Every now and then I just write in this blog for the enjoyment of telling a story. This is the story of a chicken named Jerome.
Jerome came to be as part of an experiment in my high school sophomore biology class. The experiment involved injecting growth hormones into several fertilized chicken eggs. One egg, Jerome’s, hatched out early that spring. What emerged was more or less this super chicken. Within a very short time, Jerome began to strut, crow, and gain weight. He soon surpassed any of the non-injected eggs hatchlings and was becoming a handful for the biology lab. Eventually fearing that he would break out of the lab and terrorize the rest of my high school, the biology teacher suggested that someone needed to take him home or he would have to be dealt with. Being the farm kid in the class and part of the team that had created this problem, I was soon tasked with finding Jerome his new home.
Within a week or so of getting him placed in our hen house on the farm, he was quite literally ruling the roost. His flock of hens cowered in the corner every time he began his strut. It became apparent that he would need his own coop and so he was relegated to an old chicken coop with an outside penned area for him to strut his stuff. This is when he determined that he could fly and soon flew the coop. We found him the next day, firmly re-entrenched in the hen house, ruling his ladies from the roost. This was now time for desperate measures. Jerome’s wings would be clipped.
Our first attempt proved fruitless and he again flew the coop and returned to the hen house. After two more clippings he was finally grounded, or at least flightless. So how was it that we found him the next morning back in the hen house? We would need to become spies. Within minutes of him believing we had left, he made his escape, not by flying but rather by literally using his beak and claws to scale the chicken wire of his coop. It was at this point that my dad threw up his hands and said “we tried, he won.” Jerome was a free bird, truly a range free chicken well before his time.
Jerome soon became infamous. He not only ruled the hen house by night, but he ruled the entire farm by day. Exaggeration at this point would be, well, pointless. Jerome so scared the locals, that the mailman, if he had to drop off a package, would honk the horn for us to come get the mail. There was no way he was going to leave the safety of his vehicle while Jerome strutted back and forth on the hood, stopping occasionally to beat on the windshield with his stubby wings. We would race out, wrangle Jerome off the vehicle and then and only then would the driver step out. At one point, while having a new TV antennae installed on our second story farmhouse, the installer very nearly fell off the roof when to his sheer horror Jerome stood inches away from him beating his wing threateningly on the roof line ridge. It was discovered later, that Jerome had found the installer’s ladder and leveraged himself up to the rooftop. The farm and surrounding buildings were his turf and he would beat back any attempt at a siege by his imagined attackers. If you couldn’t stand up to him, you were at his mercy.
And so it went around our farm that summer. But there was one person not willing to bow to his authority. My grandmother lived with us in the farmhouse and each morning, after breakfast had been cleared, she would take the table scraps out to the barnyard where they would be disposed of. This required a long walk across the front lawn and driveway and then out to the barnyard. What ensued each and every time was a battle royale between my grandma and Jerome. Jerome would meet her at the door and block her way by menacing her with the now famous wing beating technique he had mastered. She would eventually give him a kick and he would swing around and re-engage. Eventually, my grandmother would take her cane, tiring of this constant parrying, and use it like a golf club. Jerome would be knocked sideways rolling across the ground only to get back up and rejoin the fight. This sparring would go on all the way out and all the way back. None of us were sure if either one of them had won, but it was obvious that both persevered. In Jerome’s view, this was a battle to the death. Every day offered a new chance to finally settle this turf dispute.
Fortunately for our family, my grandma outlived Jerome by a great many years. Jerome would meet his end in battle, but not on my grandma’s battlefield. Each evening, Jerome would return to the hen house where unbeknownst to us, he was now standing guard over his ladies. One morning, late that fall, we arrived at the hen house to collect the eggs, only to find a weasel lying in the doorframe. It was clear that he had been in a battle for his life that it had not ended well for him. Alarmed at what destruction we might find inside, we were surprised to see all of our hens alive and well. It was only on closer inspection that we saw him. He had retired to the back of the chicken house where he had apparently succumbed to his injuries, but not before saving his wards. Jerome, the terrorizer of so many, had died a hero.
Before you mourn his passing, understand that as I think back on this tough old bird, I can think of no better way for him to go than in the fight of his life. I can only imagine how into the battle he must have been. He had finally found, other than my grandma, someone who offered him a challenge. Jerome was a fighter, and to go out in a blaze of glory has made his story worth telling, and that story has been told and retold within our family so many times over the years. Had he just withered away of old age, where would be his fame? Jerome was a chicken who was never chicken. Jerome was a fighter, persistent is his right to rule and defiant to anyone who thought he was wrong. When the cause is worth the fight, may we all be so willing to stand our ground. Just be prepared if you take on a Jerome.