Havoc In Motion
By Jay White
When Mama was eleven years old she taught her pet chicken to walk backward. It was a black, bandy hen with delicate curly-down feathers from its elbows to its toenails, which items Mama had painted with pink fingernail polish. Grampaw and I were down at the tank fishing and he was telling me about it.
“Well, sir,” Grampaw said, knocking his pipe out on the pine stump that was his fishing seat, “nobody knows how your mama done it.” He said this squinting into the bowl of the pipe to see if there was any fire left inside. Satisfied he wasn’t about to self- immolate, he tucked the pipe in the bib pocket of his overalls and pulled in his line to see if his bait (piece of liver) was still on “…But it took her a solid year. That little tow-headed gal would go off with her pet under her arm and a look on her face and stay all day in the meadow behind the barn. It was a secret, don’cha see?”
I said I did see, so he went on. “Then one morning I was feeding the shoats–just standing there shaking out slops, and blamed if that little hen didn’t just come a-wandering around the side of the pig pen backward, singing her sweetest song, and that was that.”
“Well, I swan,” I said.
“If the bidnis had ended right there, why, nobody would have thought much of it, but it didn’t, and so here come old tragedy.”
“What happened, Grampaw?”
“Well, all the other chickens on the place got to watching that little bandy hen walking around backwards getting all the attention. When word got out there was a backward-walking chicken on the place, neighbors stopped by to see it, naturally. Even folks from town come driving by real slow with their faces stuck out the windows of their automobiles to see if they could spot that backward-walking chicken.”
“…As I say though,” Grampaw went on, “when them other chickens saw what a hit she was, they commenced trying to ape her—Lordy! them big ol’ fumblebutt chickens was falling over sideways, getting their legs all tangled up, running into stumps and posts and one another and just generally causing havoc on the place; but then, one after another, blamed if they didn’t start to get it! And, before you could scratch a chigger, ever dern bird on the place was walking around backwards just as if that was what God intended in the first place.”
“What happened then?”
“Oh, the hoopla died down after awhile. But then in the fall of that year the cows came up at milking time one evening and two of them walking backward and I knew the little black hen had to go.”
“What did you tell Mama?”
“I told her a possum got it.”