Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Aunt Sammy's Farm

For most of two years when I was around twelve or fifteen, I lived with Aunt Sammy , in her little house on stilts in the Florida swamp. The famous writer of "The Yearling", Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who was friends with Sammy since the "Aunt Sammy" radio days, had found the property for her. I met Rawlings only once, when she visited Loon Island, not long before she died in 1953. She had loved the house, though she had never used it. It was especially for Sammy and me. And the Roosters: "The Boys".

The house was just one room and not that big, but it was tightly built as any John Boat and not what you would call a "shack", having belonged to a moonshiner who got rich running a still there.
The big old still- stove, minus copper coils, sat almost in the center of the room , taking up at least a third of the floor space. Against one wall was the one table on which Aunt Sammy prepared and served meals.
We had three chairs - one for me, one for Sammy, and one for her Guitar or a guest. Sammy slept in the loft at the high end of the room, there with her books and photo albums clothing, and suitcases. She and Mr. LaRoy had put together a bed for me against the south wall, using an an old door mounted on stove- wood chunks, and covered with a feather tick mattress from our chickens.

When we had a guest for dinner, the guest got the third chair, but Sammy's said the guest had to hold the guitar and either sing or talk.
Mostly the guest had to listen more than talk, and usually the guest was Mr. LaRoy.

Mr. LaRoy came at least once a week to buy eggs and to milk the roosters. He was Chinese Cajun, something, so I don't know if LaRoy was really his name, or just the way it sounded when he said it.. Mr LaRoy couldn't sing or play the guitar, but he would pluck a string occasionally and tell about New Orleans, and the islands he had visited in his Merchant Marine days.
Sammy always cooked a lot, even when there were no guests, and she talked as she cooked, even if I was out with the chickens or on the water, like she was still doing her Aunt Sammy broadcasts for home-makers. The chickens ate very well from our leftovers, and the yolks of Rooster Hammock eggs were yellow as an oranges.

Sammy kept way more roosters than hens, and they were silent only during the darkest three or four hours of night, Sammy called them all her Lost Boys, and she also called them her Flowers. They weren't exactly boys or flowers - more like warriors and fruits - but they were very good guards for the hens. We didn't loose many hens, except to our own roosters. There were all sorts among the roosters, including the silent and the shy, but because of the meanest, I had to carry a cane all the time and sometimes had to fight my way into the hen house to collect eggs. One Rooster, Sylvester, was both the meanest and the friendliest. A friend I could do without.

Although I could kick any cornered rooster right over the hen house, it was hard for me, with legs not much longer than roosters have, to chase one down.
But when Mr. LaRoy appeared, the roosters just crouched and closed their eyes. They knew they were screwed. I don't know how he did it. Acting, I guess.
Occasionally Mr. LaRoy brought another rooster, a culled broiler or a finished fighting cock he had rescued.
He offered to pay Sammy very well for Rooster milk, but she said she didn't want to hear any more on the subject,; all she wanted was to calm the boys down some. So instead of paying, Mr LeRoy would just bring our supplies plus extra things as presents when he came by - sweet potatoes, ginger root, or lamb's feet maybe, and always the quarter he slipped me on the sly for my college education.
Mr. LaRoy's milkings would generally calm the roosters only for two or three hours, but the groceries he brought made it unnecessary for us to leave Rooster Hammock at all.
But for my own self, I really had to go.


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