This is Ickey the rooster with my husband, Steve.
Sorry, but this is the only picture of grown-up Ickey that I could find. It’s cropped from a family picture we took at Christmas a few years back.
Take a close look at Ickey's feet and you’ll notice that he has long spurs on his chicken heels. For you who don’t know, those are a bit sharp. Not like a blade or anything, but still, that’s the part you have to watch out for. The spurs. You’ll hear more about those later.
Ickey and my husband, Steve, were buddies. Ickey came to us in a box of 12 fluffy, day-old yellow chicks, and we’d raised them mostly as pets because I like chickens. I think it’s the sounds they make when they’re content. They’re soothing.
Ickey and I didn’t always get along, but Steve and Ickey....well, they bonded early on.
On this particular portrait day, we’d finished all the serious pics, and were about to disperse when Steve yelled, “WAIT,” ran to the henhouse and returned with Icky under his arm. He wanted a family portrait with Ickey in it. Now I’m glad because I’ve learned a bunch from Ickey.
Our rooster got his name from Ickey Woods, a football player for the Cincinnati Bengals in the late 80s- early 90s. Don’t ask me what position he played, as I know nothing about football, but I remember Ickey Woods because of the funky little sideways dance he did in the end zone when he scored a touchdown. They called it the Ickey shuffle.
You see, when a rooster reaches chicken puberty, he goes, like most of us, through a series of changes, both physical and mental. I can’t actually say whether he goes through emotional changes, as I understand only rudimentary chicken language. I can translate “I just laid an egg.” I can usually make out, “Something’s after me I need help hurry!”, and I clearly understand, “Get your hand out from under me, that egg is MINE.” But the finer points of chicken emotions…I’m not that fluent yet.
A rooster at puberty does begin paying close attention to the lady chickens and like young men around young women, his behavior gets a bit odd. He starts picking up bits of food, but not eating them. He drops them near the hens to get attention. He holds his head and neck way back to make his chest look bigger, he struts around a lot, and oh yes, he starts crowing.
But the most interesting change is that he starts to get a bit…well…territorial. If you go into the chicken coop, he gets between you and the hens. First he makes a show of force by crowing, then he drops one wing like a shield and dances at you sort of sideways in this funky little shuffle…the Ickey shuffle. ( Is it making sense now, the whole Ickey Woods connection? Okay good.) That's Ickey Woods up there on the left, actually doing the Ickey shuffle.
If you’re not careful, as your rooster grows older and gets stronger, you’ll end up flat on your back on the wrong end of those spurs. I learned as a little girl to take a stick with me into the chicken yard, and I know the precise, rapid splat-splat-splat-splat sound of rooster feet running full speed toward you down a dirt path. (Never let ‘em catch you with your back turned. They watch for that.)
Who You Callin’ a Chicken?
Now that picture of Ickey the rooster was taken December 2003, and in Summer of 2004 I was away for the weekend when Steve came home after a Saturday morning outing and found...well, it was bad. He had to call to tell me. It broke our hearts, and it surprised even me, and I’ve been around chickens all my life.
Our henhouse has two doors. A people-sized door on the front, and a chicken-size door on the side, opening into the chicken yard. It stays open most of the time, so the chickens can come and go on their own. Chickens come in at night, and “roost” a few feet off the ground, and the hens were doing this as usual, but for a few months, Ickey had been refusing to roost. He’d been sleeping right in the chicken doorway, face out toward the chicken yard.
You know, I’m not entirely sure how our culture came to call a person “chicken” when he’s afraid of something. Our culture is dead wrong.
This blog is about misperceptions, you see.
That summer night in 2004, Ickey served his purpose. He fulfilled his calling.
He faced down, and killed, a bobcat.
Now granted, Ickey was a big rooster, but do you know what a bobcat is? It’s a wildcat. They’re native to Kentucky but there aren’t any in this part of the state really. I’ve spent half my life traipsing through the woods and I’ve never seen one running loose. I’ve heard one only once, in Western Kentucky on a game preserve. The scream in the night will curdle your blood. They’re the size of a border collie but a lot stronger. Claws as long as your little finger and as vicious as a tiger when they fight.
We found the cat tracks in the mud the next day. This bobcat had climbed onto a dog crate we’d set beside the henhouse and gone over the five-foot wire fence into the chicken yard. That bobcat approached our henhouse thinking he’d found himself an easy dinner. Instead he met a real chicken and died. We found the cat a few feet into the field, ripped up and soaked with blood. We’re not sure which killed him, the puncture wound in his jugular, the one through his head, or the one through his lung from Ickey’s spurs.
Ickey was alive when Steve got home, but barely. He was staggering around on his feet, but his face and half his head were gone. He had almost no feathers left on half of his body. Blood everywhere. He’d fought for hours. Fended off attack after attack, and finally killed that bobcat through sheer force of will.
Not one feather on one hen was out of place. That cat never got to them. Because of a chicken.
The hardest part was that Ickey wasn’t going to die quickly and easily. Steve had to kill him. My husband is 5’3” tall. That’s taller than me but not by much. A bit short for a man. Throughout his lifetime a number of unfortunate folks have assumed they could push him around. He’s a martial artist, deadly with his hands and feet and with any kind of weapon. Former Special Ops.
Who would think that the fragile, fluffy little bird in this picture would grow up to kill a wildcat and save his flock? He had feathers on the outside, but when it was his time, Ickey proved what he was made of.
Steve still swallows hard when he looks at that family portrait with Ickey. I understand, now, why they bonded.
Steve and his buddy, Ickey—in spirit, they were alike.
So tell me, Bandita friends, do you have an Ickey in your life? Let's hear about your misperceptions. What have you thought was obviously one way, but found it to be another?
Any preconceived notions or misperceptions you’ve had knocked out from under you?
Our characters tend to assume things about one another, just like we do.
Sometimes as writers we depend on those notions in the reader. If we name our character Juan Hernandez, what a surprise when he’s Jewish. What happens when Ian McTavish rides a Harley through the Hollywood hills instead of a horse through the highlands?
The most common misperceptions are often by men about women, and vice-versa. For a romance writer, those come in very handy indeed and we use them often. Isn’t it extra nice when we find, right along with our heroine, that our hero appeared to be one thing, but in fact was another?
So tell me. What have you thought was one thing, but it turned out to be something entirely different? There’s a $5 gift card to Barnes & Noble up for grabs to one random commenter.
AND since I was completely brain dead through the holidays and did NOT give away the Romance Bandits mug from my December blog (over a month ago! The shame of it. I know, I know, I should be smitten.)I’ll be drawing for it at the same time. Watch this weekend for the winners.