It’s that time of the year when chickens lay brightly colored eggs and bunny rabbits hide them for children to find. It’s an Easter tradition that is even more important this year when children (and their parents) can use a little old-fashioned fun. By rights, I should have a chicken, egg, and bunny story to tell. But I don’t. I do, however, have a cat and rooster story. It will have to do. Join me as I travel back in time to when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa and Rasputin the Cat and the Cockle Doodle Rooster hatched a plot to wake me up early every morning. (I adapted this story from my book, “The Bush Devil Ate Sam.”)
Jo Ann, my first wife, and I raised Rasputin from a kitten. He had grown into one fine cat, or sweet meat as my students said. They’d tease me by coming by and pinching him to see how fat he had become. Then they would stand around discussing whether he was ready for the stew pot.
Rasputin’s primary entertainment was stalking dogs. You knew when he was at work because the neighborhood dogs carefully avoided the tall clumps of grass where he liked to hide. He was particularly obnoxious when it was windy. He would hide up-wind and make it more difficult for the dogs to sniff him out. I felt for the poor dog that came too close.
A streak of yellow and a yip of surprise proclaimed his attack. What made his behavior particularly strange was that he came at the dogs on his two hind legs, walking upright. This allowed both front legs to be used as slashing weapons. It was the wise dog that steered clear.
His other form of entertainment was more cat like. He liked the girls. Each night he would ask to go out around 10 and we wouldn’t seen him until the next morning. I was fine with this. Who was I to get in the way of true love? I was less tolerant of his returning around 5:30 and insisting that I let him in. He did this by practicing his operatic meows under our bedroom window.
Since no amount of suggesting that he should change his behavior discouraged him, I jumped out of bed one morning and chased him across the yard. This got Jo Ann excited. Our cat was going “to run away and never come back.” She may have also been concerned about the neighbor’s reaction to my charging out of the house naked. That type of thing bothered her. I promised to repent and assured her that the cat would be back in time for dinner. He was.
There were occasions when Rasputin’s tomcatting kept him out beyond his normal 5:30 appearance. I’m convinced that he made a deal with the rooster next door to wake us in his absence. I didn’t make this correlation until the rooster crowed directly under our window one morning at 5:30. Even then I thought it was just a coincidence until the rooster repeated himself the next day.
It wasn’t just the crowing that irritated me; it was the nature of the crow. American and European roosters go cock-a-doodle-do. Even urban children know this because that’s how it is spelled out in books. Liberian roosters go cock-a-doodle— and stop. You are constantly waiting for the other ‘do’ to drop.
“This crowing under our window,” I thought to myself, “has to be nipped in the bud.”
That evening I filled a bucket with water and put it next to my bed. Sure enough, at 5:30 the next morning there he was: “COCK-A-DOODLE!” I jumped up, grabbed my bucket, and threw the water out the window on the unsuspecting fowl. “Squawk!” I heard as one very wet and irritated rooster headed home as fast as his little rooster legs could carry him.
“Chicken,” I yelled out after his departing body. “And that,” I said to Jo Ann, “should be the end of this particular problem.”
I was inspired though. Cats don’t think much of getting wet either. What if I kept a bucket of water next to the bed and dumped it on Rasputin the next time he woke us up at 5:30. Jo couldn’t even blame me for running outside naked. With warm thoughts of having solved two problems with one bucket, I went to bed that night loaded for cat, so to speak.
“COCK-A-DOODLE” roared the rooster outside our window promptly at 5:30.
“Damn,” I thought, “that boy is one slow learner.”
I fell out of bed, grabbed the bucket and dashed for the window. There was no rooster there. I looked up and spotted him about 20 feet away running full tilt. He had slipped up on us, crowed and taken off! My opinion of the rooster took a paradigm leap. Here was one worthy opponent. The question was how to respond.
It took me a couple of days of devious thinking to arrive at a solution. What would happen if I recorded the rooster on a tape recorder and then played it back? I had a small tape recorder that I used for exchanging letters with my dad so I set myself the task of capturing the rooster’s fowl language. Since he had an extensive harem he liked to crow about, it wasn’t long before I had a dozen or so cock-a-doodles on tape. I rewound the recorder, cranked up the volume and set it up next to our front screen door.
The results were hilarious. Within seconds the rooster was on our porch, jumping up and down and screaming ‘cock-a-doodle.’ There was a rooster inside of our house that had invaded his territory and he was going to tear him apart, feather-by-feather. Laughing I picked up the recorder, rewound it, carried to the back screen door, and hit the play button.
“Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle,” I could hear the rooster as he roared around to the back of house to get at his implacable foe. Back and forth I went, front to back, back to front. And around and around the house the rooster went, flinging out his challenges.
Finally, having laughed myself to exhaustion, I took pity on my feathered friend and shut the recorder off. This just about concludes the rooster story, but not quite.
One Friday evening, Jo and I had been celebrating the end of another week of teaching with gin and tonics until the wee hours when we decided to see how the rooster would respond to his nemesis at one o’clock in the morning. Considering our 5:30 am wakeup calls, we felt there was a certain amount of justice in the experiment. I set it up the recorder and played a “Cock-a-doodle.”
“COCK-A-DOODLE?!” was the immediate response. No challenge was to go unanswered. “Cock-a-doodle” we heard as roosters from the Superintendent’s compound checked in. “Cock-a-doodle, cock-a-doodle” we heard in the distance as town roosters rose to the challenge. Soon every rooster in Gbarnga was awake, and probably every resident.
We decided to keep our early morning rooster-arousing episode to ourselves.
Hope you enjoyed the tale. There are several more about Rasputin in the book. A very Happy Easter to each of you from Peggy and me. Be safe and stay healthy!