By Bernard Inocentes S. Garcia
WHEN I was eight years old, I had a pet rooster with red feathers. Someone had given it to my father, who gave it to me. I fed it three times a day and stroke its feathers regularly. It crowed every morning, and when hens were around, it would flap its wings and scratch the ground.
As days went by, my pet rooster got bigger and stronger. It became territorial. When other roosters went to the area, it would be on guard and ready to fight. I started bringing it around our neighborhood. A natural warrior, it leaped higher than its opponents and knew how to duck and evade a strike. It became a source of pride.
It was also around this time that I discovered my ability to talk to animals. And, like my pet rooster, I became adventurous. During summer, I looked for spiders in cornfields and flew a kite with the other kids. Sometimes I played too much and got scolded, and this was when I began talking to my pet rooster.
One day, it was my birthday, my father arrived with a big smile. My two sisters grinned and greeted me. Let’s celebrate, they cheered. Get the chicken! I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. They were planning to kill my pet rooster! I wanted to run and save it, but I didn’t. Instead, I got my pet rooster and said I was sorry.
I was holding it when it got murdered. Afterward, when I saw the crispy fried chicken, I forgot about my pet rooster. They were happy, especially my sisters. In the next morning, I saw its old bowl, and some of its girlfriends, hens of different colors, went to the area. They too missed the brave rooster.
The death of my pet rooster has led me to another childhood wonder: the secret of squash.
In our household, my father was the cook while my mother was in charge of the market. He preferred meat but she loved vegetables. And so there was no peace in our kitchen. One day, she brought a big squash that could feed us for one week. He looked at it and asked: Why are we eating this kind of food? Rich people eat meat!
It was a good bargain, she quipped. He cut it open and threw the seeds outside the house. That night lightning and thunder rocked our neighborhood, and soon there grew in our backyard a mighty vine. Green leaves crawled on the ground, and when the rain came, yellow flowers began to sprout. My mother smiled at the sight of the beautiful flowers. My father looked at the vine but didn’t say a word. He knew it was that dumb squash.
One morning, I saw an old farmer gathering grass for his cow. He picked one flower and showed me a secret. Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, he said, grinning. After a few weeks, wonder of wonders, big, yellow-green squash began to grow out of the mighty vine.
We were blessed! cried my mother. My father shook his head and frowned. We could share them with others! she added. My father began to smile. He then picked the bigger ones and told me to give them to our neighbors. Like a kiddie Santa Claus, I ended up grinning at our neighbors’ doorsteps holding a big squash.
Months after every harvest, new flowers began to sprout again. Every morning I looked at the mighty vine and saw an exciting playground. Unknown to them, the old farmer had taught me the secret of squash, which was a lesson on the bees and the birds. It had a male and a female flower; to produce squash, you had to put them together.
We had plenty of squash! Our neighbors were happy, and my father became the village chief. As for me, I’ve learned the hard way that some crops were not suited for a particular place and soil. When my mother brought pineapples, I planted three of them in our backyard. I waited for flowers to sprout, but nothing did. The pineapples died, just like my pet rooster. Then another summer came, and we kids looked for spiders in cornfields and flew kites on windy afternoons.