By Ken Bradbury
I was walking out the door from a service at the Virginia Presbyterian Church when I heard the rooster. The Virginia Presb’s don’t convene in some barnyard. This was right in the center of town and the rooster was in the back yard of the house next door. A town rooster. Being an obedient Presbyterian myself, I quickly hopped in my car before the cock had a chance to crow three times and hightailed it back toward Arenzville, but something stuck with me. . . a feeling. . . a memory, if you will.
Some of the greatest nights of my childhood were spent staying all night at my grandparent’s house on the gravel road between Perry and Fishhook, Illinois, and grandma kept chickens. She lived in the same house with Grandpa, but they were Grandma’s chickens. She tended to their birth, fed and watered them, chopped their heads off when they’d reached frying weight, and conferred upon them the final rites as she battered their thighs and wings and then dipped them into hot grease. A final absolution so to speak. Catholics call this Viaticum. We Presbyterians called it lunch.
Every farm morning began with the crow of a rooster, sometimes many roosters. There’s a misconception that roosters only crow at dawn, but anyone raised on farm can tell you that the rising of the sun is simply the first crow of the day. They generally keep it up as long as the sun is in the sky. No one knows for sure why but in 2013 scientists in Japan determined that most roosters crow just before dawn and that it has nothing to do with the sun. Each chicken operates on an internal clock of 23.8 hours per day and the cock will crow on this schedule even if deprived a light. He does this for a variety of reasons, but mainly to mark his territory or celebrate the conquest of yet another hen. Those crazy Japanese scientists are really a lot of fun if you get to know them.
Several area towns have wrestled a bit with whether or not to allow chickens inside the town’s city limits. I don’t know what my little village of Arenzville has to say about the matter, but I imagine it’s allowed. There are nights when I can’t make a phone call from my porch because of the coyotes howling west of town. Add to that the sound of a passing train and you have a Cass County cacophony with which no rooster could compete. To be honest, I wish I had a rooster next door. That morning call to arms would quickly whisk me back to memories of my grandmother’s warm quilts and the smell of bacon mixed with the sound of the morning news over the old radio.
I have a good friend who was once chased by chicken when she was a young girl and to this day she’ll leave her front porch at night when the swallows start swooping low in search of a bedtime mosquito snack. That’s a shame. Aggressive chickens are the exception. Heck, my brother and I would argue over who’d go into the chicken yard and collect the eggs for grandma. Perhaps grandma trained her hens to be cowards because I’ve never seen chickens do anything but scatter when an intruder enters the henhouse. It’s not a major thing in the affairs of the world but I regret that an entire generation of children now grow up in America without the experience of gathering eggs and shooing a hen off her next to pave the wave for Grandpa’s breakfast.
Most cities that allow roosting have restrictions on the number of roosters allowed, whether a permit is required, the distance between the coop and the neighbors, and many towns require at least three square feet of walking room per chicken in each yard. I’m not sure who came up with the three-foot requirement. Perhaps chickens have their own union. Wichita, Kansas, allows no male chickens. I can’t wait for that one to reach the Supreme Court. Roosters of the world, unite! One town in New Jersey allows rooster keeping but bans them from crowing before eight in the morning. So do you sit down and have a talk with the fowls? And how do you teach a rooster to read a digital watch? One lady in Oregon found that her town banned chickens, but allowed pot-bellied pigs because they were deemed to be “pets,” so she registered her hens as pets and won a lawsuit. A couple in California were faced with a similar poultry ban so they started a Chicken Music Festival, bringing in thousands of bucks to the town’s coffers each summer. Suddenly the whole town was in love the rooster’s crow.
All I know is that when I hear a rooster after church in Virginia, Illinois, it makes me smile. I haven’t checked with God, but surely He grins . . .if not at the rooster then at me.