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Ralph The Rooster: Part One (of two)

In The 60's on October 10, 2015 at 11:32 am

rooster


I had a rooster when I was seven years old. Because I didn’t live on a farm, but rather in a small suburban neighborhood, it was an unusual pet. In the late 1960s- there were a few houses on the outer reaches of my suburban Connecticut neighborhood whose families kept chickens, but their yards had chicken coops and special fences. Ours did not.

I got my rooster at EJ Korvettes. Korvettes was a big department store-I remember it was a long ride to get there  but totally worth it for the large pet shop area. They stocked kittens, puppies, birds and fish, but on this spring day-coming up on Easter- they had a huge pen filled with  hundreds of yellow chicks peeping away. Once I saw the fuzzy baby chicks, 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 as irresistible as glitter- and heart -dotted i’s to my inner girly-girl.

My mother planned on buying three tiny turtles -one for each of us-but now all bets were off! How boring was turtle in comparison?

‘Please! please!’ can I have a chicken instead?’, I begged. Of course Mom (very reasonably) said no, so I went to work on her…setting my eyes to ‘puppy dog’, puffing out my rosy cheeks (highlighted by touches of rosacea) and tilting my head slightly, eyebrows knit, lips pouting.

I gazed at the chicks, then at my mother, then the chicks, so on and so forth. It took a few minutes, but I could see she was cracking, just like some of the chicks were. I was careful to look only at 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 silky white angora kittens rolling around with a ball of pink yarn, who looked so sweet I got a phantom toothache.

“Where would we even keep such a thing?” my mother asked, but the tone that had  surrender flags written all over it. Even as a child I was queen of detecting nuance.

“In my room!” I answered excitedly, my face alight with joy. How obvious could it be? Had it been a pony, I’d have suggested the same thing.

My mother was distracted, grasping my two- year -old brother David’s hand as he struggled to break free, methodically lifting each of her fingers one at a time, to no avail- until she leaned down and sternly told him to settle down young man! She then licked her index finger and wiped cookie crumbs off the corners of his mouth. A look of horror came over his face 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 pet their new baby Beagle.

My Mom bit her lip while contemplating my request, and  adjusted her pocketbook up over her shoulder.  She 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 sighed.

Well, that was her problem, dealing with my Dad. I didn’t think he would drive a baby chick all the way back to EJ Korvettes once the fowl was firmly ensconced into the household. But I had to move quickly before mom really thought it over. I was already imagining the chicken in a tiny apron and chef’s hat, hopping around the kitchen, making breakfast like the ones in my Golden books. 

I jumped up and down on the balls of my feet, clasping my hands together at the happy news. Then I scanned the massive pen. Who would be my lucky pick?

I noticed that there were a few brown ones in the crowd. I felt 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 an off-Broadway version of ‘Mean Girls’ if performed by poultry. And I was a champion for the underdog, because I saw myself as one. Yes, even at eight, my heart bled.

I decided right then and there to adopt a brown one, and afford it 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. Go left, go right: whatever! 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, excitedly, again on the balls of my feet 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- you didn’t even pay attention to these birds on the way in. Instead you strolled right by them to pet a run-of-the-mill Beagle (a breed which, by the way- looks nothing like Snoopy!) So don’t act like now you want one! 

A minute later my Mom appeared with the clerk, a friendly looking boy, probably in high school- though to me he was just another grown-up.  

“Tell the man which one you want” my mother said to me, while Rob sullied up the background, whining ‘What about me?’ a refrain he managed to keep up for many years to come, like most middle children.

“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.

He flinched and cut the crap. A second later though, with my mom’s attention momentarily elsewhere,  he went in for a pinch, but I slapped his hand away just in time, and did an abbreviated ‘Nah. Nah!’ back at him, along with a little butt wiggle. He balled up his little fist, ready to retaliate.

“KIDS!” my mother scolded. We stood taller and adopted straight faces. 

“Which one do you want?” my mother asked firmly. “Let’s get this show on the road and stop all of this lollygagging!”

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 course, it looked like I was pointing at the whole pen, so my mother scolded: ‘Be more specific!” 

 I aimed my finger directly at the little black crew in the corner.

The clerk picked up a yellow chick and held it out to me.

“How about this one?” he asked, hopefully.

“Nooo-uh!” I said, holding my forehead.

“I want a brown one!” I said, again pointing directly at my choice.

“I think those are roosters” my mother said, looking at the clerk, who shrugged and nonchalantly said “Could be.” 

Even better, I thought Now we could add ‘cock-a-doodle-do’ shout-outs into the playtime repertoire!  I’d never need my Peanuts alarm clock again!

Maybe I could even train the chick to be security- alerting me  when an errant brother wandered illegally into my room, or tried to pilfer some Play-Doh. I could get him a little helmet (!) My brothers had GI Joes everywhere, plastic helmets littered the hallway between our rooms! I could put my rooster on night patrol and fend off the brothers indefinitely! This pet was gonna rule!

“Okay…..but you know that you’re the one responsible for him, right?” my mother asked six-year-old me. I nodded in agreement, understanding my taking-care-of-a-pet responsibility as clearly as I currently do the fine print on my taxes, cell phone bill or virtually any of hundreds of agreements I can’t be bothered to read. 

I was so excited! 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 Flintstone jelly 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 insisted on holding the box containing my chick, which bounced about as if a feather-weight boxing match was underway inside, but I knew I’d get my hands on it soon.

It took forever to decide on the turtles, because every time Robby picked one, I said I liked it too-and  he would automatically shun it. Finally, my mother had enough, and told the clerk to ‘just grab two…..all of this arguing is for the birds!’ – which of course, reminded me that I now had a bird.

  I couldn’t wait to get my rooster home to play with him. My mom bought a small supply of ‘feed’ for the chick and a small canister of turtle food, and we set out for home with our three new companions. I felt like I was going to be living the dream with my new pal. And I decided to name him Ralph. Get it?- because of the ‘R’ in ‘Rooster’? I am astonishingly clever, no? 

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