The two story ramshackle house grieved at the end of a short gravel driveway. Some of the boards of the siding had splintered, cracked, fallen. It was the grin of a toothless old man, shot too many times, and crashed by the harsh winds. No one had lived here for twenty years. The upstairs rooms were bare remnants of history. Eerie memories collected in the still dust piled in the corners of peeling paisley wallpaper. An uncle and his friends had bought the house as a hobby farm the last winter. They spent their off days there. A grown up club house.
They had one horse, turkeys, a few pigmy goats and Rock Cornish game hens. A white attack goose patrolled a frame of dirt in the front yard, calling alarm and flapping wings. Cats meandered here and there giving the goose a wide berth. The driveway led to a one-mile dirt road that intersected with a subsidiary highway. This was the land of the rolling Rock river. A place where Ronald Reagan grew up.
On the twenty or so acres of land, the group had a small garden, the rest was half an overgrown swamp and half prairie where the grass and wildflowers grew tall and waved in the wind. A few stoic elms and maples hung ominously on the horizon on budding green hills. The group had commissioned a friend under the pretense of a bar bet to dig them a hole out back that they would convert into a fishin' hole. The hole waited for water and a huge pile of dirt sprouted dandelions and weeds about fifty yards away.
This uncle and his friends were all approaching retirement, drove pickups, had never left the county and each drank a case of swill beer per diem. "Good 'ol boys". They wore green John Deere mesh baseball caps and kept a mound of chaw tucked in their cheek. The juice would drip from their drunken lips and leave streaks on their stubbled sunburned chins. They would hoot and holler about the Ford/Chevy issue. It was common for them to get so drunk on the farm or at one of the bars in town, that they would have to walk to a friend's house in the morning to drop off or retrieve their trucks that were mistakenly driven home the night before.
The group of four men would play pinochle on the battered kitchen table. The only other furniture were the old school appliances and multicolored aluminum lawn chairs with frayed webbing that barely supported the beer bellied frames of the men. They would drink and bet and tell the same stories over and over.
Being a city boy, I was enamored by their banter and elbow jabbing, belly jiggling jokes. They let me feed the animals. When I became a teenager, they let me drive, drink beer and shoot guns. My parents would let me wane the days away with my uncle. My dad was the sort who didn't like mosquitoes so he never came along. Going to 'The farm', my uncle would straddle the double line of the two way highway with a beer can between his legs. He would ask me to reach out the sliding glass window of the cab and fetch him another when the can ran dry.
I first hung out with the fellas after a day of fishing
for bull heads
when I was about six years old. I wore cumbersome leg braces
then. I was small, so skinny you could see my ribs stretch the skin of my chest. The Good 'ol boys had been arguing all afternoon on the flying ability of the culinary wonder
and filthy animal, the chicken. After hours of arguing and much spilled beer and spittle strewn, it was decided that they would borrow a cropduster the next day and settle it for good.
One of my uncle's friends, presumably a stand up guy, borrowed a plane for a few hours. The plan was set, on the first pass of the plane, the plane would drop a roll of toilet paper to get the attention of the crowd below. The second pass would release two white chickens.
I am unaware of any other stipulations imposed by said bettors on the chicken drop. Only that two cases of Old Style were on the line and I was standing in a rural driveway with four drunk, red faced men who thought it amusing to watch my crippled body hobble to the cooler to grab beer.
The plane passed once, flying low but not close to the road where we were standing. An argument ensued weather or not the toilet paper had dropped and if they should be ready for the drop. I assured them that nothing had fallen from the plane, which passed two more times before actually sending out the roll of toilet paper. The paper streamed down, trailing a flopping kitetail for a moment before succumbing to gravity. The next pass was keen.
Two white flailing bodies were strewn from the plane. For a brief moment they stuck in the limbo of motion and then plummeted into the corn field below with a slight thud. The men all laughed and patted each other on the back. Dusk was starting to dim the day and I was disappointed in the show. I was convinced that chickens could fly. I had seen them perched high on beams in barns. We walked out into the field to retrieve the bodies. Feathers led our way.
The next night I was surprised to find my drumstick intact.