Old MacDonald would have loved these farms

'I'll be home all afternoon," Mary Alice said when I phoned about picking up a book. "Come over any time."

Mary Alice lives on a farm about 10 miles from my place. A few minutes later, I swung into her dooryard at the top of Smart's Hill and peered out the car window; but I didn't open the door. For there, standing in the snow in front of the side door was - could it be? - a huge white turkey with a red wattle and a beak covered by a flap of red skin.

This larger-than-a-rooster turkey appeared even more daunting than the free-roaming rooster at my hairdresser's house that she has to shoo away when I arrive for a haircut.

With that memory fresh in thought, I paused until Mary Alice, bundled in her winter jacket, a bag in hand and a smile on her face, emerged from the house.

"He's a powder puff," she called, "a real family pet. Wouldn't harm a baby. Stanley's his name," she said by way of introduction. Stanley followed her over to the car, in that picky way fowls have of walking.

I opened the car door to greet him properly (Stanley, that is) as his head jerked back and forth inquisitively, wattle flapping rhythmically. He appeared to be slowly processing this encounter of mistress with car and occupant.

Mary Alice explained that her daughter and son-in-law had won the turkey at Thanksgiving time, but had no place to keep such a prize and no intention of roasting him. So Mary Alice and her husband became his owners by default. Barnyard "pets" seem to be the norm here in Maine, but I'm discovering that some of them go beyond the barnyard.

A number of years ago at Dot Kilgore's Windy Hill Farm, probably six or seven miles from Mary Alice's as the crow flies, a whole menagerie of critters meandered about the premises. No zoo equalled the personality and appeal of that farm with its array of cattle, donkeys, mules, horses, pigs, and fowls, coexisting much as the animals in Noah's ark must have.

I made it a point to visit there with the children at least once each season. Roger, the bearded farmhand and logger, always greeted us.

"Where's Billy?" I asked Roger one time after we'd exchanged greetings. Bantam hens, exotic chickens, Rhode Island Red roosters, Peking ducks, and just plain geese pecked at the packed earth around our feet as we stood in the barnyard. Our eyes followed Roger's extended arm.

In the pasture was Billy, a goat, of course, balancing on his hind legs. He was reaching for half-ripened apples on a solitary apple tree. Roger led us through the makeshift gate created from the headboard of an old iron bed. We passed King, the gray gelding who looked at us passively. A cow with curved horns, which made her look like the one that jumped over the moon, continued grazing.

Roger shook the tree, and Billy cavorted with delight, grabbing apples that fell, jaws rotating as he chewed these orbed delights, looking at us in a noncommittal way with his almond-shaped eyes.

"Old Billy here was the only flop in the Lovell Old Home Week Parade," said Roger. "He couldn't take the hard pavement. We trained the ponies on the tarred road, but we forgot about poor Billy. Anyway, he told us in his own way. He just took himself out of the parade and stepped onto the grass! But we won first prize anyway.

"The judges said that anyone who could coordinate 30 youngsters and the number of animals we bring to the parade with complete harmony deserved the prize."

Billy butted us gently but firmly from behind as we walked across the pasture, and he followed us through the rather precarious gate. As we bid Roger goodbye, Grandma, another member of the household, appeared from between the tack room and the old barn. She walked across the busy barnyard, flapping her apron at the bevy of feathered creatures crowding around her.

Billy shifted his attention to her. She stepped onto the granite slab below the doorsill and pulled open the screen door. Billy was sticking to her like bark to a tree now, and into the house he went, right on her heels. The children squealed with delight.

We watched for a minute, expecting to see him ignominiously ejected from the house. One minute turned to two, but there was no sign of Billy - or of Grandma. "Old Billy, he's just another member of the family," Roger said, as if answering our unspoken question.

Mary Alice handed me the book and returned to the house, followed by Stanley. When she reached the door, she turned and with a big grin called, "Watch this!"

She held the storm door with one hand and pushed open the inside door with the other. Stanley gingerly approached, paused at the granite doorstep, flapped his wings to gain sufficient lift to scale the step, and strode inside. "He's just like family," was Mary Alice's parting comment.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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