Monday, August 26, 2013

EL ROJO (Attitude In Red)

            His name was El Rojo. He was a rooster. I got him from Jeremiah Mavis when I lived in almost-Arkansas Missouri. Jeremiah Mavis was an Arkansas Ridge Runner. Big, raw-boned and redheaded, he was of hearty Ozark stock. His biggest claims to fame were his wife’s newly installed bosoms, and the Arkansas record crappie on his trailer wall.

            Jerry assumed all northerners to be ignorant, but for some reason he took a shine to me and would do almost anything, as long as it didn’t involve work, to assist in my southern education. Jerry operated on the fringes of the law. He made moonshine back in the hills somewhere, spotlighted deer on a regular basis, and kept fighting chickens. Cock fighting qualified as major entertainment in that area in those days, and Jerry had several prime contenders. When Sheriff Cletus F. “Bo” Dawkins shut Jerry’s operation down, he was left with more roosters than a man needed. I ran into him at the lumberyard. We jawed for a while and I informed him I was about ready to install eight hens in a chicken coop I was building.

            “Gotchee a rooster?” he asked.

            “Not yet.”

            “Naow, I’ll tell yew whut,” he went on. “Yew git thet thar coop set up, an’ I’ll gitchee a rooster thet’ll wear them girls plumb out! Git twenny-tew aigs a day outa them eight hens a yourn. Lemme know when yer ready.” Jerry was prone to exaggeration.

            I told him I’d call when it was rooster time and he asked to borrow a rifle to do a little hunting that night. It seems that Sheriff Dawkins had confiscated Jerry’s gun the week before. Nothing came without strings when dealing with Jerry.

            A few days later, chicken coop, feeder, waterer, nest boxes and hens in place, I called him about his offer of a rooster. He showed up a couple of hours later in road gear on an old Ford tractor. Apparently his truck wasn’t running again. He had a rooster in a sack and my rifle, badly in need of cleaning, on his lap.

            “Got ‘im rachear in this bag,” he grinned. “Son, this hyar is a, by Gawd, rooster! I wuz gonna fight ‘im, but naow I cain’t.”

            He held the sack over the edge of the chicken wire and dumped out the biggest rooster I’d ever seen.

            “His name’s El Rojo!” Jerry crowed. “Ain’t he somthin’?”

            He was something, indeed. Over two feet tall in various shades of red, he was steely of eye and belligerent in attitude. He peered at me briefly, then attacked me through the fence.

            “His wangs is clipped naow,” Jerry advised me as he climbed back aboard the tractor. “Ya’ll might wanna keep ‘em cut back some. I speck ol’ El Rojo’ll fly like a turkey if’n yew don’t. Have fun, Yankee!” He roared off down the lane.

            Some fun. Every time I got near the pen, Rojo was there, watching and waiting for another opportunity to attack me. Fearless, predatory, intimidating he was, and for several weeks I worked around that bird. Whenever I was in the chicken yard I had to watch my back, periodically ducking him as he flapped at my face, trying to spur me. The hens loved him, pumping out eggs like machines. Large, brown, often double-yolked, golden-centered specimens of the layers art poured forth in glorious bounty and I was glad to have them, but I paid a heavy price in dealing with that murderous rooster. Finally, I had all I could take.

            On the way to gather eggs one day, my job because of the obvious danger, I picked up a length of oak two-by-two and informed my questioning wife that I was going to kill that damn bird if he even looked at me sideways. Enough was enough. I was one step into the chicken yard when he came at me, chest high, spurs extended. I laid a swing on him that would have done credit to Babe Ruth and, when Rojo hit the ground, I knew he was dead. I picked him up by the feet and tossed him in the bed of my old Chevy truck to be disposed of later. Eating that rooster was out of the question.

            Later in the day I went back to the truck. The bird was gone. I assumed a raccoon or coyote had made off with him until that evening when I went to put up the girls. There he was, pacing with the hens from his position outside the fence. As I approached him, he eyed me lovingly and began to voice that particular chicken purr of contentment. He fell in beside me, walking where I walked, stopping where I stopped, staying close to me with the loyalty of a dog and offering me no hostility whatever. And so it went. From that day forward, when I worked outside, I would let him out of the pen and he was my companion. Clucking and purring as we went about our business. He learned to take a single kernel of corn from between my lips, without his beak touching my skin. He did his job admirably, keeping the hens happy and the egg basket full. His glorious crackling crow would echo around the place, his clucking would greet me as I’d approach the pen while he’d pace back and forth asking to be let out. He’d even sit in the porch swing with me, from time to time, and enjoy the evening breeze. Nothing else, people, dogs, cats, or pigs, could get close to him. He’d attack on sight, but he was devoted to me. When the time came, after nearly two years, for us to leave the place I did not know what to do with him. We gave the hens away, but El Rojo was so nasty to anyone but me nobody would have a thing to do with him.

            About a quarter mile behind the house, just in the edge of a patch of woods, was a spring-fed stock pond, a waterhole for various wild denizens in the area. I walked Rojo back there the evening we were ready to leave, scattered a gallon or so of chicken feed out in the weeds, and gently tied his leg to a small sapling with a piece of twine I was sure he could easily peck through. As I walked away he called to me, and I could hear him struggle with his bonds. I didn’t have the heart to look back.

            Well over a year later, I had occasion to visit an ex-neighbor lady who lived near that pond. At dusk, as I was preparing to leave, I heard a glorious crackling crow wafting up from the woods. I stopped and listened with appreciation.

            “Thet’s thet rooster ya’ll left by the pond when ya moved away,” she said. “Nasty bird. Won’t let ya near that pond unless ya carry a big stick. Ya got a stick, he’ll just chirp at ya, an’ follow right along like a dog.”

            It’s always nice to learn that old friends are doing well.





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