November and December

Honking GooseOver the weekend, I attended a birthday party for Arro, my friend Reece’s oldest son. Although the celebration had a Harry Potter theme and every child was given a magic wand and glasses, the most popular party favor by far proved to be the paper horns given to everyone. Within seconds of receipt, the hills were alive with the sounds of annoying honks, as if a gaggle of 6-year-old geese had just flew into the room. While retreating to the far corner of the room with the other adults and circling our wagons, I recalled the following.

When he was a kid, my father and his brothers lived on a chicken farm near Austin. I grew up on a diet of stories about hard work, long hours, and revenge–from carting wheelbarrows of chicken shit for sale downtown as fertilizer, to their efforts to organize “chicken parades.” According to my father, a “chicken parade” is easy to orchestrate. Simply, take a piece of raw bacon tied to a long string, and then toss it in the middle of a circle of hens. One of them will quickly snap it up and swallow it whole. Since chickens poop what they eat within a matter of minutes, out the other end would come the bacon and string. Another bird would see the bacon and scarf it themselves, repeating the cycle. Eventually, all of the chickens would be tied together beak-to-ass, tugging and pulling each other around until my dad and uncles felt they had had enough.

To this very day, my father despises chicken, refusing to eat it except under the most demanding of circumstances. If you and my dad were the only people on a plane full of chickens that happened to crash-land atop a lofty, remote Andes mountain peak, you’d be the one that’s fucked, not the birds. Note that his fickleness does not stop him from eating eggs — if pressed on the fact that eggs are a form of chicken, he’ll note with pride that he’s “getting them before they are born.” Ralph Reed calling for you on line one, dad.

Despite that childhood animal husbandry, my father loves all other animals. When I was in high school, we relocated from the city to a small plot in Southlake. Our land was called “Pepper Top Farm,” and it was hidden from the modern world by a thick grove of surrounding trees, endless whiteboard fences, and a lack of cable television. It was there that dad indulged a desire to collect pets which he hadn’t possessed for quite some time. My parents bought a horse, adopted a dog, gave me permission to purchase a puppy, and rounded out the zoo with a couple of bunny rabbits and a goat to keep the horses company. It was heaven, with rolling green fields, tall trees, and the lazy satisfaction of a good farm existence.

So whatever possessed my father to spoil such a sylvan paradise by acquiring geese is beyond me.

For the uneducated, geese are simply nasty pieces of shit. Ugly, loud, mean, and without taste, they’re trash birds. If you walk too close to one of them, despite the fact you outweigh them by at least 100 lbs. they will still attack you with frightening speed and ferocity. And they never learn any better.

One morning, dad went to the feed store. He returned with four baby birds–two geese and two Indian runner ducks. Although the names of the ducks escape me, I’ll never forget those of the geese: November and December . . . or in other words, the months we planned to eat them.

Perhaps because they didn’t have a mama bird around, our birds never learned how to fly. But the geese mastered well the art of stealth. Whenever someone would walk by their pond, the geese would lower their heads and long necks until both were perpendicular to the ground. Then they’d slowly start off in your direction, picking up speed– plap-plap-plap, went their wet feet! And before you knew it, they were upon you with a piercing honk or a nasty bite from their toothy prehistoric beaks.

As much as I hated the geese, I felt worse for the ducks. Without any adult Indian Runner ducks to serve as role models, they were forced to emulate the geese. It was amusing and sad to watch the ducks themselves lower their heads and seek-and-destroy, only to pause with a look that seemed to say, “Hey…wait a minute…I’m a duck…not a goose.” This was years before Dr. Phil.

One day, I was outside changing my truck’s tire. It was a hot day, so I was shirtless on the baking driveway. The goose pond was behind me and seemingly far away, but this provided me with no safety. From behind, I heard that all-too-familiar wet slap of geese feet on the concrete. Before I could turn around, it was too late. The popping crunch of my own capillaries bursting filled my senses and I roared in pain.

Flying to my feet, along came the goose, solidly holding onto me with his nasty beak. He was hanging from the meat of my back, in a position so perfect that I couldn’t reach him with my hands or the tire iron I possessed. Spinning sharply back and forth also proved useless. I yelled for help.

Hearing the commotion, my father ran outside and saw the chaos. I turned to face him, tossed him my tire iron, turned back around, and with a hard swing, dad clocked the shit out of that bird and sent him over the left-field fence. And boy, did that bird sail! Now that I think about it, that was the first time I ever saw that bird fly.

It would be weeks before I could sleep on my back.

Alas, the geese didn’t fulfill their destiny of being eaten in the winter months. Instead, they were annihilated in the months before November and December by the one-two-punch of an Act of God and an Act of Dog.

In September, my Labrador Retriever Gos was roaming the farm on his regular mole patrol. Those who knew him will recall that he was a gentle soul, rarely barking and never acting aggressive. Yet one day, one of the geese charged at Gos and–outweighed by a mere 60 lbs–and was literally mauled into a bloody pulp by my angry pooch. After that one incident, he never again attacked anything ever.

The next month, the goose that attacked me while I was changing my tire met his maker in a most dramatic fashion. His signature exit involved being plucked from the ground by a freak twister and blown away to God knows where. Now that I think about it, it was the last time I ever saw that bird fly.