My Old Uncle Tommy Pays Me a Visit
(The Ballad of Bad-Ass Bob)
I wrote this piece as a writing exercise, in response to the prompt: “If I had my way. . .” It is a fictionalized re-telling of a story my Uncle Tommy told me, from the days when he was a “young buck.” (I’ve never seen a cockfight, so have no idea whether my imagined fight scene is even remotely authentic.)
Aw man, that sun feels good on my ol’ bones! Garden’s lookin’ real good. Them purty little cabbages and lettuces—look like jewelry laid out on one of them velvet cloths in a jewelry shop, you know? Baby goats’re frisky, ain’t they? It’s a caution how they jump about, right from day one. My, that’s a fine looking rooster—wha’d you say that was again? Well Summer? Never heard of it, must be pedigree. The chickens we always had was just barnyard mutts—dozen all-color hens and a mean-eyed rooster or two, struttin’ around lookin’ for poontang.
Minds me when I was a young buck, younger’n you. Me and my cousin Toby was haulin’ some sacks o’ meal and feed back from the mill in my daddy’s wagon. Ole’ man McGee come runnin’ out to the road when we passed his place, holding a carryin’ coop.
"Hey, Toby, hold up," he said, puffin’ away—he was on the paunchy side. "Jeb Childers is gon’ borry this here rooster off me. He’ll be over your place by sundown. Big fight over to Bynum’s tonight. I cain’t take ’im, ’cause Annabelle’s mother’s sick over by Hamlet. Jeb’s gonna fight ’im for me. Now, you boys be careful with that rooster—that’s my A-One champeen!"
"Oh yeah, Mr. McGee," Toby promised. "We’ll take real good care of him."
After awhile we come on Charlie McManus walkin’ down the road. He hopped up on the wagon. "Hey, that’s a fighting rooster!" he declared, looking in the coop. "Who’s he belong to?"
"McGee!" Charlie spat out the name real bitter. "Well, if I had my way, you could cut the balls off that there rooster! Far’s I’m concerned, you can just eff-you-see-kay the honorable Caleb McGee!"
"Why’s ’at?" asked Toby with his eyebrows up, all innocent.
"Hummmph!" was all Charlie cared to say. Me and Toby looked at each other and grinned. Ever’body knowed they was bad blood between Charlie and ol’ man McGee, on account of McGee’s daughter Lucille. I guess McGee didn’t like it when Charlie come, you know, sniffin’ around. McGee called him all kinds of lowlife, and ordered him off the place. Prob’ly half the things he said was true—and that woulda really lit ole’ Charlie’s fuse, I reckon!
Toby went all quiet and broody for awhile. Now Toby was a good sort, not a mean bone in his body. But he was a natural-born prankster. If he could see some way to slip a sneaky on you, it was like he couldn’t help but do it. When we come to Vernon Goodman’s place, he flicked the reins and turned the mule down the lane.
"Where you goin’?" Charlie wanted to know—but Toby just smiled a wait ’n see smile and leaned on his elbows. When we got down to the house he whistled at Vernon and hopped down. Me and Charlie stayed in the wagon—no idea what Toby was up to. He talked with Vernon half a minute, then the two of them went off. Toby come back in a few minutes, carryin’ a pint Mason jar with something kind of cloudy and fizzy in it. He climbed back in the wagon on the other end of the seat.
"You take the reins, Tommy," he told me.
"Whatcha got there?" asked Charlie.
"Some of Vernon’s persimmon beer," Toby laughed. "That stuff’ll tickle your toenails!"
"Well hell," Charlie sneered, "’at ain’t enough for three—it ain’t even enough for me!" We knew that Charlie kind of liked his snort.
"It ain’t for you, knucklehead," Toby chuckled, "it’s for this guy!" And with that he opened the coop’s trap and took out McGee’s champeen rooster. Oh my, how he shined in the sun! That was one good-lookin’ fighting rooster!
Toby made Charlie open that jar of hooch and pour some in the lid. Then he offered it to the rooster. And would you believe it, the ol’ boy loved that stuff! He couldn’t get enough! He just kept drinkin’ and drinkin’—and by the time we got home he’d drank the whole pint!
Now we had a bunch o’ chickens, like I told you—hens scratchin’ about and leavin’ something a boy might step in, and a couple o’ scrappy roosters. But they was a little bantam rooster around, just showed up one day. We called him Bad-Ass Bob. Leastways that’s what we called him when Mama wasn’t about. If she was in earshot, he was Bad Boy Bob. Anyway, he was the meanest little s.o.b. this side o’ Georgia! He was king o’ the roost from day one! Why, after that first day, our two roosters decided to forget their differences and gang up on Bad-Ass—and I kid you not, he whipped both their butts good fashion! Man, talk about mean!
Soon as the wagon rolled in the barnyard, Toby caught ol’ Bad-Ass’s eye and held up McGee’s rooster. Bad-Ass look like you shoved a ’lectric plug up his butt! The McGee rooster was lookin’ droopy-eyed, and makin’ a purry noise like a cat. Guess he was purty tanked on that hooch! Toby throwed him right out in the yard. Ol’ Bad-Ass was on him like flies on cow flop! Before he could even stagger to his feet, Bad-Ass hit ’im. He squawked like a binding skill saw and lit out under the rabbit hutch. Bad-Ass flushed him out and was on ’im again. Boy, it look like that McGee rooster had nineteen legs, wings goin’ like a windmill! He couldn’t move fast enough or stay hid deep enough to get away from ol’ Bad-Ass, comin’ on like a buzz saw. Finally he got wedged up real tight under the harrow where Bad-Ass couldn’t get at him. That’s when Toby rescued him and put ’im back in the coop—he didn’t want him all mangled-looking.
He was in his coop lookin’ none the worse for wear, when Jeb Childers come by around supper time to pick him up, and take him over to the Bynum fight.
Now you know my daddy was a preacher, and he didn’t hold with no rooster fighting. But me and Toby, no way was we gonna miss that fight! So we told Pa we was goin’ sparkin’ with some girls over by Cordova. We met Charlie by the steel bridge, and got to Jeremy Bynum’s place just before the fight. They was a coupla dozen guys, easy. The hooch was goin’ around pretty free, I guess, and some heavy money was on the table. They said Jeb had plunked down an awful big wad of bills for McGee on his rooster. And since that rooster was known as the best fighter anywhere miles around, he was set in the ring first. Man, what a purty sight—like a piece o’ the sunrise! Colored like that rooster of yours, them flaming red hackles and them sickles curved out behind like an old timey scythe. Not as big, of course—them game roosters never are. But his eye just flashed as he drew hisself up and come out with a real sassy crow. Then he started stiff-legging around, like he was for sure the big boss of the barnyard.
Then they put in the Bynum rooster. He give him the eye and started doing them stubby little kicks a rooster does just before the attack. McGee’s bird got all stiff and glary hisself—but then this real confused look come in his eye. And when the Bynum rooster charged on him, he just flipped around and high-tailed it right out o’ the ring!
They was some hootin’ and laughin’, but most guys was ready to give the McGee rooster the benefit of the doubt. Even the best rooster will lose his nerve now and again; and then maybe come back and whip the daylights out of anything they put up against him the rest of the night. So they put McGee’s bird back in the ring. Fact is, they put him up against ever rooster there, musta been a dozen or so. And ever time they put in the other rooster, all the McGee rooster could see was ol’ Bad-Ass comin’ at ’im, and he’d skedaddle outa there like a scalded dog!
We heard next day that as soon as McGee got his A-One champeen back and found out about the fight, he wrung that rooster’s neck right there on the spot! Then he went out in his pens and done the same to ever bird, rooster or hen, that was outa that rooster—musta been the better part of his stock!
But you know, now I think about it, I guess maybe Toby and me wasn’t so smart. If we’da been smart, we woulda won us some serious money—takin’ ol’ Bad-Ass Bob over to Bynum’s, one Saturday night!