Them There is FIGHTIN' Chickens. (Stories of Life in My Family)
It’s hard to define what normal is for most people. For me, my life is normal until someone from the outside world is introduced into it. It’s only then, from their unfeigned reactions, that I realize there is very little that is normal about my life at all.
I’m going back into the past now, back when my sister was alive, and we were still on speaking terms. This was back when I actually spent time out with my extended family. When I was with them, there was very little that would cause me to be surprised. I learned to take everything in stride and still do, to this day. The only things that will really get a strong reaction out of me are deliberate unfairness and cruelty.
One thing I really hate is animal cruelty, and although I never actually saw any on my visits out there, I heard a lot about it. One of the neighbors out there had a dog that would whelp in the winter. They wouldn’t bring the pups or the dog into someplace warm, so the pups would freeze outside. This was their method of birth control. Spaying the dog wasn’t an option; that cost money. Money wasn’t spent on things like that.
As I’ve written before, the main concern for them was drug supply, but when things were good and work was plentiful, they did spend their money on other things. Like, hobbies.
One of my brother-in-law’s hobbies was to raise chickens. Not your ordinary egg laying farm chicken, no. He raised fighting chickens. A lot of folks out there did. You could drive down the road and see fields of blue barrels, each with a hole cut into it’s base and a chain attached to it’s top. If you followed the chain down, it ended attached to the leg of a rooster. The chain gave the rooster enough room to go inside the barrel to get out of the rain, to sit on top of the barrel, and to roam around in a circle outside the barrel just far enough so that it couldn’t reach any of the other roosters on the other barrels around it.
If a rooster did get loose, it was a blood bath. You would see blood and feathers and dead birds scattered all around the area, and the one bird that was loose would be dead or dying somewhere nearby, if it managed to make it out of the ring of blue barrels. He would have to run the gauntlet and fight his way past all the other roosters if he wanted to get free. Of course, you also had to worry about predators, like foxes, raccoons, hawks, owls, barn cats… there were a lot of predators out in the country to worry about. But a healthy group of full grown fighting roosters could pretty much hold their own. It was more the hens and chicks you had to worry about protecting.
Here is some footage that shows some of the roosters. Towards the end, you can see one go into a fighting stance, shuffling and flaring his neck feathers.
Raising these birds was one of my brother-in-laws hobbies, and he took the work very seriously. He kept the grounds and cages clean, the birds watered and fed, and he played with them and loved on them the way some people would their dogs and cats. I would see him with a bird all cuddled up against his cheek, scratching it and talking to it in lovey dovey baby talk, and it would coo and cluck back at him. Animals loved my brother-in-law.
I never understood that. He would feed them only the best foods, in fact, he’d cook for them. He’d clean them, preen them, nurse them, train them. And then he’d sell them to be fought in a chicken fight. Or, he’d take them and fight them himself.
How could you do that? How could you love on something and dote so much time and attention on it, and then just… kill it? And not just kill it – kill it in a cruel fashion?
I asked him that. How can you do that? He looked at me like I was a complete idiot.
“It’s just a stupid chicken.” He would say. “They don’t have much brain.”
“Neither do you.” I would tell him. “How about we throw you in there and see how you like it?”
They’d all laugh at me when I said things like that. I was such an awkward, strange little kid, my ideas were way out there. I didn’t live in the real world. I had no common sense. These were things they were always quick to tell me.
I never saw a chicken fight. I never saw him sell a chicken. I only heard the stories they told about it, and I hated it so much, they didn’t tell many stories in front of me. My brother-in-law made the mistake of showing me a box of spurs once, and the razors they use as well. It was beyond words.
“What for?!” I said. “For gambling? Can’t you guys gamble and bet on a bird without slicing it into a million pieces, first? That’s just flat mean! What do you get out of watching that? I don’t understand why you can’t have a simple, natural fight, and when one bird runs, the fights over. Why do you have to take everything to extremes? Why do people do that?”
I would go on and on and on and on with the questions, which I guess weren’t really answerable in their minds. I was a weird kid, a city kid; I wouldn’t understand anyway. Just roll your eyes at the weird kid and tolerate her.
I would come over sometimes while he was working with them, and he’d take me out to the pit he had built in their back yard. “I don’t want to see this.” I’d say, and he would say, “Oh, it’s okay, you can see this.”
He’d catch up a bird, and coo and love on it, and sit down and put it upside down in his lap, where he would the proceed to work on it’s feet. He had these little red leather balls with string attached to them. I couldn’t help myself, I was curious.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“They’re what?” I said, not understanding.
“Boxing gloves, so they don’t get hurt. You put them on their spurs. They can hurt each other pretty bad if you don’t use them. They can still hurt each other with their beaks and wings, but the spurs do the most damage.”
“Oh.” I said lamely. I knew nothing. I didn’t even know what a spur was, until he showed me how he put the gloves on
“There you go, my little sweety, you’re a purty birdy now, aren’t you?” He’d cuddle and coo at it some more, and then let it go, with it’s little red boxing gloves on it’s feet. Then he’d do the same to another one.
Okay, now, watch this! He and a friend of his each picked up a bird, and went into the pit. They showed the birds to each other.
The roosters reacted simultaneously, by hackling up and attempting to take a fighting stance. I’m sorry, but I have to admit; I laughed my head off. It’s the most ridiculous thing, seeing a rooster hackle up while being held up off the ground by it’s trainer. All the feathers around their necks stand straight out, giving them a lion’s mane, which makes their heads look three times bigger than they really are. Behind where the feathers have lifted up, is a skinny bald chicken neck, which of course, can’t be seen by the other bird. The front view is an impressive display of fluffed out feathers. The back view, well, ridiculous.
Pic From the Internet Showing Fighting Stance
My brother-in-law took heart from my laughter, and the two men continued to show the birds to each other for a few more seconds, then released them. The fight was impressive. The birds did a shuffle dance, shuffling sideways at each other, then they would fly straight up while bringing their feet straight forward in an attempt to stab with their long and pointed spurs. These were covered in little balls of leather, though, so the stabbing moves were ineffectual. The flapping and pecking still had full effect, and feathers flew, and I’m sure there was a little bruising left on the animals that of course can’t be seen through all the feathers.
The fight lasted less than three minutes. The men caught the birds up and removed the boxing gloves, then returned them to their barrels. That was when my brother-in-law showed me the other attachments that could be used on the spurs, and then I didn’t find it funny at all. I inundated him with my silly naive, little kid, soft-hearted questions. He didn’t show and tell to me anymore after that. I was being stupid, they were just chickens. Who cares about a chicken?
I cared about a chicken. I looked into it, and found to my dismay that chicken fighting was a legal sport. The only thing illegal about it was the betting. A fighting pit could be shut down if it was discovered that gambling went on there, which of course it did. There was real money to be made, fighting chickens, both in the betting and in the raising and selling of champion stock. My brother-in-law raised and sold champion stock. His roosters were absolutely gorgeous, and were well fed, babied, and trained using boxing gloves. I have no doubt this was one of his sources of income that I didn’t know much about.
There comes a time, inevitably, when your family meets your significant other.
Over the years, things went downhill for my family, as I’ve written before. We all started getting older. My brother-in-law was a brick mason, which is hard, physical work, so it was only a matter of time before his back was too broken for him to work any longer. It was hard for him to care for his animals as well. His little hobby of chicken farming grew smaller and became less well maintained.
As you grow older, your sense of responsibility changes - or it should. But some people just seem timeless and never seem to change at all. I had told my husband some stories about my extended family, and if anything, he is more strongly adverse to the use of drugs than I am. Everyone - all of us - have family members with addiction issues; my husband had more than his share of experiences with it. He didn’t like it and had no tolerance for it at all.
When I took him out to meet my sister and her family, I was reluctant. Where my attitude was “live and let live”, his attitude was, “Why do you associate with these people at all?” I’ve never thought or felt that way about anybody. Every person has flaws, but every person also has value. I will give you an earful of why I think you are wrong, but if you are stubborn and set in your ways, well, it's your life. I can't make you change. I like your company, so I will turn a blind eye. Most of the time. Sometimes though, sometimes you just can't keep your mouth shut anymore.
But I digress. I wanted him to go with me out to the country, so he could see all the good things about it that I was drawn to.
I knew the house would be full of pot smoke when we got there; it always was. I introduced my husband. He politely said hello, then fled the house. I can’t say I wasn’t relieved; I really hadn't been sure of what he was going to say or do. At the same time I felt disgruntled, because he hadn’t given them a chance at all. I stayed inside and chatted with my sister for a few minutes, then went out to hunt him down. I expected to find him sitting in the car, but he wasn’t. He was wandering around in the great big field that was their yard.
When I approached him, he looked as if he had seen a ghost. He looked half nauseated.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
We were alone in the yard; even so, he stepped up very close to me, like he didn’t want to be overheard. “There’s a dead chicken behind the house.” He whispered.
“Oh?” I looked towards the back of the house. There was a hillbilly junk pile of all sorts of trash back there. Beyond it were the chicken cages. “Well, that happens. Raccoons and foxes and that.”
“No.” He said, and he got even closer to me. “There’s a dead chicken back there. It’s sitting in a high chair.”
I laughed. “It’s what?”
“Go look!” he said, and gestured emphatically at me to walk on in front of him.
Just an Example
We started walking towards the back of the house, and as we walked I casually took a bit of a detour to walk by the outdoor chicken cages. Each rooster was kept in a cage made of chicken wire, to protect them from the raccoons and foxes and owls. I noticed as I walked that they were still kept clean even though my brother-in-law was becoming more and more disabled.
“Look, see? Over there.” He gestured with his chin towards the pile of junk.
Sure enough, there was a child’s high chair standing at the back of the pile, all bent and rusted, with the white plastic tray still connected in front of the seat. In the seat, sitting with it’s legs jutting out the leg holes, as if it was waiting for someone to bring it a bowl of dry Cheerios or a bit of warm porridge, was a dead rooster, covered in flies.
“Oh.” I said lamely. I was flooded suddenly with overwhelming embarrassment. I started babbling ridiculous excuses. I have no idea what I said to my husband, because a myriad of thoughts were running fast and furious, racing through my head all at once.
“Holy crap!" went one thought "It looks like someone purposely set it up that way!”
“That would be an excellent scene set-up for ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.” I also found myself thinking. From there went several thoughts about hillbilly murder movies, Wrong Turn, and others of the like.
Mixed with these sort of disassociated thoughts were ones of complete dismay; thoughts of how this must look to someone who had no experience at all with my family.
I mean, you have to understand that a scene like this wasn’t something new to me.
Other Scenes Like This
One time one of my nephews had brought a girl back to meet the family. He turned in quickly to park under a tree. It was at night, so it was dark, he had his headlights on, and as he turned in, his headlights illuminated the gutted body of a deer that happened to be hanging in that three at that time. The girl shrieked in utter horror and was shook up for the rest of the night. The whole family, including my nephew, has never let her live that down.
Another time the guys went out on a hunting trip. The next morning, my sister got up and stumbled her way into the bathroom, only to find the floor smeared with blood and mud. Stiffened lanky long legs, muddy hooves, fur, and antlers were jutting up at various angles out of the bathtub, and a dead glazed eye peered up at her when she leaned to look in.
Who needs coffee when you can wake up to that in the morning?
We found something like this in there once or twice, too.
Yeah, so, for me, a dead chicken was nothing new. But to be sitting in a high chair like that… all it needed to complete the ensemble was a bib around it’s neck. So I babbled whatever excuses I could think of to my husband while a myriad of thoughts ran through my head. I also started to feel a slight hostility towards my family for having left this here to be found, because it didn’t help at all with the situation I had with my husband.
I walked my husband back up to the car, then went back in the house to hunt down my brother-in-law. Without preamble, I asked, “Why is there a dead chicken sitting in a high chair behind your house?!”
“A what?” He mumbled. “Oh, I, uh, that. I was, I found it, a raccoon, you know, I meant to get rid of it, but…”
He was mumbling and slurring his words, so I knew he had been taking a lot of medication of some sort. Probably pain pills. For his back. You know.
“So you just thought you would set it up in a high chair nice and pretty until you thought to get rid of it?" I said, somewhat exasperated. "You just shocked the shit out of my husband!”
“I was, well…” and then he laughed. “I was, well, I’m sorry!” he said, and kept laughing.
I started smiling too. But I see the humor in everything. Yeah, it was horrifying. Horrifyingly ridiculous. A dead chicken in a high chair. Really? The dinner table in Texas Chainsaw Massacre Flashed through my mind once again.
This is my family. What can I do? So I smirked, and really couldn’t hold to my husband's reaction about the scene in the back yard. I mean, how could I? Out here, this was normal life.
I expect it's hard to define what truly normal is for most people.
These, and other experiences, are what lead me to becoming a Veterinary Technician. I wanted to help animals. But that's a whole other story.