Anna Maria Island, October 11, 1989

Of Crackers and chickens

By Gib Bergquist

A light drizzle was falling last Saturday morning as the Cracker went down to Bayfront Park with a broom in one hand and a bucket of soap suds in the other to tidy up the large pavilion there. You see, he was hosting the 47th year reunion of the Class of ’42 of ol’ Mulberry High School later that day and wanted everything to be spic and span.
The past week had been spent in cast netting and smoking mullet and digging and processing clams. Of course, he had a lot of help from his local friends.
By noontime, ol’ Sol had dissipated the rain clouds and all was bright and sunny again — a perfect Florida fall day on the beach for welcoming his classmates.
One classmate and her husband, neither of whom we had laid eyes on since Heck was a pup, arrived a little late. She dispatched her husband to reconnoiter the scene to be sure they were at the right place since it was their first visit to Anna Maria Island.
After eyeballing the assembled group, he returned to their car to report that the gathering of old folks seated under the pavilion couldn’t possibly be her high school mates. But, in truth it was _ we had all become a gray 65 in a hurry.
Our guests of honor were our beloved high school principal, Wilbur Purcell and his wife, who are both hale and hearty and sharp as a tack.
As each classmate brought us up-to-date on family news, the aroma of frying fish and hush puppies filled the air and whetted our appetites.
Presiding over the cooking was the Cracker’s brother, Richard, and two friends, Loren and Angelo. To put it in the Cracker vernacular, when it comes to frying mullet, “they don’t come no better.”
When all was ready, we all sat down to a gigantic Cracker spread since each and every classmate had brought along his or her favorite dish to share.
You didn’t ask, but let the Cracker tell you what was on the table. For starters, there was clam chowder followed by fried and smoked mullet, fried chicken, hush puppies, cheese grits, swamp cabbage, blackeyed peas, pickled okra, pickled beets and onions, and a host of other delicacies too numerous to mention.
On the dessert table sat a large cake decorated for the occasion, pecan pies, cookies and cakes of every description, and to top it all off, a large guava cobbler, the likes of which this Cracker hadn’t tasted in a coon’s age.
When the Cracker was growing up, guava trees grew wild all over his area of Polk County but had largely disappeared due to the same freezes that decimated our citrus groves. The guava has now made a remarkable comeback and is growing in the wild again, as well as in dooryard plantings.
Our classmate, Truby, is the videotaper of our reunions. As he set up his video camera on its tripod and prepared to record this happy happening, he suddenly realized he had left the battery pack for the camera at home. This is typical of what happens when you reach 65.
Truby also told his favorite chicken story, not remembering that he had told the same story last year. This didn’t really matter since there were some new faces present and most of us had forgotten it anyway. Here’s his story:
It seems that there is this traveling salesman chugging down the road in his automobile, when he passes a farm and sees a Rhode Island Red rooster standing beside the road. Thinking that the fowl might dart in front of his car, the traveler slows down.
The chicken, instead of crossing the road for all the reasons we’ve heard about through the years, starts running alongside the vehicle.
Thinking that he would leave the rooster in a cloud of dust, he floorboards the gas pedal. When the driver looks out of the car window again, he is amazed and astounded to find that the frisky chicken is running neck to neck with him, if not a little ahead of the car.
The salesman turns his car around in the first farm lane and races back to the farm. By now, the rooster is back in the farmyard and is crowing a victory song as he struts around. For the first time, the visitor notices that this is no ordinary rooster since he has five legs.
The driver walks over to where the farmer is leaning on his pitchfork wondering what all of the commotion is about.
“That’s the most amazing chicken I’ve ever seen,” sez the salesman. “Where in the world did you get him?”
“Well, you see, stranger,” the farmer replies, “I’ve got 10 kids and every last one of them has a hankering for drumsticks so, by a slow process of selective breeding, I’ve developed this five-legged chicken.”
“Are the drumsticks from this new chicken just as good?” asks the stranger.
“Don’t rightly know, sir,” replied the farmer. “We haven’t been able to catch one yet.”
Well, anyway, it was another great reunion and the Cracker can’t wait to hear the chicken story again next year.

From Cracker's Crumbs, 1995 Gib Bergquist

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