
Farming is hard and losing your animals is always tough, it is even harder when the loss is cruel and the result of someone else’s neglect. My dad came home from town one day only to find that a pack of loose dogs had gotten into the chicken fence and killed almost all of his birds. He was really upset. “All of my beautiful hens are gone! They tore them up! My poor girls,” he shouted. “I only have a couple hens left and Custer!”
It is not uncommon for farmers to lend out their male animals for breeding. Custer was such a very beautiful bird that after seeing him another farmer asked dad if he could borrow him for a short time for his flock. Dad thought it would be great to have a bunch of little golden chicks from his rooster running around so Custer was sent off to procreate.
One morning, shortly after he arrived to service his new harem, the farmer found not only Custer missing, but his whole flock of chickens were gone. He searched for quite awhile for the lost birds then he spied a bright yellow spot a long way off on the side of a bare hill in one of his fields. When he approached the spot, he found what remained of the carnage of a terrible chicken massacre.
Bald Eagles had attacked the flock. To kill a big chicken they swoop down, pick up the chicken with their talons, carry them up high and then drop them. Chickens cannot fly and the fall kills them. There on the side of that lonely hill Custer had died defending his hens. He and his entire flock had been wiped out by great eagles. Dad was sad to tell me that my favorite rooster had died, but he was mighty proud of Custer’s last stand.
Chicken Pasta Fruit Salad
2 cups of cooked chicken cut into bite-sized pieces. ( I use a whole chicken or four chicken breasts. Do not ever allow chicken skin to get into a cold salad.)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups of green grapes, sliced in half
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1-20 ounce can of pineapple chunks, completely drained
2 cups of cooked shell pasta
1 1/2 cups of mayonnaise
juice of one lemon
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon of celery seed
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Gently combine salad ingredients together in a large mixing bowl.
In a small bowl whisk the dressing ingredients together. Taste dressing to make sure that it meets with your approval. Adjust tartness by adding more lemon. If too tart add small amounts of sugar.
Pour dressing over salad ingredients and toss together to coat. Refrigerate for several hours until well chilled. Serve.
This recipe makes about six servings as an entree.