Chapter 18: A Last Bit About Chooks

Leo, when he was small, had an inseparable friend. It was his bantam, called Bantie. Bantie would follow him everywhere, and would perch herself on the handle bars of his tricycle and they'd go off riding. Now and again she'd go on her own to lay an egg, but usually she'd be looking for Leo. Even when Leo got the measles, she found her way through the window and perched on the end of the bed. No kidding. I never had a chook like that. Mum didn't mind Bantie on the end of the bed because Leo was miserable.

Leo and calf
Leo and calf

At night, Bantie would roost in the fowl-house with the others, but I'm sure she wondered what she was doing there when the other humans stayed in the house.

Now one night there was a terrible commotion in the fowl-house and a stoat got in and killed Leo's Bantie. So that was the end of that. But a few days later Mum heard a fight going on and it was the bantam rooster fighting the stoat. Bantam roosters are really good fighters because they're so small and agile, and can dart between the legs of a big rooster and make the heavy-weight fighter look like a fool. So the bantam rooster and the stoat were rolling in a great galaxy of fur and feathers.

Tony got his gun and Rick held the torch, and we all thought we might as well get the stoat now even if it also meant the end of the rooster. So Tony pulled the trigger at the great frenzy of fighting and the stoat dropped dead and the bantam rooster shook himself and strutted off.

Now Tony was a good shot, and he rather fancied that a hole in the head of a tumbling stoat was the result of his talent, but we all knew it was a fluke. All in all though, we were pretty pleased with the result, and Leo felt that the bantam rooster and Tony had both done a good job in avenging Bantie's untimely death.

The bantam rooster wasn't going to be lucky forever however, because pretty soon it went missing. We kept the grain in an old twenty gallon milk can, and would tip a huge bag of wheat into the can when it was getting low. A few months later, as we scrapped the bottom of the barrel, there lay the body of the bantam rooster. Obviously he'd been stealing wheat when the bag was emptied on top of him. It was a bit like dying in a car accident on the way home from fighting a war.

Now some of you might not like this next bit, but it's not meant to be cruel. It's just that it happened that way and that's tough.

Mum sent Leo and me out to kill a rooster for tea and to pluck it. So we caught it, and Leo had his tomahawk. When Dad cut up a sheep he'd cut the chops up with a chopper - chop! chop! chop! flat out - while we held the piece of meat on the block with our little fingers about an inch away from the chopper. But Dad was accurate, and he wasn't going to cut our fingers off on purpose. Leo, however, was only small, and his flying tomahawk couldn't guarantee the safety of my fingers.

So I lay the rooster on the chopping block, and just as Leo standing on a box swept down with the tomahawk, I pulled the rooster away. Off came the rooster's comb.

Mum could hear the great to-do from the kitchen and opened the window.

"What's wrong?" she called.

"Nothing, Mum," we answered. "Everything's under control".

So the rooster was quickly laid back down on the block and the tomahawk made another swoop. I did the same thing as before, only this time the rooster lost its beak.

Mum still couldn't see a thing from the kitchen but knew something was up.

"Leave it, children, till Dad gets home," she called.

"We can't!" we cried.

And with a third and final swoop the rooster was dead.

You've probably heard enough about chooks now, so this is the end of the chook stories - except for a bit later when I tell you about the fowl-house episode in my adolescence. But I haven't hit that yet so can't completely rid you of chook stories just yet.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't tell you about the rooster as a joke. It was a tragedy. Tragedies happen, and when they do we wish they hadn't. But we can't be too precious all the time or else we'd forget to get on with life. So I hope you don't complain too loudly about a rooster that's been dead now for over thirty-five years.

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