One of the most commonly told memories among our family friends is about my mother’s abiding hatred for the chicken farmer in our neighborhood. When Mama was pregnant with me, my parents moved to Townville, a tiny (like no traffic light kinda tiny) town in upstate SC. We lived within walking distance of the elementary school, which still stands because of my mom, but that’s another story.
When I was about 12ish, a chicken farmer – we’ll call him McSmell – bought the land behind our house and begin building houses. Now, I know that chicken farming is a very lucrative business and I like chicken as much as the next carnivore. But those guys are NOT fun neighbors. We’re talking badbadbad STANK bad smells wafting over the fence, and when the houses were being cleaned out, going outside in our yard was literally unbearable. We had to schedule our functions and events around this guy’s cleaning schedule, which pissed Mama off to no end. And if the smells weren’t fun enough, on about a weekly basis, the chicken house alarms would go off in the middle of the night, triggered by a stray dog or some such thing, and would rouse the entire neighborhood. Again, this caused much venom in my mother’s heart at 3am, waiting for them to turn their damn alarms off, which usually took about 20-30 minutes…. 20 minutes at 3am seems like an eternity.
But whatever… Mama didn’t like the smells or the highly sensitive alarms, but there’s really nothing she could do about it. The one thing, however, that she could do something about was making sure they followed the rules. She became an expert of chicken farming law, and she made it her personal goal to ensure that our neighbors were good, law-abiding farmers. She read that chicken farms can’t be closer than X number of feet from a school. So what did she do? She measured. Yes, my mother walked the pasture between the perimeter of the farm and the school border and painstakingly measured the distance “as the crow flies.” When she found that McSmell was in violation (granted, it was only like a foot or so, but still), she protested, started a petition and raised such a stink (ha, I’m so funny) that it eventually went to court, where they received a somewhat bittersweet semivictory – the courts ruled that the houses couldn’t be built on the land that had already been cleared, but that they COULD build on the other end of the property (the one farther away from the school). So they did… thus the 3am alarms and wretched smells.
Down, but not out, she continued banging the rule book over farmer’s head (yeah, you almost have to feel sorry for the guy. Almost.) She found that there were regulations concerning when he could spread manure, and she wasn’t afraid to march herself over there and make sure he was aware. There’s also a health regulation prohibiting chicken farmers from transporting manure in uncovered trucks. So as children, she trained us to perk up and closely observe all passing farm trucks to make sure that they were obeying the law. To this day, I find myself checking out chicken trucks to make sure the covers are securely fastened.
On one fateful afternoon, she had carpool duty and was bringing Jen, Sue, and two neighbor children home from school. As she turned onto our road, an uncovered chicken truck passed by. My mother immediately skids to a halt, slams her minivan in reverse and executes a 3-point turn, while all four kids screamed and cheered. Saying “Hold on, kids, we’re going to catch a chicken truck!”, she peeled out and away they went. She pulled up behind the truck and began flashing her lights and honking her horn. When the driver didn’t pull over (poor man, he was just a driver, and I’m sure was just doing what he was told), she pulled up BESIDE the truck (yes, this was only a two-lane road) and rolled the window down, yelling “Sir, please pull over, we need to talk.” The driver man pulled the truck to the side of the road, and Mama pulled the minivan to a halt and marched back there, her dress flapping in the breeze, while the kids scrambled and fought for a “window seat” and craned their necks to hear. In awe, they watched her shake her finger in his face and inform him that he was in violation of Ordinance Whatever of the Blahblahblah Health Regulation, and that he needed to cover his truck immediately before driving another mile. And the poor man just stood there and had no response. Really, what response could he have?
When Mama dropped off the two neighbor children that evening, they went screaming into their house and excitedly recounted the tale to their parents in great detail. The father of these children was one of the five speakers at Mama’s funeral, where he referred to Mama as “Mario Andretti” and told the story of the chicken truck. And everyone laughed, which is exactly how Mama would have wanted it.