Memories of beasts gone by

I WAS AWAKE before 6 this morning and listening to the chickens.

I have a history with chickens.

The poultry next door are the most recent. Around 6 or so, they begin to wake up and converse. It’s not the rooster, which has a distinctive morning call. No, it’s the hens, which also explains the constant chatter from their apple tree roost.

I was born in Atlanta, but I’ve hardly ever lived there. My parents and my sister lived in Atlanta for decades, but not me. When I was about six months old, we left Atlanta and headed to my maternal grandparents’ 500-acre farm in Southwest Georgia between the towns of Sylvester and Albany.

In later decades my parents and my sister returned to Atlanta, but I never went back except to visit. It’s a beautiful city, especially in the Fall.

Among the Herefords, rabbits and cats on the farm (we never messed with pigs and there was just one dog. I’ll get to him later) there were chickens, about 2,000 of them at one time.

The chickens were my father’s doing. He intended to make a living off chickens while becoming a famous writer. Neither of those notions panned out.

One dark summer night in Georgia, a large chunk of those 2,000 chickens was stolen. I remember Sheriff Andy and Deputy Fife standing in the kitchen the following morning. We never did get those chickens back.

New ImageDuring those chicken days, my father would give me baby chicks that he figured were not going to survive.  You read that right. My father gave me dying chicks as pets, and they did. Die, that is.

But I played nursemaid with each for a few days, keeping them in shoeboxes. They didn’t look ill to me when I got them. But they always died.

On that farm, we raised rabbits for profit, but my sister and I had one rabbit we considered a pet. We named him Rusty due to his color. One afternoon at dinner, as we were finishing up, it came out that we had just eaten Rusty.

I’ve written about some of these events, years ago, so it may sound familiar.

There was a dog on the farm too. He was named Pepper. He was a frisky, middle-sized dog of unknown mongrel heritage, and the only (almost) dog my sister and I ever were allowed to have.

Pepper was still there when we left the farm after six years. We then saw him only during our frequent visits up from Florida.

For First Grade I went to a Catholic school in Albany, even though we were not Catholics. Between First and Second grades, we abandoned farm life — chickens, cats*, Pepper, rabbits, Herefords — and moved to Jacksonville, Florida.

I never lived in proximity to poultry again. Till now.

The neighbors’ apple tree in which they roost abuts the property wall, and the chickens on occasion jump down to our yard and walk around. I’m not fond of this because chickens are nasty animals, and then there’s the poop.

But their visits are short, and they’re capable of the brief flight back to the apple tree, back to their own home where they belong.

Especially when I shoo them!

And every morning they greet dawn with chatter, reminding me that I once lived with their ancestors, thousands of the bloody things.

* * * *

* Sometimes there were up to 25 cats!

Little comas

THE HUMAN body does strange things.

For instance, we spend a third of our lives in a coma, a state of suspended animation. We have a soft place to lie down for this, and we put on comfy clothing, or we just strip naked.

I refer to our need for sleep, of course.

I sleep like the proverbial log, normally. It helps to not have something worrying you. Have you noticed that worries magnify magnificently at night? A trifling concern in daytime becomes a monster worry after the lights go out.

And then when you wake in the morning, that same worry shrinks to its proper proportion, easily resolved.

My child bride worries about everything, so she doesn’t sleep as soundly as I do. She has a mob of relatives, all of whom have big-time issues, being Mexican and all, and she worries about every one of those relatives, nonstop.

I don’t worry about her relatives at all, and I only have two on my side. My daughter who lives in a field of clover, and my nutty sister whom I have not heard from in three years.

You’d think I might worry about that latter, but I do not. Quite the contrary. It gives me peace of mind.

Unlike lots of aging men, I don’t get up repeatedly at night to take a whiz. Just once, usually. Sometimes not even that. My svelte body  works well — he said, as he knocks on wood, the desk I had made by carpenters years back.

This happened just once last night, about 4 a.m. Waking up at night here is interesting. There are sounds. Last night, I heard a burro bray and there were the unsettled chickens that overnight in the neighbors’ apple tree.

croissantIt’s also said we require less sleep as we age. I haven’t found that to be true. I get a good seven or eight hours as always.

Maybe my nights pass smoothly because I have a beautiful babe next to me, even if she is fretting over relatives.

Our comas end with bagels and Philadelphia cream cheese or, on special occasions, croissants and orange marmalade.

It’s a great way to return from the world of the comatose.

Urban renewal

neighbors

THIS IS THE street out back of the Hacienda. It stands in stark contrast to the street out front, which is colorless.

Out front, drab. Out back, LSD trip.

Out back is getting changes which might have been inspired by our recent removal of weeds and construction of a new sidewalk, work detailed in Home Improvement last month.

We noticed during that work that a house down on the corner, the rear of which also included a weed strip, had someone removing its weeds. They have yet to build a sidewalk.

And then a few days later, this yellow house in the photo, was repainted, the yellow part, at least. It was yellow before. It’s just more yellow now. The yellow house and the neighboring orange one are inhabited by the same family.

A notable architectural note on the yellow house is the naked woman painted on the façade. Now there’s something you’ll never see on a home in Kennebunkport.

The naked woman was painted about eight years ago by a hormone-fueled young man who lives there.

It’s an interesting block, which I’ll be seeing more of because of the new steps and sidewalk we had built. Why, I was out there just yesterday sweeping my new sidewalk.

The block goes like this, on the other side, starting on the right: A hovel with a large lot. A hovel with a smaller lot and lots of bamboo and chickens. This yellow house, the orange one, a weeded lot, and then another humble home.

On this side, starting on the right: the humble home of Abel who cuts our grass, the sex motel, the Hacienda, the sourpuss family with the white horse and assorted beasts, and the corner house where they recently dug up their weeds.

There is scant traffic on this street because our block is the final one. It’s a dead end past Abel’s place, terminating in a ravine where green trash gets dumped.

The neighborhood septic tank is down there too.

Home improvement

WE JUST ended a month of nonstop renovations here at the Hacienda. It all started with the driveway.

before
View from street before work started.
Stones removed and piled on sides.
Stones removed and piled on sides.
one
Rebar this way and that.
two
Samuel, the sole workman, cuts space for the art circle.
end
Work all done. Note circle on the incline and paint on sides.
cat
Close-up of that circle. It’s a Big Cat, ceramic.

The incline from the street, when we bought the double lot 13 years ago, was already in place.

Mostly, it was big stones buried in dirt which allowed weeds to flourish wildly in the spaces between.

The area at the top between the work zone and the Alamo Wall was dirt and grass when we bought the property, and it was mud during the five months of the rainy season.

Seven or eight years ago, we had that section covered with stone and cement — empedrado in Spanish — a treatment that’s quite common in these parts.

But that incline from the street remained an eyesore which I was hesitant to improve because it would block the cars from coming and going during the work.

And it surely did.

While this renovation was happening, we parked the Honda in a parking lot downtown. Every morning, I took a minibus there and picked the car up. Did the same in the evening to leave it. The Nissan was simply left trapped at the Hacienda.

That situation continued for nine days.

* * * *

THE NEW THRONES

toilet
Folkloric.

We also replaced the john in the downstairs bathroom.

The original, which my wife describes as “folkloric,” and which we purchased in the talavera capital of Dolores Hidalgo, was a bit smaller than standard in size.

It was a conversation piece but not the best place to sit, so it was out with the old, and in with the new.

white
Pristine.

Now here’s a regal place to squat. The old throne was given to a  nephew who’s son recently busted their toilet.

Gifting the “folkloric” johnny means we won’t be using it as a yard planter, the initial idea. Just as well because I was told by a high-born woman that it would have been very cheesy.

This is the first time in my life I’ve changed a toilet, especially just for the heck of it. This new baby is Mexican-made, and cost the peso equivalent of about 120 bucks.

It was installed for about 10 dollars. I could change my ride every couple of years just for the ever-living thrill of it. Different colors. Oval versus round, whatever.

The initial plan was to replace only the john in the downstairs bathroom, mostly my wife’s environment. But I began to seethe with envy, so I bought an identical one, and had it installed in “my” bathroom upstairs.

Here’s the old throne upstairs:

john

The new toilet is exactly like the new one downstairs, so no need to duplicate a photo. Your time is valuable.

* * * *

THE OUTBACK

Now let’s turn our attention to the rear of the Hacienda.

beforeback
High weeds everywhere. Butt ugly.
New Image
Weeds gone. Work under way.
sidewalk
Progress made. Looking the other direction. Yes, it’s long.
Feathered overseer of the project.
Feathered overseer of the project. Chickens run wild.
done
Work completed. Far better than the sea of weeds.

What you see here are the first-ever photos published of the backside of the Hacienda, which fronts — if that’s the proper term — on what I used to call Mud Street.

So these photos are collector’s items. That’s the tail of the sex motel in the distance of the second and last photos.

The work done out there was a civic gift. It is not on our property, but it was an eyesore. It was a dirt strip between our property wall and the street.

* * * *

NEW VERANDA ENTRANCE

There are two arched entryways to the downstairs veranda. One serves a dual role. During the five-month rainy season,  it doubles as a conduit for rainwater which creates lakes inside the covered veranda, a colossal nuisance.

After 12 years of cursing this phenomena, we decided to do something about it, a redesign that directs the water outside instead of inside the veranda.

Next Spring we’ll also have metal gutters installed along the tile roof of the veranda, long overdue.

repair2
First, the problem area is dug up.
drain
Then it’s rebuilt with a slight down-and-out incline.

As mentioned at the get-go, this work took a month, exactly. It was done entirely by one guy, a very talented workman who lives in the neighborhood. Unlike all work we’ve had done in the past, we paid him by the day, as he requested.

This can be a mistake because it can lead to slow work, dragging it out to earn more. We prefer a set price. Then work can be done at whatever speed the workers prefer.

I watched his toil closely. He did not foot-drag, but he was very detailed, which took longer than necessary. However, the results were spectacular.

And he did some painting to boot.

He arrived on the dot at 9 every morning on his bicycle. He took an hour off for lunch at 2 p.m., and he went home at 5, working steadily in between. We’ll hire him again.

The entire project cost about $420 for labor and $555 for materials, excluding the two toilets, which were about $120 each. Those are dollar equivalents at today’s exchange rate.

Month’s grand total: $1,215 or about what a U.S. plumber would charge for a one-hour house call.

* * * *

(For your architectural pleasure, here is a photo collection of the Hacienda over the years. Come visit, but phone first.)