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Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Thanksgiving Guinea Hen

It was a wet fall Saturday afternoon in 1992 and the kids were inside.  They were complaining about being bored and not having anything to do.

“You are bored because you think you’re bored,” I told them.

“Nuh-uh,” said Erin.  We really are bored.

“Sometimes,” I told them, “you have to make yourself have fun.  And other times all you have to do is walk out into the yard and fun will come right up to you.”

Jeremy laughed.  “Fun can’t do that.”

“Yes it can,” I said.

“When did fun do that to you?”

“It happened when I was about eleven or twelve, somewhere around 1963.  It was Thanksgiving morning.  Mom was baking a turkey in the oven.  The house was filled with the smell of food and the clatter of dishes.  The parades were on T.V.  .  My brother, Keith, and I went outside looking for something to do.  The weather was wet like it is now and it felt like it was going to snow.

No one else was outside.  We walked out to the street.  Two houses down we saw Tommy come darting out from under his carport and start running around and around a tree in his front yard.  We walked closer.  In front of Tommy ran a strange looking bird about two feet tall, with two legs, and covered with feathers.

“What’s that?”  I asked as Tommy took another lap around the tree.

“Dad says it’s a Guinea Hen,” yelled Tommy as he chased the bird.

“Where’d you get it?”

“I didn’t.  I don’t know where it came from.  It was in the yard when I came out.  Help me catch it.”

Keith went to the left side of the tree and I went to the right side.  As the Guinea Hen came around the tree towards me I grabbed for it.  Like a highly skilled NFL running back the hen faked first to the left then dashed to the right.  My feet went out from under me and I hit the ground back first.

The Guinea Hen tore across Tommy’s yard, through the neighbor’s yard and into our front bushes with Keith, Tommy, and me close behind.  As we dove into the bushes, the hen darted out and ran across the street into old man Saunders’ yard.  Old man Saunders was sweeping his carport and he came out swinging his broom. 

The bird dodged the broom and ran into Ricky’s yard next door.  Ricky was playing on his porch and saw the bird.  “Grab it.  Grab it.”  I yelled.  Ricky did his best imitation o Zorro and leaped over his porch rail to the ground, barely missing the hen and old man Saunders’ broom handle.

Keith, Tommy, and I ran to the left of Ricky’s house around to the backyard.  The bird, followed closely by Ricky and old man Saunders, saw us directly in its path and froze; then with lightening speed it whirled to the right.  The last things I saw and felt were a tangle of arms, legs and a broom handle as all of us collided. 

The hen ran through Jimmy’s yard.  Jimmy heard us thrashing about and fell into the chase behind us.  We circled Jimmy’s house, then ran through his carport, and then the bird did what we all feared worst of all.  It ran into the yard across the street; Groucho’s yard.

Groucho was a fat man who smoked cigars and kept his yard green and in perfect shape.  Not one pine needle was out of place.  When some unfortunate, innocent child who didn’t know any better happened to trample his flower bed on the way to Jeffrey’s basketball goal, Groucho would yell like a demon through cigar smoke, “Get out of my yard!  Don’t come through here again.”

The hen stood in the middle of Groucho’s yard, sensing that it was on safe and hollowed ground.  It was wrong.  Jimmy looked at Keith, Keith looked a Ricky, Ricky looked at old man Saunders, old man Saunders looked at me, and we charged, yelling at the tops of our lungs.  Needless to say, the Guinea hen ran through every flowerbed and every mulched area of Groucho’s once well groomed yard.  Still, the bird eluded us.

“Get out of my yard!” screamed Groucho.  What do you think you’re doing?”

“We’re chasing a bird,” yelled Ricky.

The bird ran up the street to Danny’s house with us behind it, plus Grouch, plus Jeffrey who lived next to Groucho.  Danny and several friends were playing basketball in his backyard when we ran by with the bird in front of us, and they all joined in the chase.  There were now almost twenty of us running after this Guinea hen, when it stopped to rest in Bobo’s yard.  This was a big mistake, because Bobo was crazy.

“We’ve got him now!” yelled Jimmy.  He’s in Bobo’s yard.

“Somebody get Bobo.”  I said.

Ricky gently rang Bobo’s doorbell.  When Bobo came to the door, we explained the situation to him, who seemed to understand it all very well.

“Open the gate to the backyard and run it in,” said Bobo.  “Then close the gate.  “I’ll get my shoulder pads on.”

“Bobo’s getting’ his shoulder pads on, y’all,” whispered Jimmy.

We smiled.  Even Groucho smiled, with his cigar in the side of his mouth.  We all knew that anything was bound to happen when Bobo got his shoulder pads on.

We ran the hen through the gate and slammed it shut.  We all piled over the fence into the backyard.  Bobo was standing on the back porch with his shoulder pads, hip and knee pads on.  He was wearing a jersey that said, “Central Restaurant All Stars” at the top and at the bottom it said, “Try our grilled cheese.”

The hen was at the back corner of the yard, standing against the fence, looking at us.  Bobo walked off the porch and we followed.

“Spread out” shouted Groucho, a Korean War veteran.  We spread out across the yard.

“Let me take the first crack at him,” whispered Bobo.

Bobo lunged.  The hen flew straight at Bobo’s head and landed on top of it, flapping its wings wildly.  Bobo grabbed it by the feet.

“I’ve got it!” he shouted.

Then the hen sank its claws into Bobo’s skull.  Bobo fell, shrieking with pain.  The hen flew over the fence, into the neighbor’s yard.  Bobo dove after it and the rest of us followed.

We chased that bird through every yard in our neighborhood, but we never caught it.  We finally lost sight of it near Hammond Street, near the Presbyterian Church.  The twelve o’clock chimes began to play and we all realized that it was time to go home and eat our Thanksgiving lunch.  We were all laughing and talking about that hen on the way back home, and Grouch even invited us to walk through his yard on the way home.”

“Daddy,”asked Erin, “Did that really happen?”

“Well,” I said, “I like to remember it that way.”

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