Cousin Bill's Game of Chicken
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.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).
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).
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.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.
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.
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.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":
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.
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.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:
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.
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.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:
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.
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".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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.