I had a rooster when I was six years old. Because I didn’t live on a farm, but rather in a small suburban neighborhood, it was an unusual pet. Not bizarre exactly-there were a few houses on the outer reaches of the neighborhood whose families kept chickens, but their yards usually contained barns, chicken coops and special fences. Ours contained no such things.
I got my rooster at EJ Korvettes. Korvettes was a big department store in the 1960′s, and they had a large pet shop area.They stocked the usual kittens, puppies and fish, but they also had a huge pen with hundreds of yellow chicks peeping away. From the moment I first saw them, my heart ached from the cuteness (though my nose wasn’t quite as impressed!) The sound of hundreds of little peeps, coupled with their plump yellow bodies hopping about, was irresistible to me. My mother, and two brothers had been planning on buying three turtles, but once I saw the chicks, I had to have one! I begged my mother ‘please! please!’ could I have a chicken instead. Of coarse she said no, so I went to work on her…setting my eyes to ‘sad orphan’(‘Please, sir- I want some maw’), puffing out my rosy cheeks and tilting my head slightly. I gazed at the chicks, then at my mother, then the chicks, and so on and so forth. It took a few minutes, but I could see she was cracking, just like some of the chicks were doing at this very minute. I made sure to look at only the chick pen, not even glancing at the turtles, puppies, bunnies or kittens. This was really hard because on the way in I’d spotted three puffy white kittens rolling around with a ball of yarn, and they were adorable.
“Where would we even keep such a thing?” my mother asked, and the tone in which she said it had white surrender flags all over it. “In my room!” I answered excitedly, my face lighting up with joy. How obvious could it be? Had it been a pony, I’d have suggested the same thing. My mother, who was grasping two- year -old David’s hand as he struggled to break free- at one point methodically lifting each of her fingers one at a time, to no avail- leaned down and told him: ‘Settle down!’ Then she sighed heavily, licked her index finger and wiped cookie crumbs off the corners of his mouth. A look of extreme horror came over him as he realized he was being spit-washed,his small eyebrows furrowing into a little ‘v’, face reddening. A ’Waaah’ of defiance squeaked out of his mouth. All I could think was: Get used to it pal. And pray you don’t develop a cowlick. Meanwhile,my other brother, Robby was at the back of the store, ingratiating himself into someone else’s family moment by ‘helping’ them to pet their new baby Beagle.
My Mom adjusted her pocketbook up over her shoulder, then leaned down and lifted David up onto her hip, grunting a bit from the weight. She lifted her tortoise-shell glasses and squinted at the price chart.
“Oh for God’s sake! (heaving a big sigh…) ‘Pick one out. But I don’t know how this is going to go over with your father!” she relented. Well, that was her problem, dealing with my Dad. I didn’t think he would drive a baby chicken all the way back to EJ Korvettes, once the fowl was firmly ensconced into the household. But we had to move quickly.I was already imagining the chicken in a tiny apron and chef’s hat, hopping around the house, like the ones I saw in my Golden books. This was gonna be a blast!
I jumped up and down several times, clasping my hands together at the news. Then I scanned the massive pen. Who would be my lucky pick? I noticed that there were a few black ones in the crowd. I felt that they were slightly less popular than the fluffy yellow ones. I imagined that the popular, yellow ‘in-crowd’ chicks treated them less than stellar. Like the poultry version of ‘Mean Girls’. But here’s a news-flash:I was a champion for the underdog, because I saw myself as one. My height made me different, and yet- look at how cool I was inside! (If only I could be my own press-agent!) I decided right then and there to adopt a black one, and afford him a lifestyle the masses of yellows could not even imagine! Unlimited feed (would I need a trough? If so: done!) Complete geographical freedom to hop about the house. Unlimited leeway. TV privileges. Maybe I could even walk him with a leash- parade that sucker up and down Muffin Lane like nobody’s business!
My mother went off with David to find a salesperson. Robby appeared at my side. “I’m gettin’ one!” I said, pointing into the pen. “Me, too!” said Robby. “Nut-uh!” I answered, shaking my head back and forth. “MOM-MEE!” he yelled, winding up for a cry, eyes filling with tears. Hey dude- you didn’t even pay attention to these birds. Instead you strolled right by them to pet a run-of-the-mill Beagle. So don’t play like now you want one! Geez! Brothers! Can’t live with ‘em, can’t send them back!
A minute later my Mom appeared with a young clerk, a friendly looking boy of high school age. “Tell the man which one you want” my Mother said to me, while Rob cried ‘What about me?’ “You’re getting a turtle!” my mother snapped, mind made up. Rob huffed ‘mmMM’ stomped his foot, and folded his arms.”ROBERT SCOTT!” my mother warned. A second later, with my mom’s attention elsewhere, he reached out to pinch me, but I slapped his hand away just in time, and did an abbreviated ‘Nah. Nah!’ back at him, along with a little butt wiggle.
“KIDS!” my mother scolded. We stood taller and adopted straight faces. “Lisa: Which one do you want?” my mother asked firmly. I knew her ‘last nerve’ was on deck. The clerk stood by patiently, holding a little box similar to what Chinese food comes in. I pointed to a cluster of dark feathered chicks. Of coarse, it looked like I was pointing at the whole pen, so my mother scolded: “Lisa Anne!- be more specific!”
“I am being pacific!” I insisted. Meanwhile, the clerk picked up a yellow chick,and held it out to me. “How about this one?” he asked, smiling. “Nooo-uh!” I said, holding my forehead as if to say ‘Why is everyone in the world-except me- so dumb?’
“I want black!” I said.
“I think those are roosters” my mother said, looking at the clerk, who nodded yes. Even better! Now we could add ‘cock-a-doodle-do’ shout-outs into the playtime repertoire! I’d never need my Snoopy alarm clock again! Maybe I could even train the chick to be a security alarm- alerting me when an errant brother wandered illegally into my room, or tried to pilfer my Hostess cupcakes! I could get him a little helmet-my brothers had army men galore! I could put my rooster on night patrol in our upstairs hallway! This pet was gonna rule!
The clerk looked at my mother and shrugged.
“Okay…..but you know that you’re the one responsible for him, right?” my mother asked me.
No prob. This bird would love hanging out with me. I could feed him all of the stuff that ‘touched’ on my plate during dinner. He’d be silly with peas and kernels of corn dotted with specks of mashed potatoes. And glasses of milk up the yin-yang!
The clerk scooped up a dark chick and held it near my face. Truthfully, the rooster looked a little mean, with beady black eyes,and a bobbing neck. He seemed to be trying to lunge at and peck me. Well- he’d need that toughness to deal with the bro’s. Wrap’em up!
Next, we picked out two turtles for Robby and David. My mother held the box containing my chick, but I knew I’d get my hands on it soon. It took forever to decide on the turtles, because every time Rob picked one and I said I liked it,too- he would automatically shun it. Finally, my mother had enough, and she told the clerk to ‘just grab two…..this arguing stuff is for the birds!’ – which of coarse, reminded me that I now had a bird.
I couldn’t wait to get my rooster home and play with him. My mom bought a small supply of ‘feed’ for the chick and some turtle food, and we set out for home with our three new companions. I felt like I was going to be living a true fairy-tale life with my new pal. And I decided to name him Ralph.