Mornings: The Early Bird

In June of 1950, I was 13 years old and fixing to be 14 in August. My Grandpa, George F. Sicks had invited me to spend the summer with him in Arizona. Granddad was living in the town of Safford which is on the east side of the state.

I caught a bus and headed west. This was big stuff for a kid that had hardly been out of Augusta, Kansas. Grandpa’s second wife, Mina, went to Los Angeles to visit her sister for the summer. Before she left, she made me show her that I could cook a steak and fix potatoes and vegetables to go with it.

Grandpa was a farm equipment salesman with an Allis-Chalmers dealer. He called on the farms and ranches in the area sometimes. One Friday afternoon, Grandpa came home from work early and said that we were going to the farm. The farm was clear down in the southeast corner of the state, a couple of miles from the New Mexico border and just west of the town of San Simon. Simon is pronounced in the Spanish way, with a long “o.” You say it like the girl’s name, “Simone.”

We left Safford, heading south, and in a couple of hours were in southern Arizona. We merged with U.S. Highway 80 (now Interstate 10), and headed east. San Simon is in Chiricuhua County and is a part of the Sonoran Desert. You can see for miles across the desert country, clear up the Chiricahua Mountains. This is the land of Cochise and Geronimo, so you need to keep your eyes open.

The farm adjoins the highway on the south side, so you can see the whole place from the car. It is 120 acres of steaming hot desert with no tilled land or much of anything. There is a one room adobe house, and that’s about it. The redeeming feature is that there are two Artesian wells on the place- one hot and one cold. Granddad had fixed up the hot well so you could take a shower outside. He built a screen around it so you could have a little privacy from the people driving down the highway.

Granddad showed me around the place and we messed around for the rest of the evening. He called the place his “farm,” but I believe that it was what would now be considered as the equivalent of a “man-cave.” It was a place for him to putter around.

Granddad and I spent the evening out in the yard where it was pretty nice after the sun went down. When we went to bed, I lucked out and got the cot. A little after sunrise the next morning, I was awakened by a pecking noise. I sat up in bed, wondering what was going on. Grandpa, who had awakened also said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s my road-runner buddy telling me that it’s time for his breakfast.” We got up and got dressed and Grandpa went to a cabinet and got a sack of chicken feed. He said, “A year or so ago, Mina went to visit her sister in L.A., so I stayed down here for a month. After eating, I would throw the table scraps out in the yard because I knew some critter would eat them. It turned out that the roadrunner was the lucky creature that came. He enjoyed the food and depended on me to provide it. If I didn’t show up quick enough in the mornings, he figured out that he could peck on the window and get my attention. I guess he has remembered our routine since then.” Granddad took a cup of grain and threw it out into the yard. The roadrunner scurried around like a chicken in the barnyard intent on getting every last bite. It’s been 70 years now, and I still think of that roadrunner from time to time. Who knew that a bird could think or reason or remember anything?

Now, I don’t speak the roadrunner’s language, but I will try to express in English what the bird might have been thinking. Imagine that it is evening and that the roadrunner has been craising all day and comes by the farm in the evening. He thinks, “There is a car. The man must be here in the house. I like the man. He feeds me.” The next morning, the roadrunner is in the yard. “Where’s my breakfast? I’m hungry! The man must be in the house. Last year I figured out how to get his attention, so I know now how to get him. I’ll jump up on the window ledge and peck on the window. Yep, he’s getting up, so it won’t be long until breakfast.” Then, a little later, “That was delicious. Now that I don’t have to spend the morning foraging for food, I’m going to go down the road a piece and find that roadrunner chick and see if she wants to go jogging.”

Dave Thomas

4/30/2020

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