"Well, I'll Be John Brown"

Real stories about folks who have blessed my life with the joy and fulfillment of laughter. Long may they live.

Location: Atlanta, Georgia, United States

A Southern Boy - Born In Alabama, Reared In Georgia, and Matriculated, Married & Initiated Into Manhood In Tennessee.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Chicken Fishin'

Our church has a group of older retired men who meet on Tuesday mornings at a local Burger King. I assume they chose BK instead of our own church annex so they could tell lies without the guilt of doing it on the Lord's property. They call themselves the, "Romeo Club." Romeo stands for: "Retired Old Men Eating Out." Their weekly sessions have proven to be an endless source of humor and storytelling.

The dean of the bunch is an old mountain man from up around Blue Ridge, Georgia. "Bill" grew up on a small hillside farm in the heart of the north Georgia mountains. He was one of the older among several siblings, and the valedictorian troublemaker of the entire clan. If there was an opportunity for mischief lurking anywhere nearby Bill could sniff it out better than a blue tick on a coon hunt.

One late summer day Bill's mama gave him a chore to ramrod. With fall and winter approaching in the mountains, the chimneys and fireplaces would need to be thoroughly cleaned out. Few things in the hills were more dangerous and threatening to the well-being of the family cabin than a raging creosote fire in an old flue.

Other than being the family heathen, one of Bill's other qualities was his quick, sharp, creative mind. This was, in truth, his only redeeming trait. As far as manual labor was concerned Bill was, "sorry as gully dirt," as his daddy readily admitted to friend and stranger alike. This combination, however, served him well as he continually searched for and usually found ingenious ways of getting out of chores.

Cleaning out chimneys was field hand work, Bill reasoned. The wheels in his head began to turn.

From his shady perch on the floor of the back porch he could hear the sound of daddy's eight prize settin' hens as they milled around the back part of the cabin pecking out their afternoon meal. Suddenly, like an epiphany from above, it came to him.

Bill called to his younger brothers and ordered them to run to the corn crib and bring him an ear of the family's scrub corn. He then sent his youngest sister, who was far too innocent to see the plan that was taking shape, to the barn to retrieve a couple of daddy's good cane fishing poles. Bill told them to meet him around front as he trotted off to find the family's homemade ladder. "We're gonna' go chicken fishing," he whispered.

When all the pieces were in place, Bill and his brothers climbed to the top of the cabin with their cane poles. Once there, they baited the hooks with the corn and lowered them down almost to ground level. Bill then told his sister to herd the chickens around toward the area where the baited hooks were waiting.

Bill's sister had great difficulty coercing the chickens to head in the right direction, but finally they showed up and began to peck at the corn on the fish hooks. The original thought was that the chickens would swallow the corn like a fish would have. When they only pecked at the corn, the baited hooks would flitter back and forth in every conceivable direction. Bill and his brothers were having a devil of a time keeping the bait in front of the chickens.

An added dimension involved making just enough noise so that mama would hear from inside the cabin and think that her boys were complying with her instructions. Too much hoofing around on the roof would surely coax mama outside to investigate, and thus bring down maternal fire and brimstone once she found out what was up.

Finally deciding that the chickens would not cooperate as he had hoped, Bill enacted plan B. He began "gigging" the chickens in the neck with the fish hooks. Once he had set the hook firmly in the chicken's neck he and his brothers would pull each of the screaming victims to the roof of the cabin, dislodge the hook, and stuff the bird down into the chimney. His theory was that the flapping of the fowl wings as the chickens descended would dislodge the built up creosote and thus clean the flue.

Bill's plan did not allow for at least three significant contingencies: One, what to do if the chickens got stuck on the way down. Two, what to do if the creosote was hardened past the point of being affected by the fluttering of the wings. Three, how to explain to mama what those prize settin' hens were doing coming out of the cabin's fireplaces screaming to the top of their lungs.

The whole experiment turned out to be a miserable failure. The process removed precious little of the creosote, three of the chickens got permanently stuck and had to be put out of their misery before being removed from the chimney, and at least one of the chickens got the better of Bill - pecking him profusely around the neck and ears before flying off. Also, mama eventually did come outside to investigate the ruckus and received an appreciable shower of chicken fecal matter as the surviving hens flew overhead on their way to safer ground. In the end Bill and his brothers each received their just reward from daddy's razor strap when he came in from the fields that evening.

The next day Bill was seen back on the roof of the family cabin with his arm stuck down the chimney finally doing the job right. His two brothers were inside attempting to catch the falling creosote in two large tow sacks. His sister, having been given a parental pardon due to her age, continued her daily routine of play in the creek - her stripes having been partitioned among the three brothers. Mama and daddy sat longer than normal at the kitchen table at dinner (the term used for "lunch" in the country) discussing Bill's certain future as an inmate in the Georgia correctional system.

And, there wasn't one chicken anywhere to be found.

LIB John Brown


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