Is anyone out there who will not think this fowled-up story is weirder than weird?
Ms. Barbara Wilbur, the faculty sponsor to my senior class in high school, nearly a half century ago, sent me an e-mail message on Monday, March 8, 2010, saying in part:
“I heard by way of the grapevine, that you might be making a trip to [Tennessee] some time this year. If you do and I don’t get to see you – and reminisce about the famous “Chicken Hunt” I am going to do you great bodily harm!! . . . “
This sounded like a serious threat, and I took it seriously. My recollection of this small woman from all those years ago was that she had a quick smile but was as tough as nails. I didn’t want to cross her, then or now.
So began a series of e-mail messages about when my wife Ellen and I would visit Tennessee and possible times we could get together to reminisce about that chicken hunt. We exchanged phone numbers to work out the final details.
This particular trip was to attend the wedding of my niece’s daughter Diane Nunn. I think this makes Diane my “grand-niece” “or “great-niece” but I don’t hear people use such terms in normal conversation.
That Saturday morning Ellen and I met Ms. Wilbur for breakfast in Clarksville at a great little German café called Silke’s. As we walked into the café, there was Ms. Wilbur waiting for us with that unmistakable big smile that I remembered. I had not seen her since I had graduated from high school over 45 years earlier. Quite a spell, as we would say in those parts.
As we settled into breakfast, I asked Ms. Wilbur to explain to Ellen what a “chicken hunt” was and why my senior class was doing one. (I needed a bit of a refresher on these points as well, but I did not let on that I had a fuzzy memory on these matters of fact.)
She explained that in those days “out in the country” most people had chickens that were either penned up out back or that just roamed around outside the house. My senior class needed to raise money to finance our prom and someone came up with the idea of small groups of us going out and asking for donations of chickens that we then would sell in Clarksville for cold, hard cash.
Being a very brave class sponsor, Ms. Wilbur would meet small groups of 3-4 of us on different Saturdays at the high school and, under her supervision, we would go out, knock on doors, explain our objective, and ask for a donation of a chicken or two. From here the background of how this all worked then transitioned into what happened on a chicken hunt on a particular day.
I explained to Ms. Wilbur that I had told Ellen on previous occasions about my recollection of the Saturday that was my turn to go on one of these hunts. Then I suggested to Ms. Wilbur that she tell her version of the story so that Ellen and I could hear how or if it differed from my version of it.
Well, it turned out that Ms. Wilbur and I had very different recollections of this story, not unlike others who witness an event and recall it very differently. Here are the highlights of her version:
- Ms. Wilbur met me and 2-3 other seniors this particular Saturday morning. She had a route in mind that did not overlap with previous groups that went before us.
- She chose an area around a community known as Boogersville. (No joke.) This was an unincorporated “town” that included the Boogersville Café in the 1950s and maybe into the 1960s, a car repair shop, and a grocery store, all on the south side of Highway 13 between Lone Oak and Shiloh.
- We drove up to a house across the highway from a cow pasture about a quarter-mile past the Boogersville Café. Chickens were all around. The driveway to the house went around to the back rather than the front of the house, not uncommon in those days. The group of us walked around to the front door of the house and one of my classmates knocked on the door.
- No one came to the door after a few knocks. Also, when we drove up there was no car or pickup truck there, so we concluded that no one was home and we started back to our car.
- Ms. Wilbur said I suggested to the group that we just catch a chicken while we were already there and put it in the coop in the trunk. (This bit of information shocked and surprised me!)
- She said the next thing that happened was that she saw my long legs go by in a flash chasing this chicken that had just been peacefully looking for a bug in the grass.
- Then she said the chicken ran toward an outhouse that was standing with the door wide open and that I chased the chicken until it ran inside the outhouse and jumped up on the toilet seat.
- Unbelievably, she said I stayed in hot pursuit of the chicken and that as I approached the outhouse door that the chicken jumped down into the pit!!!
Well, there were some points in Ms. Wilbur’s version of the story that I just do not recall. I do remember most of them, so I’ll be brief in noting how my recollection differs from hers.
First, I just do not remember that going after that chicken was my idea. But I do not disagree with Ms. Wilbur on this, I just don’t remember it. The shocking thing about this point is, if it’s true, that it reveals a character flaw on my part. (This must certainly surprise the reader as well!)
Second, while I do recall chasing the chicken into the outhouse, I do not recall that it jumped into the pit before I got to it. But I do not recall catching the chicken either, so Ms. Wilbur may be right. For the chicken’s sake, however, I hope she is wrong on this point. Another alternative is that the chicken could have run out of the outhouse just as I was about to grab it, but neither of us remembers it that way.
If the chicken did jump into the pit, two things are evident. One is that I owe the chicken a big apology, as well as whichever owner of that chicken came next to use that outhouse. The other is that I’m not a chicken thief after all.
Finally, there were 2-3 other witnesses to this episode, classmates that I cannot at this point name. Maybe in the future they will come out of the woodwork and tell their versions of the story. Then the truth could be more clearly established.
At this point, it’s just a “she said—he said” story.
I do concede though that in many respects I like Ms. Wilbur’s version of this story better than mine, in spite of the Problem Child bad light it puts me in. She makes me sound more daring, brave, and action-oriented than I pictured myself as being at the time. Oh, I forgot—devious.
Postscript: My daughter Joy Stollings flew from Austin to Nashville for the wedding, arriving late morning. Ellen and I left from our breakfast with Ms. Wilbur to pick Joy up and bring her to Clarksville. The following day, on the way to visit other relatives, I showed Joy and Ellen the house where this sadly infamous chicken hunt had taken place on the western edge of Boogersville. As I drove slowly past, I looked into the back yard. The outhouse was no longer there, and no chickens were in sight.