VERNON COUNTY - Rudy the rooster is long gone, but my memories of him aren’t. In fact, just now I’ve had the disturbing thought that he may have been gone sooner than I ever realized.
I remember sitting in the high school science lab, two to a desk. The top of the desk was a thick black counter top. If you turned your pencil over and used the eraser you could write on top of that black slab without doing any damage. Instead of chairs there were tall silver stools. Often, I felt tipsy sitting on them because my legs weren’t long enough to reach the floor. The room smelled of formaldehyde on some days and Bunsen burners on others. There were Petri dishes, microscopes, and—my favorites—a skeleton and charts of the human anatomy.
I liked science class. I disliked the experiments with animals.
Looking through microscopes at slides of pond water and watching them come alive with amoebas and algae was life changing for me. Dissecting frogs was both thrilling and gross. I loved seeing and learning the internal body parts—intestines, liver, heart—but struggled with my sense of compassion for the poor frog. I recently learned that, starting as far back as 1988, some states passed a bill that allowed children an alternative to using real animals in their science lab—too late for me and not in my state anyway.
The day that sticks out in my mind the most from that time is the day I brought Rudy home. At the age of 91, my mom still remembers this day too. Rudy was another science experiment, but he was still very much alive!
I asked Mr. Hetzel what they were going to do with the chickens when we were done measuring them daily. I didn’t like his answer. While I knew I couldn’t save all the chickens, I resolved to save Rudy. Out the lab door, into my jacket, and home with me he went.
My dad built a magnificent cage for Rudy to spend his nights in. It sat on the border of our property next to my dad’s perfectly manicured woodpile.
In the daytime, Rudy ruled the Schmidt yard. He sat (and pooped) on my mom’s beloved chaise lounge with its yellow-and-orange-flowered cushion. He rode in the basket on my bike. He chased the neighborhood children when they came into the yard. And, much to Mrs. Mahoney’s dismay, Rudy turned out to be a rooster that loudly announced every dawn, right outside her bedroom window.
I loved Rudy, and I like to believe my dad did too. No one else did though, so Rudy spent most of his time with the two of us. If my dad was working in the garage, Rudy was there keeping him company. If I was jumping rope, Rudy’s head was bobbing up and down, keeping time with the rope’s rotations. I thought it was funny when Tommy Mahoney tried cutting across our yard to get to the park, and Rudy went screeching and squawking after him. I swear I saw my dad chuckling too, more than once, when it happened. Maybe you can picture it: a small bundle of feathers chasing a boy ten times its size!
My mom became increasingly less tolerant of Rudy’s treatment of her chaise lounge. She also complained about his boisterous wake-up calls. I thought they were rather endearing—besides, who wanted to be in bed when night turned to light? But when the phone calls from Mrs. Mahoney started coming, I knew Rudy was in trouble. Turns out she found nothing endearing about living next door to a cantankerous rooster.
My dad and I did what we could to remedy the situation. We moved Rudy’s cage, we only let him out when we could supervise, and we even covered his cage with a blanket in the evenings to try to keep him quiet longer in the mornings. But even with these measures, Rudy wasn’t able to conform to the high standards of Mrs. Mahoney (or my mom), and the day came when my dad said Rudy would have to go live on my uncle’s farm.
This is where my memories get foggy. I know I went with my dad to the farm, and that Rudy was in a dog crate. I know I cried. I know my dad must have felt miserable for me. And I knew without a doubt that Rudy would have a lovely country setting with other chickens in which to live out his life.
Forty-four years later, on a cool Sunday morning, I’m drinking my tea and reminiscing about Rudy with a pleasant half-smile on my face, when suddenly an unwelcome thought causes me to shudder. Did Rudy get the long life I had in mind for him? Or did dear Rudy become my uncle’s Sunday night dinner?