Enjoy these Front Porch Moments from Bill and share your favorites with your family and friends. He'd love to meet you at Front Porch ice cream events. Oh, and by the way, his favorite flavor is Nana’s Banana Pudding.
Children and animals are always a curious combination. Sometimes wary of each other as they become acquainted, they cautiously try to find out what the other is like from a distance. When I was a very young boy, I lived with my grandmother on her farm in Chadbourn each summer. One summer I decided that I wanted to learn more about chickens and to do so I needed a closer inspection than just my observation from the porch. The chickens had full run of the yard; no hen house for these “free-range” birds.
Trying to catch a chicken is a task that requires some stealth and a certain amount of strategic planning. An eight-year old boy, by nature, is not very stealthy. He blunders and plunges into whatever he is engaged in. So to capture my intended subject of study I had to build an enclosure. Using tobacco sticks (wooden sticks about four feet long used to hang green tobacco in the curing barn) I formed a pen in one corner of the barn. I placed a handful of corn inside the pen as bait. The chicken responded to the bait and I ran gleefully in to the little pen to catch one of the chickens. The ensuing melee scattered the chickens and the tobacco sticks. However, through sheer luck I got one of the chickens.
Upon close inspection I found nothing extraordinary about the chicken, at least, nothing that I had not already observed from the porch. What I needed was to study the chicken in a different environment, primarily to determine something unique about them. I had seen ducks swimming in the pond down in the field and wondered if chickens could swim like ducks.
I didn’t want to turn the chicken loose in the pond since retrieval would be difficult, so I dropped the flapping fowl down the well. It was what we called a “hand-dug” well, an open hole in the ground that gathered water which we retrieved by lowering a bucket down on a windlass.
I hasten to conclude the description of this incident by telling you that chickens cannot swim and retrieval of a dead, wet chicken from a well is ample punishment for the deed. My uncle attached a rope under my armpits and lowered me into the well and pulled me back up with the drowned chicken. My grandmother did not think that was ample punishment since the well, the sole source of drinking water, was “fouled” and had to be closed for several days. She believed in the old-fashioned corporal punishment which she administered with reluctant but sufficient authority.
I tell all this as a preamble to a much gentler encounter with animals. That same summer I lived with my grandmother, I became friends with her dog: a big, yellow canine of unknown pedigree named Thomas. Thomas was amiable, not afraid of people at all. In fact, he sought out the company of humans. We, Thomas and I, shared the summer exploring the farm. At night he would sleep beside my bed.
As with the chicken, I was curious about the dog. I watched him chase squirrels, scratch himself, sniff out rats under the barn, bark at strangers who came in the yard and chase me across the fields and pastures. He ate scraps from the dinner table and I fed him some dry dog food about once a week.
I wondered if he would lap up milk like a cat. So I placed a saucer of milk in front of him and he sniffed it, promptly put his foot on the saucer and turned it over. That indicated to me that dogs, at least that one, don’t like milk.
However, a few days later my grandmother served ice cream for dessert at the Sunday dinner. I sat at the children’s table with my cousins. When I was served my ice cream, Thomas put his head in my lap and wagged his tail vigorously. I ate half of the ice cream and gave the other half to Thomas. He was my friend and friends share.
I still like dogs better than chickens.
About Bill Thompson
For over 40 years, Bill Thompson has traveled the Carolinas delighting folks with his commentary on Southern staples: food, farming, music, family and neighbors. He's been the master of ceremonies for hundreds of events celebrating the things that make the South special - from the Hollering Contest in Spivey's Corner to the Wolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, the Grits Festival in South Carolina, and he's even judged a sweet tea contest in Georgia. In the process, he's had the chance to meet some fine Southerners and hear their own stories. He's authored three books, one named, "Sweet Tea, Fried Chicken and Lazy Dogs: A Reflection of North Carolina Life."