Friday, January 25, 2013

Family Stories that Become Legend

My brother is a very good story teller. Could be from all his years hanging out at sports bars but mostly it’s because he’s a voracious reader and he loves a good story himself so he recognizes the elements of good storytelling and incorporates them into his tales. He especially loves telling my kids stories of our family as he and I were growing up and, since he’s a few years older than me, has a wealth of funny, embarrassing tales that have kept the kids entertained at otherwise boring family events. The one story that my kids loved hearing the most involves him as a sullen 14 year old, his dark, miserable chore of feeding and taking care of thousands of nasty chickens in a three-storey old chicken barn, and our taciturn, work-is-life attitude, father. I don’t know if I’ll ever use this story in any novel I might write but I want to share it because, like all good family stories, they should be shared.

When my brother was 13, my father moved us from northern Ontario to live and work in a small farming community in southern Ontario. But not only did my dad buy a farm, he bought a farm with a chicken barn on it. It wasn’t going to be just working our butts off in the summer, it would be an all year commitment since caring for chickens and their eggs is an every day, seven days a week, prison of a life. My parents and brother did this for three years before finally getting rid of this thankless business venture.

But for those three years, my brother was a slave. He had gone from a carefree existence of skating on frozen ponds and lakes and running around with his friends from dawn till dusk with barely anyone telling him what to do to working from dawn till dusk, chickens attacking him on a daily basis, and a growing resentment and anger toward the man who had caused this massive and unwanted upheaval in his life. Over the days, weeks and months of feeding and cleaning after these chickens, my brother grew to especially hate one bird – a rooster actually. While chickens are certainly nasty and think nothing of pecking and attacking the hands that feed them, roosters are especially lethal. This one rooster was very territorial and as soon as he saw my brother enter the barn he would fly at him and try to peck him out of the way. He had even drawn blood. My brother equally hated and feared this rooster with a passion.

When he couldn’t take it anymore, he told my dad about this one psychotic bird. But Dad just shrugged him off and thought he was trying to get out of work. “Bah! It’s only a chicken! Deal with it.” (or something to that effect only stated in Portuguese) He would have said it in that gruff, dismissive tone he had. While our dad is a sweetheart, at that time in his life he was operating on survival mode and there was no time for coddling children especially his first born son. In his mind, to become a man, meant to work hard, do a good job and never complain about it. Needless to say, this dismissive response to my brother’s serious problem caused him to resent our dad even more. But, like a good son, he continued to do his chores every day, defended himself from the attacking rooster as best he could and kept his simmering anger to himself.

One day, Dad had to fix a broken heating lamp in the chicken barn. So, while my brother was feeding the chickens on the floor where this rooster kept vigil, my dad joined him. As Dad took out a screwdriver to repair the lamp, the psycho rooster lunged out of the darkness and flung himself at my father. My dad, surprised at the attack, kicked the rooster away, cursing at him. My brother kept feeding the chickens. He laughed silently to himself, thinking “Yeah, old man. Maybe you’ll believe me now.”

Dad continued to try and fix the lamp but the rooster didn’t back off. It kept lunging and attacking him. My brother was really enjoying the show at this point. Finally, my dad had had enough. As the rooster was about to lunge at him again, he pulled out his screwdriver, threw it across the barn, speared the attacking rooster in the neck, killing him instantly.

My brother’s mouth dropped. He watched in awe and amazement as our father walked over to the dead rooster, pulled the screwdriver out of his neck, calmly wiped the blood off on his overalls and turned to my brother and said, “Tell your mother we’re having chicken for dinner tonight.”

Moral of the story #1: when you have a problem, don’t complain, figure out how to deal with it yourself.
Moral of the story #2: don’t piss off a man with a screwdriver.

So, what’s your family legend?