If I’ve learned anything in this life of mine, it is family makes holidays happy and joyous, not golden brown turkeys or a carload of presents. To be honest, I can’t remember the meals or the gifts, but I have a vivid recollection of the family gathered round, sitting on every available chair, armrest, stool, or sitting cross-legged on the floor, all balancing plates of fired chicken on their laps with glasses of tea or buttermilk sitting on the floor beside them while they laughed and joked about old memories.

When I was a kid. We never had turkey, but I’ll never forget the time we had rooster out at my grandparents’ farm. Yep, that’s right, a big old white leghorn rooster that was meaner than sin. 

The year after the war, we arrived at mama and papa’s a couple days early. My cousin Ed and his folks lived on the farm. Ed could do everything about the farm better than me, milk cows, gather eggs, feed stock. But the one skill of his I most envied was his deadly accuracy with the slingshot, you know, that Y shaped weapon that has gotten more than one mischievous boy in a heap of trouble.

Ed could knock birds out of a tree. I missed the tree. He could pop a cotton ball from the branch. I couldn’t hit the cotton patch itself. The only time I hit anything was when I was aiming at something else.

Of course, great hunters that we were, we had to go on  safari around the farm. To my chagrin, Ed got a barn pigeon. I missed the barn – from inside. Now they had an old rooster that was cock-eyed, but he was papa’s prize rooster. Several times, the rooster charged us, but Ed always stopped him with a rock at the rooster’s feet.

Next morning, after Ed left for the last day of school before Thanksgiving, I set out to sharpen my slingshot skills.

Keeping my eyes peeled for the old cock-eyed rooster, I spent the morning stalking pigeons and sparrows. Once, I sent some tail feathers flying, but that was it. I did send a few cows and hogs scrambling, and soon I was able to hit a tin can two or three out of ten shots. Never saw the rooster.

Then, on the way to the house for dinner, that sucker jumped me, flailing his wings and flashing his wicked spurs. I whipped off a shot at his feet, and hit that cock-eyed bird in the head.

He did half-a-dozen somersaults, staggered around like some of my uncles after too much celebrating, bounced off the ground more times than I could count and finally flopped down into a ditch by the end of a culvert, something else I’ve witnessed from some of my uncles.

I looked around in horror. No one had seen me. My heart pounding, I jammed a couple tumbleweeds over the still twitching rooster, then hightailed it back to the barn where I remained the rest of the day, waiting for my reckoning. Just about the time I began to relax, Mama Holley suddenly appeared in the barn door, the rooster in her hand.

Grabbing me by the ear, she led me into the house where, with the stern admonition that was my meal the next day, she ducked the rooster in scalding water, then into the sink and put me to plucking. (I proved less than a capable plucker).

The whole family teased me, warning me about how tough that old rooster would be after mama baked it.

Now, our family was so large, we had to eat buffet style. You can imagine my surprise when, instead of the baked rooster, mama set a large bowl with a fluted rim next to the platter of fried chicken. In the bowl reposed the old rooster, cut up and stewed until the meat fell off the bones.

Heaped over a bed of mashed potatoes, that was one tasty rooster, as roosters go. In fact, the stew disappeared faster than the fried chicken.

After dinner, papa took me aside and told me I had to buy him another rooster, but since I had no money, he reckoned I could clean out the stalls in the barn.

I wanted to argue, but one look at my dad, and I agreed.
That was 63 years ago. You know, I can still smell those stalls. Jeez, wouldn’t it be nice to go back for awhile?