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The Tax Break
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 by Frank Shortt
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C
        “What’s all that commotion out in the chicken yard?” mom cried as she helped her children get ready for school.
        “Sounds like the foxes have gotten into the chicken coop,” dad replied gloomily.
        Chickens were a great part of our livelihood. They supplied us with eggs for breakfast, for pastries, and practically every Sunday one of our pets suddenly disappeared ending up on a platter as Southern fried chicken. We even saved the feathers for “feather ticks” [mattress batting stuffed with feathers to sleep on] or for pillows. Nothing was wasted around our house.
        We were not exactly rich. Dad barely eked out a living in his little coal mine just above our “shotgun” house.
        Dad was a handsome man, very strong and had a pugnacious nature. Mom was a pretty lady with deep blue eyes. Probably her good looks attracted dad in the first place.
        Dad and mom were of English, Scotch-Irish-American Indian descent and all their children reflected this heritage. I was in the middle, unusually skinny and always looking malnourished. I was targeted from both sides in the sibling rivalry common in our household.
        The eight of us lived in five small rooms situated by Route 460 on Grassy Creek in Buchanan County, Virginia. ‘Root hog or die’ was one of our favorite sayings.
        Mom could make a meal out of just about anything dad brought home. He was a great hunter and many times our only meat for months at a time would be rabbits that dad shot out in the fields or squirrels that he shot out of the tall scaly barked hickories. These grew profusely on the spurs and ridges of Southwest Virginia.
        Occasionally we would enjoy steak of venison which usually came along around about Thanksgiving time. What a feast when doe season was open and dad could bring home a yearling so succulent and tender. The steaks, made with gravy, would simply melt in your mouth.
        “I suppose I’d better go out and see if I need to set some traps for those foxes,” dad said as mom insisted he do something about the noise in the chicken coop.
        Just the day before, one of the Altizer boys from the store up Route 460 had brought a load of ‘game’ poultry for dad to let run wild on his property. This was so the roosters would be ‘good and wild’ to be used in gamecock fights.
        Cock fighting was a common sport during the early fifties and many ‘human’ fights erupted as a result of misunderstanding as to ‘who’s’ rooster was winner, especially if there was ‘moonshine’ involved. ‘Moonshine’, better known as corn likker, was ever present at these events. Most folks did not know that my uncle Moe was the supplier. Gamecock fights and moonshine were both illegal.
        “Dad, can I go with you? I’ll bet that old Cornish rooster is at it again,” I said, hoping against hope.
        “Sure Frankie, dad replied. I might need some help setting the fox traps.”
        Oops, had I made a mistake?
        I had picked out one of the prettiest roosters to adopt as my special charge, so I had an invested interest in the proceedings.
        Our prize rooster was a large Cornish Game that dad had traded up as a sire. He was somewhat of a bully. It didn’t matter to this rooster if the encroacher was large or small, he
would attack . His spurs were at least two inches long and sharp as razors. This particular rooster was stronger than any rooster I have encountered since. He would even attack dogs and cats if they carelessly drew too close to his harem. I had been flogged several times by this Chanticleer of the Poultry Clan.
        I accompanied dad to the chicken yard and what we encountered made me see red! There was our prize sire attacking the smaller, handsome game rooster that I had adopted as my own. One leg of the smaller rooster had already been broken.
        “I’ll get you, you brute! I’ll teach you to mess with my rooster.”
        All the times I had seen this bully attack something came rushing back to my mind.
        Before I had time to consider my actions, I picked up a large stone, flung it at the Cornish with all my might [I might add that my aim was a little truer in those days]. The stone struck the Cornish on one of his magnificent spurs breaking it off at the leg.
        Dad slapped me backward thinking I had probably killed his prized possession. In truth, I had only broken the spur causing the Cornish to limp for several days until the wound healed.
        “Now I’ll have to buy another sire” dad moaned. “Why don’t you ever think, Frankie”. “Your mom’s gonna be real disturbed at you for this trick.”
        I beat him into the house to tell mom the news because I knew the punishment would be less if he were not present to egg her on. I don’t exactly remember the amount of punishment I received but it most probably was a “striping” with a peach tree limb.
        The Cornish’s wound healed in a few weeks but he wasn’t always as ready to attack other things in the future. He limped for quite a while afterward. I supposed he was humiliated because of the missing spur. It never grew back.
        Around this time of year was Federal tax season. Dad was always fretting about not having enough money to pay Uncle Sam. This particular year he was having a difficult time coming up with ample deductions.
        We were sitting at the ‘dinner’ table eating lunch when dad commenced to talk about the taxes. Dad was enumerating his deductions and getting steadily agitated when one of the children spoke up reminding dad;
        “What about that old broke-legged rooster?”
        We all laughed at once until our stomachs ached.
        To this day I don’t know if dad listed that old rooster as a tax deduction.