The Days of Mary

By Gipp Forster

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One Easter, while visiting the farmers market, my uncle purchased and brought me home three tiny recently hatched chicks. Two had been dyed with food colouring, I guess, and one little guy was his natural yellow. The little pink and blue chicks died within 24 hours. My guess is that the food colouring had entered their bloodstreams (a cruel act then, and one I hope no longer exists). But the little yellow chick thrived! I was allowed to name it, so I named it Mary. None of us knew, at the time, that Mary would grow into the biggest white rooster imaginable. But she did - or he did - or it did!

As a five year old, I didn't realize how ridiculous it must have looked when I walked down the street followed by a clucking white rooster. Dogs would follow other kids if they were fortunate enough to have one. But like Tommy Smothers used to say about his childhood: "I had a chicken, not a dog."

We had a flight of stairs at the back of our house and at the top of the landing my uncle had put out a large empty cardboard box. I don't know how it got started, but each evening as the sun was setting, Mary would hop up those stairs, get into the cardboard box and wait for my uncle to bring the box and him into the outside shed for the night. Every evening, without fail, this ritual would take place, but only after another strange ritual.

On summer evenings, we would sit on the front porch to watch the day wind down. We had a big sofa swing on a steel frame called a glider. At the same time every evening, we would first hear clucking, then, around the corner would come Mary on a very determined course. He would hop up onto the porch, strut to the glider and jump onto my uncle's lap. Then Mary would snuggle against him, tuck his head under my uncle's arm and stay there for exactly 30 minutes. It was routine and it never changed. Guests marvelled! I thought all chickens must do that, so I wasn't too impressed!

After the half hour, Mary would hop down, strut back the way he had come, around the house, up the back steps, into the box and wait to be retired. We were the talk of the street, but I still would have preferred a dog. Have you ever tried to teach a rooster to "stay,” “sit,” or "roll over"? It was embarrassing - even for a kid.

Every now and then, these many years later, I still remember "Mary the big white rooster who took the place of a dog."

I've owned (or they have owned me) many dogs since the days of Mary, but I've never had another pet chicken. My wife just said something, but I told her cooked chickens don't count! That's a hint of what eventually happened to Mary. It broke my heart then, and I still get a little misty eyed when I see a white rooster or hear a rooster crow.

I have had many pets in my lifetime from goldfish and lizards to monkeys and parrots, but I think Mary will always hold a special place. I wish I knew then what I know now; I would have warned Mary not to crow at sunrise each morning. But he probably wouldn't have listened.



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