The Chicken in Church

Mike Ingles

It was in Strums True Value that the whole trouble started. Twin Sisters Knobs is a small village located in northern Iowa in the United States. The village was named after twin sisters who each lived on one of the two knobs that overlooked the small valley in which the town was born. Within this hamlet there is a small Catholic Church named Saint Mary Magdalene. The church has several masses a week, including a Latin mass on Wednesdays and a mass done entirely in Spanish on Saturday mornings. The are a great many Mexican immigrants in Twin Sisters Knobs and most work as farm laborers, but a few are employed at the flourmill. Saint Mary Magdalene also offers a unique mass for the deaf. This mass is celebrated each Saturday at 4:00 PM and Father Carlos leads this mass, he is skilled speaking with his hands. The mass holds the attention of about twenty patrons; most do not have the native ability to hear. These few people come from many miles around, for Father Carlos is the only priest in a five-hundred mile area who can sign and give these quiet people the chance to hear the word of God.

One woman who does have the innate ability to hear also attends this mass. She is young and very pretty, her name is Anita Carrels and she has been diagnosed by the state of Iowa in loco parentis, that is, loco. She cries reverently at every mass she attends as though she were boarded to the cross with The Savior, bearing all the sins of this small world of Twin Sisters Knobs. She attends every mass in which Father Carlos offers, whether it is in Spanish or Latin or northern Iowaese. She weeps softly in the first pew of the church and she always covers her head with a blue bandana and after the mass she leaves quietly. No one has every spoken to her, not even Father Carlos. When Father Carlos first came to the parish and saw this woman for the first time, he made inquiries about her, but was told to leave her in peace as she was unstable and could not be helped. "She will grow on you and after a while you will not even know she is there." Father Carlos felt peculiar in not trying to help the distressed woman but he had many things to organize and many duties to perform and, after about a month, he barley noticed that the young woman was in the first pew for every mass.

The masses during the rest of the week are for people who know sound. On Sunday there are three masses and at the 8:00 AM mass and the 10:00 AM mass the choir gathers and offers the joy of song to the parishioners. A young lady by the name of María Ocala has sung in the choir for the past five years. Her voice is like that of a Seraph and the wonderful melodies uttered from her mouth fill the church like a cannery might fill a cage. Her voice is so very powerful that she has helped to bring even the hardest heart to the cross. Father Carlos is so very thankful for her benefaction and is so enamored with her song that when she sings he sometimes forgets where he is during the mass, and just stops to listen to her beautiful voice as it resonates though out his small cathedral.

María Ocala is devoted to her religion, she recognizes that her gift is from God and she must use her talents to His will. Her father, Paco, is very proud of her; he has worked his entire life so that he might offer her the best possible future. She is to leave this spring for Northwestern University where she will study music and dance. María is a prodigy and she understands her talents must be utilized for the entire world to hear and to enjoy.

Father Carlos knows María well. He has often talked with her after mass and he has spoken with her father and mother and knows the family intimately. He has asked that she might sing at the Easter Mass, as Cardinal Votilia will be attending and this is such a great honor for his little congregation that he wanted to bring forth the finest his little community has to offer. A Cardinal had never before visited the tiny village of Twin Sisters Knobs.

Nothing much ever happens in Twin Sisters Knobs. There is no police department, because there is no crime. Josh Riley is a deputy sheriff from Lincoln, the county seat of Pharse County, about forty miles away, and he drives by in his deputy's car at about noon each day. He always takes the same route, down Main Street through the business district three blocks and then left on Water Street past St. Mary Magdalene Church and over to Hall Road beyond where Anita Carrels' small house is located and then he steers quietly out of town. Anita moves her drawn blinds back and watches for Josh to drive by every day. When she sees him pass, she knows everything is all right in Twin Sisters Knobs.

There are several buildings which make up Main Street including Strums True Value Hardware Store, Booties Restaurant, the Post Office, Harries barbershop, and Steve's Live Bait and Tackle Shop. The oldest building is Strums True Value. Built in 1888 when the town was a trading post, it has wooden floors and cross beams fifteen feet high. Mayor Whitcome, mostly an honorary title, although he does collect $100 a year from the city treasury for his services, said that he believes Strums Hardware could be classified as an historical building. He aims to find out some day.

But it was in Strums True Value that the whole trouble started. As I mentioned before, there is no police force in Twin Sisters Knobs, so as a rule if there is a dispute or mean spirited argument of any kind it is generally taken to Father Carlos for a sound resolution. Now Paco Ocala is a man who enjoys making money. He came to this country twenty-five years ago without so much as a nickel in his pocket. He worked at the mill and saved his money and then he began buying and selling. He would buy anything he felt was under-priced and clean it up and sell it at a profit. He bought cars and tractors and chain saws and livestock and bush-hogs and he even bought a hot air balloon at a sale in Ames, Iowa one time. No buy was too small or too large, Paco would take a chance on anything. Paco had just returned from the county seat at a liquidation sale and the only thing he bought was a redheaded roster, for which he paid forty dollars. The auctioneer sold all the other animals in lots of fifty, but this single roster was sold on its own merits. The auctioneer said that this rooster was a 'Buckeye Red Baron' from Ohio where chickens grow to be as large as pigs. This special breading roster would double the egg production of any hen house in North America and its offspring would offer top price at the farm markets. Paco gladly paid the forty dollars and the auctioneer gave Paco this advice, he said Paco should carry the rooster around for a few days and even feed him from his own hand. "These are flighty birds," said the auctioneer, "and they must bond with their master if they are to produce."

So for the next three days Paco carried the bird with him everywhere he went. Wherever you saw Paco, you would see the Buckeye Red Baron tucked neatly under his arm. He even carried feed in his shirt pocket and would let the bird eat from his rough hand. It was in the hardware store that Al Morningcloud, a Native American who along with his four boys farmed over 600 acres of prime farmland just west of Twin Sisters Knobs, approached Paco. Part of Al's livelihood was the raising of chickens. His farm produced over a thousand birds a year. He had heard about the prized bird that Paco possessed and although he had never heard of the breed before he was very interested in this new rooster.

Paco explained to Al that the wonderful bird was not for sale. "I am considering buying a few dozen hens and starting my own chicken ranch, after all I have one of the rarest and most productive roosters in the country. I should do quite well."

"You know nothing about chickens!" Al was a bit excited. He did not like the idea of having competition in the county. "You would go broke in a month."

"Perhaps you are right Al, but then I consider that you have been successful and what do you know about anything! Surely, if a man of your limited talents can raise chickens I should have no trouble at all."

"You! Ha I should laugh. You could not care for chickens, you know nothing about feeding them or roosting them."

"What's to know, you throw the feed on the ground and call 'here chick chick’ and at night they find their way to the hen house and sleep. No, I think I would make an excellent chicken farmer and with my Buckeye Red Baron, I will have the largest eggs and the prodigy of all poultry in my own back yard."

"And what would you do for incubators and a veterinarian to look after your birds?"

"The same as you, my friend, I will hire it done."

Al Morningcloud looked defeated. He had come to offer Paco fifty dollars for the bird, if the bird met his expectations and the bird had certainly done that much. It was a handsome bird with brown feathers and a red crown that was as big as an apple. The bird was truly good stock and worth at least fifty dollars. But Al had his pride and was not going to make an offer on the bird after the way Paco had spoken to him. He started to leave just as Paco began to speak.
"Of course I may just sell the bird, after all I am very busy in my business. But if I did sell this prize, I would have to have a lot of money for it."

"Well, I agree it is a good-looking bird and I could possibly use another rooster in my flock. I'll tell you what, my friend, I will give you fifty dollars for the bird and you can go back to your business and forget about mine."

Fifty dollars is an insult! Why, I paid twice that for him at auction. No, no my friend, I could not take less than two hundred dollars for this animal. Besides I have always wanted to get into chicken farming, maybe the time is ripe."

"Paco, you are a fool if you paid one hundred dollars for a single bird. But you are a friend and I will try to help you out. I will give you one hundred dollars for the poor bird and you will not have lost anything."

"Thank you my friend for being so kind to old Paco, but I have time and effort built into this bird. And I had to buy feed for him too. I would sell him to you because you are such a good friend for $175.00."

Al Morningcloud thought this over for a moment. "$150.00 and you throw in the feed."

"Done," said Paco.
"Done," said Al.

Paco handed this bird to Al and offered this advice. "These are very flighty birds and for them to produce they must bond with their master, a sense of trust must be established. I would advise you to carry the bird around with you for a few days and even feed him from your own hand if you want him to be productive for you."

"Paco thanks for the advice, but I know something about roosters. I will put him in with the hens when I get home, after all that is where a rooster belongs."

But Al Morningcloud did not put the rooster in with his hens. He decided that Paco might be right, as this was a species he had never owned before, perhaps he should carry the bird for a few days and let him acclimate to his new home and master. And so as Al worked his fields and tended to his chickens he carried the rooster with him for several days. He even carried feed in his shirt pocket and fed the bird from his own hand. On the third day Al put his prized rooster into the chicken coup and watched to see what the rooster would do. The rooster did nothing.

An hour went by and still the bird did not move from the spot where Al had placed him. Occasionally the rooster would turn his head 180 degrees and then bring it back again and drop his beak to the ground and peck the dirt where there was no food. But the careful rooster did not move his feet and stood in the spot anchored to the ground. Al Morningcloud went into his house, he thought that perhaps the bird was disoriented after being held for three days and if he left the bird in peace he would then mingle with the hens. He returned two hours later and the rooster had not moved from the spot. Al knew something was not right. He decided to chase the rooster to get him to move and jump-start the bird into his new surroundings. Al ran toward the rooster like a wild animal in pursuit of game, but the rooster was stolid. Al knelt down to the bird and waved his hand in front of the bird and the rooster did not even blink. The poor bird was blind!

Al drove into Twin Sisters Knobs looking for Paco. He asked for him in Booties Restaurant where his daughter María, the girl with the angelic voice, worked part time. Paco was not there; he and his daughter were at church. María was practicing for Cardinal Votilia's visit tomorrow. It was just past 4:00 O'clock and time for the mass for the deaf. Father Carlos was signing, using his delicate hands, "In the name of The Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," when Al Morningcloud walked in carrying the rooster under his big arm. María was in the choir loft with Paco, she was singing Ava Maria and Paco, proud as a cock, sat there in the balcony listening to her. The deaf patrons could not hear the wonderful sounds from her perfect voice, but Anita Carrels, holding onto her blue bandana and sitting in the first pew, could hear everything as Al Morningcloud began to yell up at Paco in the choir loft.

"Paco I want my money back, you cheated me! This old rooster is blind as a sponge."

Father Carlos tried to balance this three-ring circus. In sign he said, "peace be with you all." But with his voice he sternly told Al Morningcloud to “get that damned bird out of my church!”

"I am sorry Father, but I will not be cheated and a church is no sanctuary for a liar."

Paco screamed down from the loft, as María was still singing, "A deal is a deal Al, take your bird and go home."

Anita Carrels draped her bandana over her eyes, she could not hold onto reality any longer, her nerves were broken, her pastor was yelling from the pulpit something about birds that made no sense to her, and Paco was screaming about birds from the balcony. And María's voice became like clay in sound. Anita started to wail louder than she had ever cried before. The deaf patrons went on with their mass, unaware of the war that was going on around them. Father Carlos intended to sign with his hands, "Offer each other a sign of peace." But he said it out loud instead, and with his venerating hands he told his congregation, " I'll strangle your bird if you don't get out of hear!" In unison, the twenty or so patrons dropped their jaws and then a venerable forest of fingers started talking excitingly to one another as Father Carlos looked down at his tiny congregation and realized what he had done. "No. No." He signed with his fingers. "I did not mean to say anything about your chickens, I mean, I am sorry, I will explain later."

María had stopped singing, and Paco and Al Morningcloud had settled down. There was absolute silence in the little church. And then a most amazing thing happened: Anita Carrels rose to her feet and began singing Ava Maria from where María had left off. Her voice was like that of a Celestial spirit, her sound enlivened each wall of the small cathedral, and her voice rivaled that of María's. The sadness of all those many tears had left her and she soared like a bird.

After the services Paco and Al and Father Carlos met in Father's study. It was decided that Paco would return $110.00 of the money and Al would keep the Buckeye Red Baron. To this day Al Morningcloud carries the bird with him everywhere he goes neatly tucked under his arm. He tells any who will listen about his wonderful bird. They have bonded.

The next day Cardinal Votilia came to the Sunday 10:00 am mass and heard two lovely voices sing Ava Maria. After services the Cardinal and the priest went to Father Carlos' house for a Sunday chicken dinner. Anita Carrels walked home and drew her blinds back and watched as Deputy Sheriff Josh Riley drove past her small house on Hall Road, and she knew that everything was all right again in Twin Sisters Knobs.

© 2004 Mike Ingles
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Mike Ingles is a freelance writer living in Ohio. He has a degree in American Literature from Franklin University, Columbus, Ohio. He has published stories in SCR and other periodicals.