What is a 'right of passage'? I dunno how many stories I've seen where the hero or heroine starts out as a child - goes through some life-changing and often traumatic event - and emerges as a man or a woman. How does that work? Now that I turn my meagre intellect on it - this is nothing new. I never went through any right of passage. Fact is I'm 51 years old now and I still haven't grown up! By the time I get around to it - assuming Darwin or Murphy don't pot me first - I'll probably be lawn food!
What is a right of passage?
A lot of the most interesting bloggers I follow come from 'the wrong side of the tracks' like Uncle Bob. I grew up on a hobby farm run by middle/upper middle class parents and never wanted for anything. Others are patriots like Wirecutter and Brad Torgersen that have done time in the military and have seen the human animal at it's best and worst. Still others are guys like BW that are intrepid explorers or hobbyists that are interesting and engaging people. What rights of passage made those guys the men they are?
A hobby farm is hardly the place for a young man to test himself or define his limits. I suspect my childhood home was much like Chicken Mom's. We had dogs, horses, chickens and a garden, and Mom and Pop kept the property neat as a pin.
Chickens on the deck!? If you drop your bubblegum you are best advised to leave it. Do not ask me how I know this.
I had a bunch of bantam chickens and a few Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks. The hatcheries gave the breeds fancy names like "Red Sussex" and "Plymouth Rocks" and the hell of it was that they were not only good egg layers, they were also personable and charming as hell. If you had lunch at the picnic table in the back yard, my birds would invite themselves and had no issues with picking at whatever was on your plate, or pecking at your shins below the table to get handouts or attention.
It was an idyllic way to grow up. One day, when I was 12 or 13 I came home to find the neighbour's huskies in our yard. We didn't have a dog of our own at that point, nobody tied theirs up in our subdivision - so I often confiscated the neighbours' dogs for the day to play with and returned them at night. It wasn't unusual to find them waiting for me at the bus stop after school. These dogs belonged to the new yuppy neighbours in the grandest acreage in our subdivision around the bend. The dogs were usually friendly as could be but that day - they had places to be, I guess. I found out why a couple minutes later when I went out to feed the chickens and do my chores.
The dogs had gotten in to the hen house and killed every last bird I had. I was heart broken. Soon mom was out there with my big brother flapping and chattering and my brother was grumbling - and I found myself seized with a cold fury I had never experienced before. Quietly I slipped away and went in the house and pulled down Pop's shotgun. I was almost in a trance as I broke open a box of shells and put them in my pocket. Nobody noticed as walked away, down our long driveway. Excitement like this was unusual around the farm.
I found the huskies on the doorstep of their owners' house. The owners hadn't come home yet. There was a shell in the cheap single shot; all I had to do was pull back the hammer, aim, and shoot. The dogs panted and sat there unconcerned. They still had blood on their muzzles. Two shots. Easy.
I couldn't do it, of course. Dogs are foolish people at best, and these ones had not the slightest idea what they had done. Shooting them would have accomplished nothing. Sometime later the owners drove up and got out of the Benz uncertainly, wondering why the neighbour's kid was on their doorstep with a gun, petting their dogs. I let the husband take the gun, and he quickly went in the house to call my parents. His young wife almost wept when I explained that I was there to kill their dogs and my reasons for it. She asked if she could pay for the birds but I refused. I explained that tt would be a personal favour for me if she would either chain or pen her dogs up in the future though. It wasn't a lie to say some of the other landowners would have shot them on sight and thought nothing of it.
When Pop came home he was ready to tear me a new one. You don't grab guns and threaten neighbours in this family...but ironically they saved my bacon and came to my defense. They stopped by to apologize again for what had happened and explained to my Dad that I had actually conducted myself as a perfect gentleman. That day I didn't care either way - I had lost all interest in anything and grieved the way children do.
Was that a right of passage? At the time I would have said that I failed it, but now as a bigger kid looking back it was the closest I can think of coming to a real 'right of passage'. There are times when I think of the incredibly sheltered, coddled life I've led and I envy the bloggers I read sometimes. I also worry that if I ever were truly tested as those men have been...how would I fare?
The next day I was out chopping wood when I heard some clucking on the other side of the woodpile. Wedged tight in between the logs was my little bantam rooster - we called him The Boss.
All he needs is a pocket watch and a cigar...
Somehow he and a little red bantam hen had survived The Great Filthie Farm Massacre by hiding out in the woodpile while their flock was slaughtered. Ironically they were the first two chickens we ever had too - 'borrowed' from good friends. It must have been hell for the poor things.
We eventually got more chickens. The Boss and the little red hen were later 'chicken napped'. One day after school I came home to find the neighbour's little girl headed down our driveway with her wagon in tow. On board, she had The Boss, the little red hen and a few other bantams in rolled up paper grocery bags. She was about four or five and wasn't really aware that she was stealing - but I had her wait, grabbed a few boxes and put the birds in those - and sent her on her way. I was older now, and chickens were just chickens and not pampered pets. Those birds would be better off with her than me, I reasoned. Her father was furious when he later tried to return them and my Dad refused to take them. It was the start of a good friendship between the men and I suppose I had played a part.
Was that a right of passage? What is a right of passage? Did you have one...?