The mini-bio series of the members of the Mahlou clan would be incomplete without the introduction of Er-Er, who was in our life for all too short a period. However, to understand how we ended up with a rooster as a son, one must understand a little more about San Ignatio than I have shared to date. Besides being a small, quiet, mission town, reminiscent of old Mexico, with wooden buildings and no modernity, even in its limited shopping establishment, San Ignatio has been a time-immemorial home to a collection of feral (would that make them free range?) Mexican chickens.
City law gives chickens the right of way on San Ignatio streets, which is not a problem since the streets are narrow and top speed might reach 25 miles an hour. Speeds in excess of that are also violations of city ordinance.
Every spring one finds mother hens with their broods strutting up and down the sidewalks, toddling across streets with braked cars, and ambling into the yards of residents. We enjoy them, and we have had several broods of feral chickens raised by their mothers in our yard. We feed them and get to know them, becoming involved in their lives. Although chickens are reputed to have limited brain power, we knew that they know us the time we walked home from one of the local restaurants to find the roosters from a recently grown brood nestled in a tree not far from our house. (Ah! Is that why they are called roosters? Because they like to “roost” in trees and elsewhere?) As we walked past the tree, they all started crowing and showing excitement. Either we were being greeted, or they hoped that we had some food on us. In any event, we were clearly recognized as a food source!
Another time, I became involved in a mother hen’s dilemma. As her chicks were feeding in our yard, a stray dog grabbed one that was close to the sidewalk. Immediately, all the other chicks scattered, and Mama Hen flew up into a tree, squawking. The noise brought me outside, and I quickly determined the problem. Before the dog could leave the area with Little Chickie, I ran over, pried his mouth open, and removed the chick, who seemed undamaged. (I think the dog just wanted to play with him, not eat him.) Mama Hen clucked all her children back to her, and I brought over Little Chickie. She seemed grateful to have him back if chickens feel gratitude. I watched Little Chickie over the next few days, and he appeared to have experienced no lasting negative effects from having spent a few minutes in a dog’s mouth.
Er-Er came a brood later, from a different mother hen, who abandoned him as a young rooster. Either she felt he was grown up enough, or the brood kicked him out. We don’t really know. Mother and the nearly grown chicks, who had been eating in our yard, simply disappeared one day, and there was Er-Er, all alone, sleeping in our tree. Perhaps he just did not go along with the crowd by his own desire. I can understand that! Perhaps he knew where the food was and chose to remain near it. In any event, one fine morning, there was just Donnie, I, and Er-Er.
Er-er's name came from our discovery that he was not a female chick but a rooster in the making. I had never realized that roosters go through an adolescent period in which they learn to crow, with some unsuccessful attempts in the beginning. "Er," he would start, then go on to "er-er, er, er-er-er." His most common mis-attempt until he reached full roosterhood was "er-er." Hence, the name.
I learned to communicate with Er-er in rudimentary ways. He would come when called. He allowed me to walk right up to him with food, and he followed me around at times like a puppy. Once he reached roosterhood, he began to range farther from our house, but he always ended up at home for food and to sleep in our tree. Some morning I would leave before he had returned from his early morning saunter around town, and I would catch him on the next street. "Er-er," I would call to him, "go home; it's time for breakfast." He would make a beeline toward home, and, as he rounded the corner, I would call Donnie and tell him to be ready with food because Er-er was on the way.
Er-er found himself two wives. He strutted home with them one day, and we were so proud of him. After that, he stayed around the house more, but eventually another, older rooster lured his wives away. Poor Er-er! He took it in stride, however, and continued his occasional jaunts into the rest of the town, returning home for eating and nesting for months.
Some months later, a new mother hen with a new brood moved in. Surprisingly, she and her brood accepted Er-er, and they all dined together on a daily basis each morning. Afternoons, they all lay in the shade of the tree together, and when the sun was less bright, they all scratched in the dirt for bugs. That brood, too, grew up and moved up, but Er-er remained, open to a parallel-activity friendship with any of the other townies (hens and roosters) who happened to stop by to root for bugs or scarf up some chicken feed.
Then one black day, chicken catchers showed up. We were unaware that the town hired chicken catchers with big nets to weed out excess fowl so that they town did not get completely overrun. There were a number of visiting fowl in our yard that afternoon. Only Donnie was home, and he heard the racket as the frightened fowl flew in all directions. He went out to the yard and found the chicken catchers dashing energetically after the scattering fowl. Donnie asked them to leave, and they complied, noting that they had already caught a few, anyway, and that should be enough. After they left, Donnie looked around at the remaining chickens. Er-er was missing. He never showed up again, and our assumption is that the people-trusting chicken was likely the first caught and carted off, as he was very likely to walk right up to the chicken catchers, expecting food or company. We were heartbroken.
For many days I prayed that wherever Er-er ended up, the people into whose hands he fell ate him and did not force our gentle, people-loving creature into cock fighting. (That is a problem here in California.)
It took me a long time to reconcile myself to the loss of Er-Er. I still miss him, and I still pray for his well-being just in case he has remained alive though one might consider it odd to pray for a rooster.