White Oak Mountain Ranger: Otis

  • Tuesday, January 17, 2023

“Every gift which is given, even though it be small, is in reality great, if it is given with affection.” - Pindar

“Trying to sneak a fastball past Hank Aaron is like trying to sneak the sunrise past a rooster.” - Joe Adock

I chased this one pretty girl pretty hard. That’s the only kind of really worthwhile run to have in my mind. Marathons and the Iron Man are mere child play for wimps and weenies compared to this particular run. I chased her from here to Johnson City and back. That’s a pretty long distance for a good finish in most races. It took some years. She was a lady in every sense of the word. Hence, the years.

I wasn’t the only one in the hunt, there were four or five others. The competition made the chase for her attention much more than challenging. It was a challenge I felt up for.

Her father didn’t much care for me hanging around like I did. He made that more than more than evident every time we locked eyes. He never had much to say. I could tell his intent from his malevolent stare. He was apparently intent on squashing me like some bug. Now, after raising a daughter of my own, I understand. At the time It didn’t make as much sense. Time does that occasionally.

He was a large boned man. A big man who taught soldiers to pulverize an enemy with howitzers from long distances during World War II. He played college football before the war and had been drafted by the Washington Redskins, but the war ended his playing days before they ever got started. He could have squashed me like a bug in a nano second. I endeavored to stay out of arms reach at every instant.

The young thing I was chasing had a mother that I got along with only a fraction better. That relationship transpired a little more smoothly after her daughter and I retuned home one night, substantially later than was allowed. Daddy had happily retired for the evening and Momma seemed to somehow inexplicably accept the lame, but honest excuse, for us being out of bounds with house rules. I had suspected that the truth for this tardiness was more than called for at the time. I decided that it best to offer no lies for the egregiousness of the transgression.

The teenage girl I had been chasing had three brothers similar to my age. Her mother had apparently already heard almost every decent lie in the book. I somehow, rather adroitly understood that I could never be as clever as her three brothers when it came to explaining why strict house rules had been desecrated.

The brothers had apparently written the book on tall tales and avoiding the truth when it came to defending egregious behavior. I was badly outgunned. I opted for the truth and Momma bought it. (Score one for the home team!)

I slowly began to realize that I might be approaching near first place in the race when the girl I was chasing started bearing small gifts. One momentous day she bestowed upon me a tall and handsome, one eyed red rooster. This gift chicken even had a big yellow bow around his neck.

I wasn’t quite exactly sure how to react to a gift of a one eyed red rooster with a yellow bow around his neck. This chasing a girl thing had taken some new and strange dimensional twist that suddenly, I wasn’t quite prepared for. Somewhat knocked off balance, you might say.

Was I winning the race? Was the girl of my dreams sending me some kind of strangely subliminal kind of sign? Was I being told I was some kind of chicken? Was this some weird kind of message that I was maybe some semblance of a virile, big red rooster? Confusion reigned.

I was instantly rendered two good bubbles off plumb. Pretty girls did that to me more often than not. This was a seriously hot curveball. This was a very, very severe curveball indeed.

This chicken thing was like the World Series, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded, three balls and two strikes and you are standing at the plate. The World Series is on your shoulders. You’re sweating like some street walker at a tent revival during alter call.

The game is tied and you had to borrow some other players bat, who still couldn’t speak English. A borrowed bat because, you managed to have your lucky your bats stolen while you had snuck off right before the big game, to the nearest Motel 6, with an adoring fan, who promised to give you a little extra luck. (If you know what I mean.)

What exactly do you say to a young woman you’ve been chasing for years when she gifts you a big one eyed rooster with a yellow bow around his neck? What’s the appropriate reaction?

We christened the tall rooster with one eye, Otis. Maybe it had something to do with the town drunk character on the Andy Of Mayberry Show. More than likely it was in honor of the recent passing of Otis Redding. I don’t really remember why we decided to call the tall and handsome handicapped rooster Otis.

It was the roosters’ right eye that had been lost in some illegal pit where slow chickens go to win or die. The left eye seemed to work exceptionally well. It was the eye of Cyclops as that pertains to old battle tested warriors.

I never questioned the young lady as to how it was that she had fallen in with a bunch of chicken fighters. It never occurred to me to have her explain how she managed to save a half blind rooster from a bunch of drunk cock fighters. She simply just became more mysterious by the minute. Mysterious women are most worth chasing in my mind.

Otis would sit on my left shoulder and stick his head and neck out of the window and gawk at the world with his operable eye when we drove my mother’s red Falcon station wagon. Otis was an easy bird to train. He seemed more than comfortable riding with his head out of the window, the breeze lightly ruffling his luxurious Rhode Island red feathers. The hackles loosened from his long neck and piled up in the back seat after any short drive around town. I saved his hackles in a paper bag for later. There was a purpose in saving these long and skinny red feathers. I envisioned lucky one eyed dry flies and bass bugs that no trout or bass could resist. Otis had magic hackles that would be deadly for fooling fish. I just knew it.

Otis came home with me. But, the gift from the girl I was chasing, the gift of a big half blind rooster, came with strings. I should have known.

Otis stayed in a cage in the back yard at my house. It wasn’t really my house, but it was the house where I was being tolerated at the time. My parents did not tolerate me much more than they tolerated Otis in that time. From there, chicken husbandry went downhill at a rather rapid pace.

The Old Man traveled for a living, five days a week. His weekends had become his sanctuary. His time to rest and recuperate from the terrors of accomplishing a steady pay check and mortgage payments in suburbia. He had left chickens and the farm long before Hitler had invaded Poland and he had no intention of going back to farm life. I had little to no understanding of the farm and what roosters brought at the time.

While I was basking in the glow of receiving the gift from the girl I was chasing and the thought that I had managed to score some World Series Grand Slam Homers in this race, Otis decided that things in suburbia needed an awakening.

At approximately 04:30 every morning Otis would crank it up. Otis would clear his throat, spit up some chicken phlegm, and by 05:30, Otis was in full throat, announcing the coming of morning. The glory of first light. He loudly and lustily announced the brilliant coming of every new day.

Otis would turn his left eye to the East and rejoice. Otis had a fine set of lungs and he was more than up to the task of announcing every last glorious sunrise.

This was fine with my mother. Don’t ask me why. When the Old Man ejected from the road on Friday, Otis lasted until Sunday. Sunday morning I was rudely and severely rousted out of bed by the Old Man and given the following ultimatum; “Get that !@#$%^ chicken out of my house right this instant, or I’m going to shoot the both of you!”

What do you do with a one eyed rooster with big lungs and a large appreciation for every sun rise at 05:30 on a Sunday morning? Otis and I saddled up in my mother’s car and headed for Big Bill’s house. By then the sun was up and Otis was singing praise on my left shoulder, the cool spring breeze billowing his long hackles, as he surveyed the quiet streets at 45 MPH.

Big Bill was called Big Bill because most of us weighed less than 135 pounds at the time. Bill weighed double that. He didn’t seem to mind much. Everybody has to have some kind of handle and his (Big Bill) seemed to fit him adequately.

Big Bill’s grandmother lived next door to Big Bill and she had a fairly impressive flock of chickens. The logic of the morning seemed to be that one more red rooster, even one with only a single eye, wouldn’t be too much of an imposition. Especially if Otis was a gift.

How to explain giving Otis away to the girl I was chasing would have to come later. Both Otis and I, being murdered by my Old Man, seemed like as good a place as any to start at the time. The girl was yet to meet the Old Man.

Big Bill reported that Otis, even though he was dangerously handicapped, whipped every last one of Granny’s roosters in near record time. Big Bill reported that it was one of the most entertaining mornings he had witnessed in a long time. Big Bill said every hen in Granny’s flock had been covered in a matter of minutes after Otis had run all the other roosters ragged. Then, old Otis strutted around the yard until dark like he was the King of England.

The girl I was chasing seemed to be OK with the fact that Otis was happy. That made me happy. My Old Man hit the road on Monday and for a while suburbia returned to normal. The chase was back on.

Big Bill reported good news for a few days until one day he reported some bad news. It went something like this;

“I went over to Granny’s to do some chores and she asked me if I was hungry? Well, you know me, I’m pretty much always hungry, and I said, sure Granny what you got?”

She said; “Sweet boy, grab one of those chicken salad sandwiches there on the counter.”

“So I did” - And, I said, “Granny did you kill a chicken?”

Big Bill said he usually was the family designated chicken de-header and plucker when Granny decided a chicken needed to be to cooked. This chicken sandwich seemed a little strange to Big Bill. That’s why he asked Granny if she had done the deed herself.

Big Bill knew that Granny, who didn’t have a chicken killing bone in her body, could no longer stomach seeing her chickens decapitated. Granny loved her chickens about as much as she loved all her grand babies.Granny had long conversations with her hens most mornings.

Big Bill finished his second sandwich and asked:

“Granny, which hen did you kill?”

Granny replied: “Billy, You know good and well I couldn’t kill one of my hens. You remember that big red rooster you gave me? That one that was so damn mean? Well, he got out in the road chasing after my tom cat and that rooster got ‘runned plumb over. Seems to me like he never saw that truck ‘a-comin’. Just stood there kinda stupid like, kinda like he was blind or somethin.”

Granny had never noticed that Otis was visually impaired.

Big Bill was awful apologetic. Saturday, when I told my Old Man what had happened, the sad story made him laugh so hard I think he wet his pants.

I married that girl. She later gifted me a billy goat named Noah before we tied the knot. I don’t know where she found the goat. She was mysterious that way. Noah had the annoying habit of spraying his beard with his essence. This bothered my mother to no end. It also stunk-up her red Falcon something fierce. If I can locate the photo of Old Noah. I’ll pass it on.

Now we’re feeding 10 miniature donkeys, 3 miniature horses, a bird dog and a big pinto mare who devours hay like an elephant. The chasing never stops.


WOMR note: Dry flies for trout and bass bug tying, with Otis hackles, paid off like magic that spring. I don’t recommend tying trout flies with goat hair. The stink seems to scare most fish upstream like a bear was chasing after them.

Send comments to whiteoakmtnranger@gmail.com

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