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DUKE

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The boys named him Duke. Like his namesake, John Wayne, Duke strutted around, ruled the roost, and didn't take any guff. Only difference was, our Duke was a rooster. We had just moved to the country and we were really doing the farm thing. I'm talking gardens, fruit trees, horses, cows, goats, ducks, and, of course... chickens.

My attractive, city-bred wife came in the house one day with a basket full of fresh eggs and said, "You've got to do something about that crazy rooster!" Turns out he was attacking everyone who entered the pen to gather eggs. He would come flying at you like something out of a bad Alfred Hitchcock movie, squawking and trying to rake you with his spurs. Now, a wise husband knows it pays to keep mama happy. So, I grabbed a broom and headed for the pen. Duke and I had a brief conversation ending with him huddled in the corner.

Actually, it took a few of those conversations before he finally let her collect eggs without a fight. But, it was an uneasy truce. If you were outside the fence, he would still squawk and fly at you like a Kamikazee pilot. He really thought he was the toughest critter in the barnyard. Between the crowing contests with the neighbor's rooster and his determination to attack everything in sight, he was beginning to wear out his welcome.

Then, it happened. Eventually, it happens to every loud-mouthed, obnoxious boor. You see Duke only thought he was the toughest critter on the farm. We also raise Australian Shepherd dogs. Talk about tough! One 45-pound Aussie can convince a stubborn 2,000 pound bull go into a pen he really doesn't want to enter. These guys don't know fear. The dogs had an interesting relationship with Duke. Every time they would trot past the pen, the rooster would do his squawk and dive act and throw himself at the fence. I'm sure he was saying, "You're lucky! If this fence wasn't here, I'd tear you apart."

On that fateful day, my sons were next door helping the neighbor when they heard a terrible racket. They looked across the pasture and saw what appeared to be a dogfight. There was a cloud of dust and plenty of growling. They ran home and pulled the dogs apart. That's when they saw him. Turns out it wasn't a dogfight. It was a chicken dinner. Someone had left the door open and Duke decided to take his bullying routine on the road. It didn't play well. By the time the dogs got through with him, he was a mess. His comb was nearly torn from his head and all his tail feathers were gone. He looked pathetic.

Certain he was dead, my son picked up the limp body. Suddenly, Duke shuddered to life, jumped out of his hands, and ran into the woods. I was sure we had seen the last of him. Then, about a week later, I heard a very quiet, very timid, rooster crowing. I found him about 30 feet up in a maple tree. We finally coaxed him down and back into the pen where he remained with us for some time. Once in a while, he even crowed a little, but his heart just wasn't in it. He was never the same!

It occurred to me there may be a lesson here. No one likes arrogance. Every bully ends up the same way. Some day, he'll walk through the wrong door. There will be a cloud of dust, feathers everywhere, and someone will leave him with his tail feathers plucked. It's no way to live. It's better to speak softly, mind your own business, do your job, and respect your neighbors. Just ask Duke.

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