Our old house was not far enough away from the road. There were four pine trees which had been planted some forty years back that formed a rudimentary screen. They permitted people to see whatever we were doing in the front yard, and when we visited the nearest town, strangers would recount to us what they’d seen us doing. There was never any question of wandering into the yard naked, even if a fox was eviscerating a chicken at four in the morning, because the next time we went to pick up a piece of hardware to fix the toilet, someone would be asking us why we slept without clothes, like Catholics.

It was almost unbearable when we first moved there. People would literally pull their vehicles off the road and rip up the front yard to get a look at what we were doing. Shortly after we moved into the house, my wife and I were undressing for bed when the neighbors (who had sold us the place) pulled their pickup truck to the window and flashed their headlights. I never figured out if it was strictly intimidation, or they just wanted to see how unrelated people fuck.

“Why don’t she bite that piller, Jay W?”

“I don’t know, Daddy. But they don’t look nothin’ alike. That ain’t right. Hand me them binoculars. Lord Jesus, daddy… They ain’t even fuckin’. They… they’s Readin!… Books!

Momma done sold the fuckin’ house to a pair a Devil worshippers.”

“You sure they ain’t fuckin’?’

“Yep. He done took off his hat.”

Eudora Welty was not exaggerating, folks. My wife and I were both raised in the South, and nothing prepared us for this. I’d grown up understanding that the guy who played with his dick beside the pinball machine at the bait store was essentially harmless, as long as you didn’t make eye contact, and that all that history stuff was fine for school, but you didn’t want to talk about it with uncle Red. And you definitely didn’t want to tell him he was a ringer for Lyndon Johnson, cause he’d walk out and get the 12 gauge out of the trunk of his Falcon and cut you in half.

My wife’s aunts were only a couple of years her senior. They were called Fleeta, Nelma, and Kitty. You’d think they were doomed to a life of prostitution with names like that hanging around their necks, but no. They took hold of their destinies like a case of shrink-wrapped Dolly Madison cakes and ate themselves into what passes for celibacy. Down here. Two of them died nearly virgins with only four kids apiece. We’ve had to attend their funerals, and it’s always a mystery to me 1.Why people here generally insist on burial, and 2. How in hell do they get them into that coffin without shoe horns or KY Jelly. And speaking of funerals, is there a type of aunt in the North or Midwest who attends all the funerals? The one if she happens to catch you by the arm will lead you straight to the deceased (at an open coffin ceremony) and start purring “Ooo. Just look at the job they did. They did a beautiful job on her. I like the cheeks. Not too much blush. They put too much blush on your grandma. Made her look like a whore. But this looks good. Almost alive. But without that big wrinkle in her forehead. I wonder how in hell they fixed that.”

Maybe that’s just in my family.

I think we can both be forgiven for thinking there were no surprises in store for us. But then we met The Family That Loved Itself. They had seen our peafowl while making a detailed inspection of our yard, and wanted to know if we’d take some chickens in trade. They had a couple of teenage kids with white hair, one male, one female, who’d smile and shyly drop their heads when addressed, but also appeared to be scoping the place for anything loose that could be dragged off without breaking a sweat. Dad reeked of booze and stale cigarette smoke and Mom had an eagle tattooed across her lower back. She was the one who conducted the transaction, while dad would stroke his daughter’s hair and interrupt with “These chickens is junk food junkies. You know that song? Ray Stevens? ” while mom increased her volume. “He’s right. I work at the bakery and they give us old donuts. What we don’t eat them chickens do.”

The chickens looked remarkably healthy for being raised on a fructose, hydrogenated oil, and starch diet. They were a pair of Rhode Island Reds that mom referred to as pulleys (I think she meant pullets). We traded a peafowl for them, and they drove off. We already had enough peafowl and a couple more laying hens would reinvigorate our aging flock. So we figured it was a fair deal, until later that evening, when we heard one of the “pulleys” start that adolescent screech that later becomes a crow. We figured we had a male and female now, so we named them Sid and Nancy.

Nancy took a while longer to start crowing, so his name had already stuck. He behaved more like a hen anyway. He was gentle and liked to hop up in your lap for a pet. The hens loved him. He would actually let them eat the treats he found, unlike most roosters, who just use food as bait and then savagely bite the hen’s heads while they hump the daylights out of them. Nancy’s girls just squatted right down for him. Treats or no treats.

Chickens occasionally exhibit this bizarre behavior I call “The Moony Eye” for want of a better term. A male and female will face each other, place their heads in roughly the same plane, gaze into each others eyes, and gargle. Nancy had moony-eyed most of the girls, and they were on his team. When you picked Nancy up, he would try to moony-eye you. We thought this would go over well at the farmer’s market, so we dragged him along to help us sell tomatoes. But as soon as people showed up at our table, he’d tuck one foot up and go to sleep. We stopped bringing him.

Nancy’s brother Sid died of a heart attack when he was about two, so we figured Nancy wouldn’t live very long, either. But he lived around six years, and actually moved with us to the new place. My wife was feeding the chickens one afternoon when Nancy strode over and began showing a hen the feed. Then he stood bolt upright and fell. Just like that.