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By Bill Hoagland
As a child, did you have a pet that you were especially attached to and for whatever reason, you were so endeared to that pet that you always wished, in later life, that you could have another one just like that childhood companion? And for a lot of reasons—marriage, kids, jobs, moving, and so on– that wish to reunite with the same type of critter just wasn’t going to happen. But what if it did?
When our son, Joe, was about 10 years old, he wanted some chickens and a rooster. So he ordered 50 chicks and a rooster from one of those chicken mail order places and this brood, after being mailed to us in a large pizza box, was kept at Annie’s barn along with the rest of our critters. For whatever reason, Joe became very attached to the rooster, which he named “Usty”. “Usty” was a “banty” rooster. I absolutely hated “Usty”. It seemed that every time I was at the barn, “Usty” would attack me, especially when I turned my back and could not see what was coming.
“Usty” obviously did not know where I fit in the food chain.
That Christmas, we had a severe drop in temperature Christmas Eve—somewhere south of zero actually. On Christmas morning, we took the kids with us to Annie’s barn at daylight to feed the animals before going home to unwrap presents and so on. When we arrived at the barn, “Usty” was found outside the front door of the barn, frozen solid. I could not help but notice that his beak that he used so often to attack me was actually frozen in the open position. Was he in the attack mode when the cold front hit?
Joe of course was heart-broken, but not me. I was wondering who upstairs I should thank for this frozen Christmas present. Yes, there was a burial with all the trimmings a few days later when the ground thawed, but fortunately, Joe did not press us to get him another rooster. But it was on his mind for a long, long time.
Fast forward to 2021. Joe is living in Calhoun County at this point. It seems that for the past year, there had been a rooster running around loose in the Village of Hardin. No one knows exactly how he got there. Although he had a regal look about him, he was homeless just the same, apparently living off of left-overs that people in Hardin gave him. They also gave him the nickname of “Fred”. How in the world Fred had managed to stay out of someone’s frying pan is a mystery to me. One day, when Joe just happened to be in Hardin, Joe’s daughter told him that a dog had just caught Fred and had him pinned in the creek next to Rull Brothers. So Joe jumped down into the creek and pulled Fred away from the dog, put him in his truck and took him home.
Today, Fred is doing just fine, thank you very much. He has his little flock of hens to boss around at Joe’s farm and he is definitely enjoying the good life. And Joe, whether he wants to admit it or not, achieved that dream that so many of us have to reunite with that special pet that we had as a kid when things were much more innocent.
• Bill Hoagland has practiced law in Alton for more than 50 years, but he has spent more than 70 years hunting, fishing and generally being in the great outdoors. His wife, Annie, shares his love of the outdoor life. Much of their spare time is spent on their farm in Calhoun County. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.