Mother Goose

There was a pelican sitting on the back porch rail when Chick McKissick walked out at six o’clock yesterday morning, on his way to the shop. A pelican.


Chick owns an auto repair garage just off the square in Watervalley and likes to get an early start since the garage isn’t air conditioned, and even with the big bay doors open it gets pretty hot in there by midday. Normally, he would wake one of his boys to take care of this. But they had all moved out and his youngest, Cliff, had taken a job for the summer at a camp in Mentone, Alabama.

His wife, Delilah, was sound asleep. She had pulled an extra shift at the cabinet factory and hadn’t gotten in till past midnight. She’d be asleep for several more hours. But when she woke up, he knew she would wig out to see a pelican on the porch. This was middle Tennessee. Pelicans weren’t the norm.

After a bit of gentle coaxing the pelican hopped off the rail and made an awkward landing in the grass about ten feet away. It had a busted wing. Chick scratched his chin. He knew where it had come from.

Chick lived on seven acres out on Fatty Bread Road. The pelican had come from down the way, from Sunflower Miller’s place.

Sunflower was now in her early sixties, which seemed appropriate. She had always lived in the sixties, meaning, she had skipped the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Sunflower was Watervalley’s original flower child, still wearing tie-dyed shirts, bell-bottom pants, and her hair in a ponytail. She had taken on the name Sunflower years ago. No one knew why, but it had stuck.

She did organic gardening, raised organic, free-range chickens, made organic jams and jellies, and for all Chick knew, drank organic cool-aid. Her place was a convolution of shacks and sheds, wildflower beds, and chicken coops. She had sheep, and llamas, and ponies, and an endless array of dogs, most of which had been strays. The flower child movement had long since died out, as had most of the flower children. But, not Sunflower. It seemed she was waiting for a comeback.

Sunflower lived alone. She was married for a few years during her early twenties, but he had left. All in all she was a good neighbor. But for Chick, she was one strange white woman.

Chick had heard rumor that Sunflower had picked up an injured bird on the side of the road on her way back from Florida a few weeks ago. This must be the one. He shrugged. It was going to make him late, but he knew what he needed to do.

He drove the pickup down to Sunflower’s and knocked on her door. She answered with a cup of coffee in her hand. She was in her standard tie-dyed shirt, blue jean shorts, thick socks and heavy boots. Despite the ravishing of many years in the outdoors, and the mix of grey in her long blonde hair, Sunflower still had prettiness to her. She was tall and thin. She greeted him with a big smile.

“Good morning, Chick.”

“Good morning, Miss Sunflower.”

“What brings you here?”

“Sunflower, I believe your pelican is down in my yard.”

They rode in Chick’s truck back to his place, where, after several minutes of coaxing along with an out right lunging grab, Chick and Sunflower were able to gather up the pelican. It was an old truck, but Chick still was timid about the possible mess that a pelican could make if it felt a little nervous. Fortunately, the ride back to Sunflower’s place was uneventful.

Sunflower got out of the truck, still cradling the large bird. “Thanks, Chick. I hope she didn’t get into your cherry tomatoes. For some reason she loves them. Mine haven’t done well this year. So, she may have been looking for yours. Anyway, she’s just another one of my babies. I’d have been worried to death if you hadn’t found her.”

Chick nodded and drove off. So much for getting to work early.

The day only got worse from there.

Charlie, his one helper, called in sick. Charlie was old. He had probably dived a little too deep into his “medicine” last night.

The UPS truck was supposed to be there by mid morning. It arrived right after lunch and still didn’t have the parts Chick needed.

Normally, Chick was probably about as happy-go-lucky as anybody in Watervalley, but the day was starting to wear on him. He hadn’t taken a day off in months and the summer heat was about to do him in. But it was the conversation with the Mayor, Walt Hickman that was the final straw.

Walt showed up in his normal bustling manner. He wasn’t happy. The air conditioner on his car, an old Cadillac convertible, had gone out, and for a chubby man like Walt who always wore a suit; the August heat had made him beyond irritable. He had a long face and a short temper. He no sooner had told Chick the problem when he starting pressing for how fast Chick could get it fixed.

“This is a government emergency, Chick.”

“How you figure that, Walt?”

“Some executives with the cabinet factory are going to be here in a couple of hours. They’re looking at sites to expand production. I can’t drive them around in a hot car.”

“Why not drive around with the top down. It’s not like there’s a grassy knoll or a book depository to worry about.”

Walt continued to badger him. There was already a long line of customer’s cars in front of Walt, people who needed their car as well, to do things like go to work or buy groceries.

“So when, Chick? When do you think you can have it ready?”

It was just Walt being Walt, but it struck Chick the wrong way.

“I tell you what, Walt. How ‘bout this? How ‘bout never? Does never work for you?”

Chick threw up his hands and walked away. He was mad at himself the moment he said the words. But he had had enough. Walt stood dumbfounded for a half minute. Then, he returned to his car, and left.

Chick sat in the back office for a long while, brooding. He needed a break. After thinking about it for another minute, he made up his mind. That’s exactly what he was going to do. And for Chick, taking a break meant going fishing. He grabbed the rod and reel that he kept in the back room, closed up the shop, and drove the old pick up to the back of Watervalley Lake.

Around the far tuck of the lake was a spot that Chick had fished since he was a boy, some thirty years ago. It was his lucky spot. It sat in some tall grass, shaded by a tall tulip poplar tree.

Chick grabbed his gear and eased his way around the bank and through some stout thickets, finally arriving to his cherished spot.

But there was a problem. Chick wasn’t the first one there.

Sitting square in the middle of the perfect spot on the tall grass under the tulip popular tree was a goose. Not just any goose, but a big momma goose sitting on a nest of a dozen or so eggs.

Chick was undaunted. He moved boldly ahead on a path that took him right beside the nest. At first the goose held her ground. But as Chick loudly and clumsily approached, she fluttered away, retreating into the tall grass.

Chick set down his gear, selected a spinner, and cast his line. He was just starting to slowly reel in his lure when the first assault happened. The goose was back. She had fortified her courage and charged at him with wings flapping and making the goose war cry…. a kind of heavy breathing hissing sound. She had the element of surprise on her side. It worked.

Chick instinctively dropped his reel and hot-footed away. She chased him for about ten feet. Once he was flushed out of the nest area, she stood there doing a sort of victory dance, bobbing her head up and down and continuing the dreaded hissing sound.

Chick was shaken up, but only for a second. He quickly regained himself and began marching straight back toward his downed rod and reel, mentally preparing himself to do hand to goose combat. The goose retreated.

“What’s wrong with you, little momma? I ain’t here to mess with you and your little nest. Just calm yourself.”

Chick made a “Hayah” sound, scaring the goose back to a safe distance. He retrieved his rod and reel and began to bring in the lure in order to make another cast. He turned to reconnoiter the position of the goose, but she had vanished. He cast his lure again and became focused on the line, hoping a fish would strike. It was a careless move.

The goose had circled around, hidden in the tall grass, and now mounted a second offensive. She was crafty, charging him with the sun to her back, hoping to blind him. Chick stood his ground this time, but only by the hardest. He had to use the rod as a makeshift sword to ward off the attacker. This action worked but the skirmish ended in a draw, the goose carefully circumventing the periphery just out of reach of the fishing rod. Chick spoke with determination.

“Alright, little momma. That’s enough! You just need to do the hokie-pokie and turn your ass around. Chick just wants to do a little fishing. Nobody’s going to be messing with your nest.”

A Russian standoff ensued. Eventually, the goose simply squatted in the tall grass where she could survey her nest and everything Chick was doing. Chick took this as truce. He cast his line again but stood at an angle, one where he could keep his eye on her in case she decided to break the ceasefire. It wasn’t like she had signed a treaty.

In actuality, Chick had underestimated her. She was simply biding her time, preparing to launch a new onslaught on an entirely different front. Chick had no sooner made his cast when here she came again. Except this time she was flapping and honking, cutting a path wide around Chick. This time she had a different objective: the water.

She hit the lake in a great splash, and continued honking and flapping incessantly. If there were any fish within a hundred feet of where Chick was casting, they were long gone.

Chick reeled in his lure, hooked it on the rung of the pole and sat down in the tall grass. He was beyond aggravated. He wasn’t catching any fish today.

A light breeze kicked up from the lake, washing over him. Chick smelled the sun warmed grass around him and felt the cool of the shade from the tulip poplar. Sunlight shimmered on the surface of the lake, mesmerizing him. He stared at the goose, now floating conspicuously in the water in front of him.

“I know you’re not trying to mess up my day, little momma. But it sure feels that way. Sometimes, doing what I do is a rough job.”

He sat in the tall grass a few moments longer. Then a peculiar thought hit him.

“Then again, I guess I’m kind of messing up yours. You’re just trying to be a good momma, toughing it out to take care of your little ones.”

For some reason, he couldn’t stop thinking about Sunflower. It was something she said about the pelican…something about being another one of her babies.

He stared at the goose, who for all practical purposes looked like she was planning yet another attack. Then he remembered something. It was something Sunflower had said in passing years ago about her short-term husband. He had left because he wanted children.

Chick stared at the goose one more time, exhaled a deep sigh, and nodded to himself. He gathered up his things, worked his way back to the truck, and headed for home.

When he got there he went to the garden and gathered up a huge bucket of tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes. He drove back down to Sunflower’s and gave them to her. She thanked him, but the look on her face clearly told him that she was surprised and curious.

Before he walked away, Chick simply smiled and said, “It’s a tough job being a mom.”

I’m j. high, and for now in Watervalley, that’s pretty much the highpoint. 

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