The Sly Old Gander and the Downfall of the Prideful Rooster
“This is a terrible Saturday and Saturdays shouldn’t be terrible,”
said the girl, stomping her foot.
It was a sizzling hot August Saturday, the kind of day only good for swimming. But the Crenshaw children weren’t swimming. They were sitting on the edge of the porch, taking turns throwing rocks at tin cans lined up on the fence.
“It’s not fair. They could take us swimming,” said the girl. “Daddy can look at cattle any day, and Mama could have her sewing circle next week.” She threw a rock so hard it ricocheted off the can and just missed crashing into the windshield of a truck coming up the dusty lane.
When the children saw it was Uncle Gus, bringing Aunt Bessie to the sewing circle, they jumped down and ran to the truck. “Tell us a story. Please. Please. Please,” begged the girl.
The boy moaned, “We’re bored almost to death.”
Aunt Bessie got out, laughing.
Gus wiped his face with a red bandana.
“No. I reckon not. It’s so hot the words would melt before they could get out of my mouth.”
The girl tugged on his arm. “No, they won’t. I’ll give you some cold lemonade.”
Gus climbed down.
“All right, one story, a short one. Get the lemonade.”
They settled in the shade, and Uncle Gus began, “When we left off, the vain rooster, Blue, had set up a ram jumping match, but the wily gander, Hank, fixed it so Maximus would lose, and he’d cheat Blue out of all his corn – again.
Blue was spittin’ mad. He up and flew at Hank, and would’ve slashed the old bird, except Hank was under the protection of the guard-turkeys.
Blue did what a lot of folks do when they can’t win and they can’t fight. He resorted to hateful name-calling.
“Hey, Ugly buzzard, the only contest you’d win is one for ugly. Have a beauty contest. I dare you! I’d bet on me, and you’d lose.”
Now, we’ll see how that prideful rooster, with his own cruel words, brought on his worst defeat yet, because just last Saturday, Hank had learned something Blue didn’t know. Here’s a fact – Hank most always knew things nobody else knew. That’s because, where most folks do the talking, Hank hangs back, watches, and does the listening – and he keeps what he learns to himself till he needs it. “You never know when a secret will come in handy.”
Last week, lurking in the shadows, he’d seen a stranger show Farmer Crenshaw something in a crate. When they walked away, Hank snuck around to see what it was. He peeked through a crack, and saw a bird so beautiful, his eyes near popped out. The poor bird was scared, so Hank said sweetly, “Howdy. I’m Hank. Who are you?”
“That’s a fine name you’ve got there. I hope you won’t take offense, but what are you?”
He answered, in an odd accent, “I’m a blue peacock. Your farmer might buy me. Is it nice here?”
“Yep. You’ll love it. Tell me, Sundara-Akbar-Badran, where are you from?”
“From India, but I grew up here, so I’m a citizen. Call me Sundara.”
Hank heard the men coming. He said, “Gotta go. Nice meeting you. See you soon, I hope.”
Back in the shadows, he heard the farmer say, “Fine. Bring him two weeks from today.”
So, when Blue dared him to have a beauty contest, Hank knew his secret was going to make him a pile of corn. Words oozed off his beak, “Hmmm. I suppose it’s fair that you get a chance to get even. But, you may not win.”
“Okay, then. We’ll do it Saturday?”
Blue agreed, and Hank went to the animals, saying, “I’ve been thinking. We’ve had fighting matches and jumping matches. But we can’t all jump or fight.”
Pearl, the duck, said, “Right.”
“We need a new contest. I see you fine-looking animals, and think, beauty contest.”
Pearl clapped her wings, and some animals said, “Let’s do it.”
Hank trumpeted, “The Crenshaw Farm Beauty Pageant, next Saturday.”
The judges were picked, Esmeralda, the cow, Bacon, an ancient boar, and Montezuma, Mr. Crenshaw’s horse, who was a beauty, but didn’t need acclaim.
“Now. Who’s gonna come on up here and sign up.”
Pearl and her friend, a shy young hen, named Goldie, came forward, then Rose, a spotted pig. Blue strutted in front and crowed, “I’ll sign up.”
Goldie turned to go, but Pearl held her. “Don’t chicken out!”
Blue looked at the sheet, then at Hank, “What’s a Sundara -Akbar-Badran?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? He’s a new bird coming on Saturday. I met him through a crack in his crate when the farmers were dealing. He was fretful, coming here a stranger, so I thought we’d make him feel part of things.Worried, Blue?”
Goldie tried to run again, but Pearl stepped on her foot. They signed up. Then Butterscotch, a cow, and Jingle, a little horse entered. Hank said, “Anyone else?” To his surprise, Maximus, the ram who’d lost the leaping contest, entered.
“Okay! Fluff up your feathers or fur and get ready to strut your stuff.”
He tacked the list to the barn door, opened his betting book, and said, “What a fine flock of beauties! Pick your favorites and place your bets.”
Blue bet all his corn on himself. The next five animals bet on him too. Then, Digger, the sheepdog, bet on Butterscotch, and seven ducks bet on Pearl. Soon, there were bets on Goldie, Rose, even Maximus. Blue was too shocked to talk. He just shook his comb, thinking, “They’re throwing away good corn. Makes no sense.”
For the next week, you never saw so much washing, combing, fluffing, puffing as those animals did, except for Maximus. No one saw him all week.
Saturday morning, with the farm buzzing, Hank quit taking bets, and took off to meet Sundara.
Once freed from the crate, the bird stretched and spread his feathers. “I won!” thought Hank, as he put a wing around him to whisk him into the trees. “Friend Sunny, I have a surprise. To welcome you big, I entered you in our farm beauty pageant! We have some mighty fine-looking animals here, so you probably won’t win, but that’s not what matters.”
Sundara agreed it didn’t matter.
“We’re happy to have you with us.”
Sundara said, “Hank, you’re so kind. Thank you.”
Hank waved a wing. “Not necessary. It warmed my heart to do it. Now you rest here in the shade. I’ll get you when it’s time.”
With that, Hank rushed back to start the pageant. He told the contestants, “Walk to the middle of the stage, stop, turn, pose, and turn again, then walk off the other side. Then, you’ll parade across together. Got it?”
“Okay. Goldie, go first.”
Goldie’s head popped up. “Me?”
“Yes. Then, Rose, Pearl, Butterscotch, Jingle, and Maximus, then Blue and Sundara.”
Suddenly, Hank looked around and barked, “Wait! Where’s Maximus?”
“I’m here,” said a voice, and from behind Jingle, stepped a dazzling ram.
Hank’s beak dropped open. “Max?”
“Where’ve you been?”
“I combed out my wool. It took all week.”
Pearl cried, “You’re gorgeous!” Goldie whispered, “You’re gonna win.”
Blue scoffed. “Looking better, Max, but don’t get your hopes up.”
Hank looked out. The judges were in place, and all the animals, even Rocko, the scary cat that lived under the farmhouse, were there.
“Ready, Goldie? Go.”
One by one, they walked onstage, to whinnies, bleats, and chirps. But when Maximus went on, there was not a peep. I tell you, poor Max turned red with shame, standing there in the silence. He was about to run away, when the animals went wild, cheering, screaming, whistling, and calling, “You’re gorgeous!”
“Me?” He couldn’t believe it.
While Max was enjoying the glory, Hank left to fetch Sundara. “Ready?”
They came up as Blue was onstage.
Sundara heard such loud cheers, he peeked in, and was stunned by Blue’s beauty. Hank pushed him, saying, “Go out there and spread your feathers.”
Then, Hank called for his guard-turkeys.
Sundara walked out, with a shy smile.
The crowd cheered, “Welcome.” Then, he spread his feathers, and every animal gasped, then cheered, even louder than they had for Blue. Blue came from behind the stage to see what the commotion was about.
When he saw Sundara, he ran, screeching, feathers flying, to lay into Hank, but Hank’s guard-turkeys were there. Blue pulled in his talons, but hissed, “Ugly crook!” If the look on his face could have killed, Hank would have dropped right there.
Hank smiled. “Blue, what’s stuck in your craw? This is your contest. Smile. It’s time for the big promenade and to learn who wins. “
Hank walked onstage. “Let’s give a big hand for all of our beauties.
As they paraded and lined up, the judges leaned together, with much whispering and shaking of heads. Onstage, the animals tried to smile and keep calm, but that’s right hard to do while you’re holding your breath and crossing your feathers.
Finally, they looked up. Esmeralda said, “It was close, but we have a winner.”
“The wise animals of ancient days gave us these words, ‘Beauty is the quiet sound of a dear one’s breath, the caress of a nose or beak…’”
Montezuma reared up. “Enough speechifying. Maximus won!”
The animals, except Blue, clapped, pawed, or flapped, yelling, “Maximus. Maximus.” But he just stood there, sure the winner couldn’t be him. Goldie pecked him. “Maximus, it’s you,” she clucked. “You won!”
The dazed ram trotted to the front, his sleek wool flowing in silky waves. As they showered him with wild violets, daisies, and yellow goatsbeard, he beamed.
Poor Blue Tommie Joe! He felt lower than a hound on this August day. He slumped behind the stage grieving for his lost title, and worse, that he’d never get it back – not because of Maximus. Blue knew he was a temporary champion. He loved leaping over rocks too much to stay beautified.
A new rival was the cause for his agony. He’d known it the second he stood beak-to-beak with the peacock, thinking, “It’s over. I might as well go back to fighting.” Right then Sundara skittered up, and plopped himself right next to Blue, babbling, “You’re so, so, uh, majestic. We’ll be best friends.”
Blue looked sideways at the blathering bird, and shook his head. Then he got up, and with head hanging and blue wings dragging in the dust, he walked past Hank and his pile of corn. He kept walking, with the peacock trotting after him like a puppy dog.”
“The end,” said Uncle Gus, and winked, “Too bad there are no children here who would want to go swimming.”
“We do,” they screamed, ran to grab their suits, and jumped in the truck.