Shrove Tuesday, a day on which to be shriven, was a great day for this hermit: Mass, confession, and so much more. Our Lord is very good and very kind. Ancient of days, “T.K.”, beloved volunteer at the soup kitchen, wasn’t around the past couple of weeks, so I’ve had the joy of doing his Tuesday deliveries to the elderly shut-ins. 37 plates all told. This is a favorite “hermit” thing for me to do. Usually, it’s just Thursdays that I head down the mountains for such a joy.
Mardigras, a name with a more secular emphasis – a Tuesday on which to get fat before the rigors of Ash-Wednesday and Lent begin in full force – was also wonderful. I cooked up some pasta with onion and tomato on the woodstove. I even threw in a couple of fresh free-range eggs. What an appelation! Imagine eggs ranging freely about for spiders and such… Mmm, mmm good!
In some regions, chickens have a lot to do with Mardigras. This year, for me, was pretty special. I got a rooster for the hens! As you can see from the picture above, it’s a Barred Rock rooster, though crossed with a Rhode Island Red somewhere back in his lineage. You can see some speckles of red in the feathers. The Reds are very close to the breed of the hens I have. So, that’s all very good.
As I let “Rocky” go in the coop, the ladies really commented up a storm among themselves. I don’t know what they were saying as I don’t know chicken-speak, yet. He checked out all the nooks and crannies of the coop, the water, the feed, the roost, and then took a gander at the ladies. The hen at the top of the pecking order presented herself and he immediately made it clear that he was not going to be a hen-pecked husband. They were all happy with that. You just have to set the ground rules from the beginning. After some minutes, he felt at home with them and they with him. So he started crowing. He loves his new home. He doesn’t sing very well, but that’s O.K. He makes up for it by beating his wings in the air louder than any Ruffed Grouse could dream of drumming up a storm. Never seen or heard anything like it. Quite impressive, really.
I might ask you to say a prayer for the fellow who sold me the rooster. He and his wife are great Catholics. He’s been terribly sick the past month. He gave me a great deal on this fellow. Hail Mary…
Spending some minutes with the chickens as I unleashed the rooster among them, and all this on Mardigras, reminded me of some rather wild experiences on one particular Mardigras, but such stories are best saved for a possible autobiography. I just would not let my priesthood be compromised. Yikes! Many Mardigras-ers were terribly underwhelmed at my decision, an understatement if there ever was one.
O.K., I can’t resist. Here’s just one itsy-bitsy anecdote of another Mardigras in that same parish, which only came full circle some months later. Early in the day — and at least this was on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, and not in Lent itself – some of the Mardigras-ers were stealing chickens from all around the countryside. They were to be prepared for the huge Mardigras meal later that night. They always say that it’s just a cultural thing to “steal” the chickens, and that they’ll be given back later. Probably they just use store-bought chickens for the meal. At least that’s the story.
Some of the Mardigras-ers belonged to one of the three fully armed, rebelliously minded, not “theatrically motivated” militia in the territory of my parish. This was nothing new to law enforcement. In this tiniest, littlest of country towns, there were always, 24/7, at least three F.B.I. agents surveiling the situation. Rather expensive, though necessary. Anyway, these particular Mardigras-ers, all of them ”white”, also on an ideological level, made the mistake of not returning the chickens of one of the local ”black” retired hobby-farmers, who wasn’t ideological anything, just an honest to goodness American and… and… heavily decorated Green Beret, who had served in some of the rougher parts of Southeast Asia back in the day. You have to know that the Green Beret, the U.S. Army Special Forces, are — every one of them – like Jack Bauer and Chuck Norris rolled into one, and much more sure of themselves than any Rambo, and rightly so.
Tired of waiting for the chickens to be returned — with now a few months having gone by – the old veteran jumped into his old truck and drove for some miles down some narrow winding back roads until he came to an open field. He knew the knuckleheads would be there. He had no weapons. He got out and walked right into the middle of the field, and quickly had guns pointed at him from all directions. They moved in and made it clear that he would be riddled with bullets unless he had a very good explanation for being there.
“Give me my chickens,” he said, ever so quietly, locked into a staring contest with the leader of this pitiful band of cowards. “Say… what?” was the incredulous, though nervous response. “The chickens…” said our hero, it being unclear whether he was now referring to the fowl or to the “men” surrounding him. They made the mistake of moving in closer, so that the barrels of their rifles were almost touching him. The leader knew this was a stupid move on the part of his sycophants. “…Or you’re all dead,” continued the old Green Beret, not breaking the stare.
The leader of the militia saw the old fellow tensing up a bit, knowing that he was watching for any signal he might give to his “men” to open fire, even with his eyes. He knew that with a single lightning quick move on the part of the old man — so terribly easy in these circumstances — he would be the first to die, only to be joined by his “men” within seconds.
A seeming eternity of seconds went by… Still in an unblinking staring contest… with life and death in the balance… but then the militia leader quietly said, “Get the chickens.”
Hah! This was a region where lynchings and house-burnings and forcing-out-of-the-area activities had taken place within the living memory of even — at the time — the younger-middle-aged population. As one racist said to me: “Oh Father, we’re not racist here at all. We’re very good. We treat them n*ggers just as if they were real people.” Double-Yikes!
I’ve got to hand it to this old fellow — very likely passed away as I write this so very many years later — for in that one act of bravery (which, mind you, wasn’t in the least about any stupid chickens), he single-handedly did more to break the spirit of the local white-supremacists and get things back on track than pretty much everyone else had been able to do on so many other levels over a number of decades in that entire region. Having said that, don’t try this at home! These were quite unrepeatable circumstances and this fellow was extraordinarily talented. Double-Yikes! again.