The Chicken Catcher

Inspired by Kevin Skinner

by Marisa Porter, (C) Marisa Porter 2013

When the boy with the Kicks, baseball cap, and apparent lack of belt heard the first few notes of the twangy song come on, he irritably bolted upright, switched off the radio, then buried his face in the pillow again with an incoherent grumble.

“What’s the matter, son.” Said the big man in workman’s clothes. “Don’t like a little bit of country?”

A grunt was the only answer he heard from Eric. He didn’t know that a few days before Eric had told a classmate, “I do not have relatives in Kentucky.”

There was a silence and then Dad tried again. “You know I’ve been really looking forward to this week, and so has Uncle Troy. You’re kind of like a son to him.”

Only silence this time.

“You know we’re only ten minutes from Watergap, Kentucky.”

“Great. I’m about to throw up.”

The SUV pulled into a long driveway. “Is this a road or a driveway?” Said the now sitting up Eric.

“It’s a holler. Say, I expect you to be really helpful to your uncle Troy while we’re here.”

“Yeah, great way to spend a summer vacation.”

“It’s not your whole summer vacation. It’s only a week. Now be polite and smile.”

But Eric did not know how to react to the big bear hug Troy gave him, or the uncut hair or the smell of horse barn.

“Hey Eric, look at you! Almost all growed up like your father. Except…you…you look more like your mother, in your face.”

Eric’s mother had been Troy’s sister. Eric resented that Troy acted like his loss was almost as great as his and his father’s. She was his mother.

“So you hungry? Hash browns and ham in the house.”

After a good hardy southern meal, which Eric actually enjoyed very much but tried not to show, Troy and his dad went out to the barn for the afternoon of work.

Mucking out barns was not this boy’s thing. “What does this have to do with what I want to be when I grow up?” He called to his Dad when his Uncle had stepped outside for a minute.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“A rapper.”

“It’ll teach you character and hard work Eric.”

“But what does it have to do with–.”

“Just work, Eric.”

Eric stuck his headphones in his ears and tried to work on his moves while he simultaneously tried to look busy.

They soon figured out it would take more than one afternoon. The next day after more hash browns and ham they were at it bright and early. Eric was scared of the horses, but Troy showed him some ways to get acquainted that would not spook them. Soon they were eating apples and carrots out of his hand.

“Do you think I can go riding once we’re done?” He asked.

“Thought you hated horses,” said his dad.

“You help with all the chores and we’ll find a horse that won’t buck you off,” said Troy.

The next day it was fence post digging. “I’ve got a couple more horses coming in and we need more pasture,” explained Troy.

Day three it was catching chickens at a nearby farm that needed help loading them on to a truck. The two men and boy would be paid for their help. “Seriously?” said Eric. His back and arms ached from digging fence posts (that’s how you get muscles like your Uncle Troy, said his dad). And now he was expected to hop around and try to catch chickens?

He couldn’t catch any try as he might. His dad was not too bad. Troy was a champion.

When he saw the astonishment on Eric’s face, Troy said, “I’m a chicken catcher by trade, Eric. This used to be my full time job. Now it helps pay the bills while I get my own place running.”

In the end Eric ended up having the time of his life. The two men laughed at his antics, lunging and sprinting after chickens, and he found himself laughing along.

“How many did we catch?” asked Eric. They were walking back to the pickup truck and the stars were already shining against the Kentucky night sky.

“Oh probably 50,000.”

“Wow I bet that’s a world record for catching chickens.” Nobody told him that Troy could catch more than that on his own in the same amount of time.

Uncle Troy was as good as his word. A gentle horse with a long suffering temperament was a good choice for Eric’s first ride. Eric was scared to death, but he did not get bucked. Eric noticed what a patient teacher his Uncle was, and Dad was right – he did have big muscles.

His dad noticed the different kind of silence as they pulled down the long tree lane to head back north two days later. He glanced at his son has he propped up the pillows in preparation for a long nap, this time from exhaustion and not sulkiness.

“What did you want to be when you grow up again, son?”

“A chicken catcher”, Mumbled Eric, just coherent enough to understand.

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