From the book about North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains and Foothills
Roosters, Heroes and Watermelon Desperadoes
Submitted by Bruce A. Wallace of Hudson, North Carolina
When I was about 13 years old, we lived in Caldwell County on Wike Road. It was around 1948. We had a flock of about two dozen chickens that we raised from biddies. There were two roosters in the flock. When the chickens matured, the roosters began to fight. Our house was built on rock pilings with about two to three feet of space from the ground and open all around.
For several mornings, I was awakened about daybreak to a thump, thump, thump from the floor. On investigation, I found out it was due to our roosters fighting under the house. Their heads were just as bloody as could be. I would run the roosters out from under the house and then go about my morning chores, which entailed getting the milk bucket and the bran bucket and heading to the barn to milk the cows. Then I would feed the pig and the chickens. The pigpen and the chicken house and lot were adjacent to our house, and the barn was behind my Papaw’s house, which was a little ways off.
I remember my dad and me standing in the back yard one day, looking at the roosters with their poor ole bloody heads, and Dad said to me, “Bruce, you are going to have to shoot one of these roosters.” The roosters were standing right there in front of us and heard everything we said. I had a 410-gauge shotgun my papaw had given me for my 12th birthday, but I told Dad I would delay the execution until the next morning.
The next morning I did not awake to thump, thump, thump, but I got my gun anyhow and went outside, prepared to shoot a rooster. There were no roosters around, so I put my gun away, got the milk and bran buckets, and headed to the barn to milk the cows. When I got to the barn, to my surprise there was a rooster with about eleven hens. Later, I found the other rooster with about eleven hens at the chicken house. Thereafter, I had to feed the chickens at the chicken house and at the barn.
I have often wondered what happened. Upon hearing Dad and my conversation, did the roosters call a truce and divide the harem? How did that work? Did they line up the hens and tell every other one to step forward and go with Chuck and the rest to stay with Henry, or did the two roosters stand apart and one choose Mabel and the other chose Henrietta and on down the line until the last hen? Or did they draw straws, with the hens with the short straws going to Chuck and the hens with the long straws with Henry?
I am thankful for the opportunity to write about this, hoping someone out there knows a lot more about chickens than I do. I have wondered for too many years.
The Making of Captain Marvel
When my brother and I were quite small, I liked funny books with caped heroes. I guess my little brother, who was two years younger than me, was around three years old. He was a tough little guy and a bit gullible, I thought. He would tie a towel around his neck in the fashion of a cape and jump off the front porch, which was several feet high. I was a bit concerned about him getting hurt, but he said his cape slowed him down and the landing didn’t hurt.
One day, we were having a terrible electrical storm. He and I were on the front porch, and he had on his cape. I told him to yell, “Shazam!” when the lightning flashed, and he would turn into Captain Marvel.
The lightning flashed and he yelled, “Shazam!” I told him that he didn’t yell fast enough, that the lightning had gone by the time he hollered. This happened several times with no miracle. Finally, I told him that he couldn’t say it quickly enough so to just start hollering shazam over and over and maybe he would hit it just right. I went inside and left him hollering shazam. He never did hit it just right!
I don’t remember what I had gotten the spanking for when I was in the first grade, but the teacher took me to the cloakroom and paddled me. When I got back to my desk, the boy sitting behind me whispered to me, “I thought I heard something go pow, pow, pow.” The next day, the teacher paddled him in front of the class. When he got back to his desk, I turned around and whispered, “I thought I heard something go pow, pow, pow.” This happened in Mrs. Flowers’ first grade at Granite Falls Elementary School in 1941/1942.
A One Season Desperado
In the late forties and early fifties, I not only had the responsibility of caring for the livestock at home, but also the several gardens that were planted around the house. Along with all other vegetables there were always four things I made sure to plant: popcorn, peanuts, tomatoes, and watermelons.
For years, I never could grow big watermelons, until our farmer neighbor told me how. I would plant a dozen seeds in each hill and maybe pull out half of them when they came up. He said to leave one plant in each hill. I was growing vines and a lot of little-bitty watermelons. I was too chicken to pull out all but one, so I would leave two. That was the year I grew my best watermelon crop ever.
This was also the year I joined the Air Force, and the watermelons had not been harvested. Dad tried to save me one by freezing it until I got home after basic training. When we thawed it out, it was so soft and limber that it would wrap around my hands if I tried to pick it up.
I have digressed; now back to my tale of lawlessness. Back when I was growing little-bitty watermelons, the last watermelon in my patch one year was a nice one. I wanted to save it for Sunday afternoon. I pulled branches out of trees and stuck them in the ground around my prized watermelon to shade it so it would not get sunburned. On Sunday, I ran down to the garden to pick my watermelon. There were only small pieces of rind left. My neighbor had a three acre watermelon patch across the road in front of our little house, and he also had a hog lot on the other side of his watermelon field. On Saturday night, one of his hogs had gotten out, crossed his field of huge watermelons, and eaten my prized watermelon. I was so mad I could have strangled that hog.
I had never in my life snitched a watermelon until that Sunday night. Under cover of darkness, I slipped across the road, grabbed a watermelon, and took it to the branch behind our house and stored it in a pool in the branch. The next night, I swiped another watermelon, ate the cool one, and stored the hot one in the branch. I did this for several nights, until I felt I had been paid back.
This stealing of watermelons was not done without some bravery. There had been nights when I would sit on the front porch during watermelon season and watch cars dome down the road and then their lights would go off. They would stop momentarily, and I could make out people running out into the watermelon field. The car’s headlights would come on and the car would leave for a good 15 minutes, then I would see another car coming from the other direction. The light would go out, the car would stop momentarily, the lights would come on, and the car would leave. One night I watched as this routine was happening. When the car came back, the lights went out and the car stopped, and a shotgun blast came from the hog lot. The car lights came on, tires spun, and the car left. It must have been 30 minutes before the car came back and stopped. I could make out several people jump up out in the field, run, and jump into the car and leave in a hurry. I don’t think they had any watermelons.