Boast and Roast: Tales of a Foreign Rooster

ONE of the TV shows had to do with a macaw worth $1,000. Although I'm familiar with poultry, I had to look that one up. A macaw is a big parrot with brilliant foliage and a harsh voice. I had never heard of a bird that ran to money like that; the biggest price I knew of was the $50 my father tried to promote from a Dominique rooster that had been to Australia. My father was for many years the president of the National American Dominique Club, and there were three other members - one in Nova Scotia and two in Connecticut. The Dominique is - or was - the ``little speckled hen'' and in my father's time was limited in importance to the lingering ``poultry shows.''

Dad was forever shipping crates of Dominiques to these shows, and while he got blue ribbons and a few cash prizes the winnings never met expenses. He was a ``buff,'' and fame and satisfaction his reward. One rooster went to Madison Square Garden and won ``best show.'' The prize for this was a $20 hat.

The Knox hat was tops, to wax poetical, and Dad wore that hat with pride all his days. In those days, $20 would buy groceries for a family of ten for a month. Dad showed it to the boys he ran into at the dump, and at the post office, and the barber shop, and it lent a classy air to milking the cows. Now and then he would hose it down and block it on a fence post, and since a Knox hat had basic quality, it came out of this nettoyage nicely.

All he got from Australia was a certificate. In those times birds and animals could be sent by railway express. You put the beastie in a crate and tied on a bag of feed and the express people would caretake along the route.

The International Poultry Congress was coming up at Melbourne, and Dad crated his finest Dominique rooster about six weeks ahead of time and off he went. Port out, starbird (sic) home, you might say, and this would be Maine's most traveled rooster. Dad nailed the certificate on the wall over the grain chest, and would point out the rooster if anybody wanted to see him.

When this Australian rooster became elderly, there came a letter from a gentleman in Grants Pass, Oregon, who inquired if he might buy a Dominique cock. His happy little harem had lately been widowed, and he had inquired quite a good deal without success in finding a replacement. Evidently, he wrote, Dominiques are hard to find. He would like to see his bereft biddies remarried, and might he have the favor of a reply?

My father took down a sheet of the stationery he sported as president of the National American Dominique Club, and after expressing condolences for the ladies concerned he wrote that he chanced to have the champion Dominique rooster from the World Poultry Congress in Melbourne, and he was available at the ridiculously low price of just $50, express collect.

The gentleman in Grants Pass replied at once. He thanked my father, and said that his grief at the loss of his rooster, and the assuagement of the sorrow in his henyard did not entail quite that much money, and he remained, yours truly.

About two weeks later he prepared this superannuated rooster for Sunday dinner in the usual manner, and after my mother parboiled him for three days he roasted rather well and wasn't all that chewy. Now and then my father would work a conversation so he could tell how fine a table he set at his house - ``...there was one Sunday dinner when the poultry, alone, spoiled $50!''

When I was maybe 13 I took up ``poultry management'' for my 4-H Club project, and Dad let me have a henhouse for my own. I started with 25 Rhode Island Reds, and brought them through their first winter so I was a state champ. Then that summer I sold bucksaw blades and introduced a new note to the business.

Every farmer had a dull bucksaw, and almost every prospect gave me a dollar for a new, sharp blade. But if money were tight, or reluctance showed, I'd shrug my shoulders and say, ``All right, seein's it's you, take a blade and give me a hen.'' On the farm, no hen was worth a dollar and the farmer was happy to trade. But when inserted amongst my 4-H flock, my bucksaw hens took on a meat-market value; every week Mr. Magoon would let me know how many hens to dress for him. At better than a dollar each.

I had to pay a machine shop in Bangor 25 cents apiece for the blades. About macaws, I don't know - but there was the man who had a bulldog worth $10,000. He got his, too - he swapped the dog for two $5,000 cats.

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