Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cousin Bill's Game of Chicken

An Ancient Conundrum
The Chicken's Puzzling Propensity to Cross a Road
As Cousin Bill Lies in Wait
(Image from Wikipedia)

This morning I received a "Weekly Rambling" newsletter from Cousin Bill that rambles not into the present heartland of Kansas for economic advice from grain-elevator farmers but into the past of the Ozarks for a look at some of his long-unforgotten misbehavior and draws valuable moral lessons to guide us in our daily walk along life's journey:
This week's rambling won't transmit any Midwest USA news/travels -- instead I'll relate a story about Grandmother Nora's stupid young grandson!
If I hadn't read ahead, I'd think that Cousin Bill were referring to me . . . but he means himself:
To preface, this recollection covers one Arkansas summer vacation in the 50's.

Every summer, sister Judy and I got away from the city and vacationed at the grandparent's farms. Visits were equally divided between the two farms, first the DeWitt's, then Grandma Nora's. Well, perhaps I should say "Judy temporarily vacationed." Usually, by sunset of day one, she'd already become infected with a bad case of homesickness (the first indication of a "bug" occurred when the parents drove away). And this year she'd departed homeward shortly after sunrise on day three.

So, alone again and after a week's plus worth of fishing, swimming, work horse riding and "helping" Grandpa Will with the feeding, milking, egg gathering and other countless farm chores, but tired of the bean snapping and onion stem seed lopping requested by Grandma Celia, I was ready to go to Grandma Nora's. Finally the appointed day came and Grandpa Will transported me to the Flora Baptist Church corner (Grandma Celia didn't allow Grandpa to drive me over the rutted rocky road to Grandma Nora's hilltop farm house).
That was a truly rocky, rutted road, but couldn't your Grandpa Will have driven you at least to the branch at the base of Big Creek Ridge (or whatever it's called).
So, as usual, suitcase in hand, I waved goodbye to Grandpa Will and began the mile plus walk to Grandma's hilltop house. The walk was always an adventure, allowing pauses for rock throwing, long delays at the two branches, the first for attempts to catch glade lizards, the second to catch a frog and stir up the minnows. And big delays to get close up looks at sunbathing snakes. There were other temporary delays, mainly to drop the heavy suitcase to rest and wipe the sweat pouring from my "Butch Waxed" hair. And then I struggled up the long hill leading to the sandy stretch of road where the house comes into view and where the refreshing cold drink and the grandparents awaited.

And I met some initial disappointment. The water was there, the grandparents weren't. Instead, I was greeted by Aunt's Kathryn and Virginia, and young cousins Larry, David, and Steve.

I adapted real quick, knowing I was going to have a freedom filled visit absent any responsibility thrust on me by the young aunts.
I was kept one summer in Kansas City by Aunt Kathryn and played a lot with Larry, David, and Steve, but I recall them as being big. Odd about this discrepancy in our memories. But I do confirm that Aunt Kathryn allowed a lot of freedom . . . until I tumbled out of a tree and knocked myself unconscious, after which my freedom was somewhat curtailed.
For a couple of days I acted the role model for the much younger cousins, and tried to impress the aunts with my pre-teen knowledge about everything, they'd briefly listen and acknowledge my words with at best an "oh, really", or a nod, or a head shake, or most often a 360 degree rolling of the eyes, and would then return to their previous giggly conversations.

But the aunts gave me free reign, so I occupied my days with outdoor explorations, prowls through the tool sheds and barns, fishing in the ponds, arrowhead hunting and daily mid-day treks to the Big Creek swimming hole. Arkansas was always hot in the summer and the creek provided some temporary relief -- the sweat would roll on the trip to and from, and no matter how slow you walked back (uphill all the way) you'd arrive at the house looking like a well-run lathered-up horse.
Cousin Bill's description so far may seem mere preface, but note how carefully he is setting his readers up for what follows by his emphasis upon the freedom that he enjoyed in this Ozark paradise, for he will find therein what John Milton would have called a "provoking object":
On about day three or four, with boredom setting in, I looked around for something new to occupy my time, and spotted the gun-racked 22 rifle in the front bedroom. On the chest below was a nearly full box of shells, and with the ammo and rifle I headed out, telling the aunts and younger cousins I was going target shooting.

I headed downhill towards the barns, and lacking targets, went into the smaller barn and found a can and someone's burlap wrapped/twine tied homemade water jug. I placed both targets on fence posts just northwest of the barn and looked around for the perfect "sighting in" position, figuring the best vantage point might be the barn loft. So up I went and with no more than three practice shots drilled the can and shattered the jug. I confirmed my accuracy with a couple of well placed shots to the rusted headlight housing of an old deserted vehicle near the barn.

I realized I needed additional targets, so headed back to the barn for more, but skidded to a quick stop when I noticed a couple of clucking, pecking chickens had meandered into the south barn lot. My brain clicked (or unclicked), so I headed to the loft again. One of the new found "targets" now strolled off the barn's west end. I couldn't resist trying a shot. No thought crossed the brain other than "this was better than cans or jugs." I aimed, fired and whooped when the zeroed in chicken flopped and kissed the ground on the first shot. I was sure I had a neck shot (confirmed with a close up view after a quick descent from the loft).

The story should have ended there, but unfortunately it didn't. Chicken number two didn't seem overly concerned about her prostrate relative and more chickens were arriving. I re-entered the barn, climbed to the loft, loaded, sighted in and nailed number two. And then reloaded for chicken number three and so forth. With each shot the untargeted chickens would jump and run a few feet, but then would then resume the hunt and peck routine, allowing me yet another chance to nail another.

After depleting all the shells, I departed the loft kill perch and proceeded to assess the "hunt". At ground level the enormity of my actions suddenly set in. Dead and wounded were scattered around the barn lot. And all of a sudden my Baptist raised conscience came to life, followed by remorse, sadness but mostly fear (first worrying about the aunt's reactions, secondly God's). After another look around I began a fervent prayer, first requesting forgiveness, secondly a miracle restoring life to the departed and healing of the wounded. The latter half of the prayer didn't get results, so I decided the next brilliant move should be "hide the sins and no one will ever know," so began tossing the evidence inside the big barn, and into weeds and tall grass at a barn-side manure pile.
Note how, having failed the moral test set by the "provoking object," Cousin Bill's initial tresspass led to a multitude of sins and vain attempts to hide the dire results. But in his hour of desperate need, Cousin Bill is conscience-stricken, and he prays . . . a somewhat ridiculous prayer, admittedly, but still a turn in the right direction. God doesn't resuscitate the hens, but he does answer Cousin Bill's fervent prayer for pardon:
But, before I had completed concealment of the "evidence", young cousin Larry (and I think, his younger brothers David and Steve) arrived, curious as to what I'd been shooting. They didn't have to ask many questions and after looking around with wide-eyed awe promptly headed to the house at a dead run to rat on previously revered cousin Bill's activities to Kathryn and Virginia.

Before I could get to the house, Aunt's Kathryn and Virginia knew more about what I'd done than I did. I assume the aunts thought I was too old to be whipped, and I don't remember either one yelling or screaming. Maybe they felt sorry for the now very apologetic nephew.
You see? I told you that the Lord does answer prayer. But as with Adam and Eve, Cousin Bill still had to deal with consequences:
They had a deep and private discussion with the end result being [that] we all headed barnwards for chicken retrieval, with young cousin Larry proudly pointing to each inert (and a couple still-quivering) feathered bodies, and all the time hollering "Hey, here's another one".

The dead and wounded were carried to the house, with the aunts working throughout the afternoon -- Aunt Virginia finishing the required kills and both cleaning, freezing, cooking and whatever else you do with a bunch of "passed" chickens.

Here, memory fades, but I'd venture to say we all dined on fried chicken and little else each morning, noon and night for the remainder of that week.
That might not sound so bad, but imagine yourself as Cousin Bill, ruminating on the enormity of his bold sin as chews the tasty Southern-Fried Chicken. Doubtless, his aunts were also reflecting. And as we shall see, Cousin Bill would continue to reflect on his lawless actions throughout his life:
Likewise, I don't recall if I had further use of Grandpa Archie's 22 that week, I'll venture a guess by saying I didn't and would further surmise the aunts watched my young butt a little closer for my remaining vacation time.

And last year, responding to my query about that infamous day, both Kathryn and Virginia confirmed they'd kept "pretty busy" that day coping with the "chicken massacre". I didn't inquire as to the exact count, but knew it was too many.

And years before, as an adult wanting to set things straight with Grandma, I mentioned that summer's activities (always of the opinion she was never told-turned out she was). Grandma shook her head and said "yes, you pretty well wiped out my pullets." I apologized and much belatedly offered to buy replacements. Grandma just chuckled, declined the offer and said "no, you're long forgiven, don't worry yourself about it, I was just glad the cows weren't up."

And I solemnly agreed.
And with Cousin Bill's solemn agreement, we find that he has truly learned the wages of sin, which are death, as Paul informs us in Romans 6:23. Death for the chickens, of course, but their deaths serve as a reminder to us all, for like those chickens, we too shall one day die. Hopefully, in a less tragic way than through Cousin Bill's game of chicken.

Let us thus be aware of the "provoking objects" in our lives and not misuse them as Cousin Bill misused the one that he encountered. Such objects exist to test our resolve. Cousin Bill failed his great moral test and has suffered a guilty conscience throughout his entire life, for even now, he must -- like the Ancient Mariner -- retell his tale of moral outrage and subsequent suffering. Yet, there is also forgiveness, as Grandma Nora proved . . . though perhaps not if the cows had shown up.

Let us therefore pray that the cows never show up.

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At 6:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can think is to ask: might you Cousin Bill rather have enjoyed "free rein" as opposed to "free reign?" Absolute power you realize.

How 'bout dumplings? Surely some dumplings got made. I mean, that sounds like the Wounded Knee of chickendom.

And - why didn't the chickens cross the road?


At 6:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Hodges,

I laughed that you posted my email to you with what appear to be my typos on your blog. Thanks for that! I'll be more careful to measure my email correspondence now that I realize it may be shared with a somewhat broader audience.
I appreciate your help with my article. It turns out that my story was a little long, so the the editor decided it best to include the Honors alumni profiles as an online component. If you haven't seen it yet, you can find it at baylormag.com.


At 7:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Why the chicken crossed the road remains a mystery. However the reason the chickens stopped in the middle was -- The hen said to the rooster, "Get ready, Buddy....I aim to lay it on the line."


Dr. Jeffery not only generally includes my typos, he also likes to point out all my mis-prints, misspelled words, and other literary flaws, then holds me up to ridicule.
Be thankful he was kind and helpful. But be more careful next time.


At 7:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As, for instance, I wrote "John" rather than "Lane."


At 7:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Cram.


At 7:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, you raise excellent points, none of which I, a mere compiler, am worthy to attempt an answer.

I refer you to Reverend Cram.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:55 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lane, thanks for the note. I'll take a look at the online version of your interview with me and your larger article.

I don't recall your typos. Did I comment on them or something?

Anyway, the contact from you about my Baylor days was profoundly gratifying. Thanks again.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Uncle Cran, who is this "John" to whom you refer?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I'm uncertain whether this is helpful or not, but where Uncle Cram is concerned (I'm giving it my best shot here Cram - NOT incidentally a "chicken shot" - I'm trying to be helpful)

In Cram's day it was "outhouse" occasionally outfuitted and accoutered for multiple occupants- which may partly explain Southern women's preference for accompanyment- to what is now called rather than "the outhouse," the john.

As to why Reverend Cram chose to capitalize, I dunno, "Scriptural" perhaps? It may be a "fellowship" thing also, too many mysteries for me in what I innocently took to be a case of "free reign" given to a young Cousin Bill, over "free rein" given to an armed, locked and loaded kid with chickens afoot.

It's beyond me, perhaps Uncle Cram had too much influence over the young - in which case - Cousin Bill's explanation is not likely to help:

rather Uncle Cram's.


At 10:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, you may be right, but we will have to wait for Uncle Cran's confirmation.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:00 PM, Blogger Kate Marie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this post, Jeffery.

Thanks to you and Cousin Bill!

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, KM, and I suppose that your life in the Great State of Kansas has contributed to your enjoyment (stock tip: "pump water").

Meanwhile, remember us in your prayers, that the cows not come to our home.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At first I thought I was writing to the anonymous "John Doe," thus my blunder. I sent my blog before reading the name "Lane" at the bottom.
Why do I capitalize?
Like the chicken crossing the road, I have my reasons, that will remain a mystery.
Nephew Bill needed no help from me to think of misdeeds, he was fully capable from birth, as is common in some other forms of living creatures.
Our outhouses were rude one seater structures, not used for any other purpose than the bare essentials. Ours never had to be cleaned....we had a pack of fox hounds who kept them sanitized. JK lived in a more modern, multiple use age, I suppose. We had a "brooder house" for raising baby chickens, and another house for egg production.
As far as nephew Jeffery's and friend JK's other questions, I have no answer.
I never murdered chickens, as nephew Bil once did, but did snitch a dime from older brother Jarrell, but that's another story.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

A one-seater outhouse? Didn't Grandma Nora's have two seats? Or do I misremember?

I'm pretty sure of the Sears & Roebuck catalogue, though.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:42 PM, Blogger Al-Ozarka said...

Miracles, too! If we could get those aunts back to show us how they rolled their eyes 360 degrees,of course!

I'm surprised you didn't analyze that remark by Bill, Jeffery!

What's the deal...giving your Cuz a break?

If I were your Uncle Cran, I'd be downright offended that you wouldn't point this miraculous manipulation of words (and eyes) from Cousin Bill!

The outrage!

At 10:07 PM, Blogger Bill said...

JK, make that free rein over my reign. And the memory is jogged-we did have dumplings.
Jeff, it was indeed a two holer, in later years updated with two fancy store bought foam seats and a wall mounted Folgers coffee can paper dispenser replacing the S & R pages.
And Cran, keep the misspells, typos, etc. coming, thus assuring mine are less noticed.
Bill the Assassin

At 10:15 PM, Blogger Bill said...

And Al-Ozarka:
To this kid it looked like a full 360. I was impressed enough I tried to accomplish the same-never did succeed though! So perhaps it really wasn't a full 360.

At 12:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Bill, al-Ozarka,

I think Bill's young eyes may not have been playing "tricks" on him - it's just that we males of the species are less capable when it comes to "eye-rolling."

I was once describing to my Dad a feat I (at least I thought) I had accomplished. I didn't know Mom had attended the game. Anyway when Dad asked, "Did you get any hits?"

"Heck yeah! I knocked two outta the park!"

Mom piped up, "Now JK..."

Her eyes were like two ball-bearings spindled within a gyroscope.

I, like Bill, attempted same, with the same results.

I think it's just a "woman thing."


At 12:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On to Cram,

Fox hound janitors!!!??

Could they catch foxes successfully after their "duties?"

Were they "petted" often?

Perhaps more importantly, did y'all stay within the minimum wage laws?


At 1:06 AM, Blogger Bill said...

And the name's Bill, Uncle Cran, not Bil.
JK, as info I think my dear uncle might'a got bit by an infected fox hound!

At 3:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That would explain some "peculiarities" I've noticed. Thanks.

(Uh, is he innoculated on a regular basis? - Just so it's not contagious mind - I see it's incurable.)


At 4:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There was an access hole around back which the hounds dug out to reach the smorgasbord meals.
They always seemed in good health.
After all, I have read that herring gulls would load up on fish, fly back to the nest, and regurgitate the partially digested food into their offsprings' hungry mouths, and they survived quite nicely.
That was a two seater, though I never understood why. We were loners during our visits there.
Nephew Bil.ly:
My apologies re. spelling.


At 4:33 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daddio, I may have a doctoral degree, but I'm not much good with degrees -- the 360 went beyond me, so I accepted it on faith (a miracle, as you note).

But maybe Cousin Bill meant that they rolled their eyes in a complete circle.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:36 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cousin Bill, I'm pleased to have my memory of the two-seater confirmed. I always preferred the two-seater -- it gave the wasps a way through in their flights twixt nest and nourishment.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

JK, Cousin Bill, Uncle Cran, this technical discussion is getting beyond me. This ain't no science blog, you know.

Jeffery Hodges

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