We were still living in Naples at that time. Before we moved to the suburb of Portici, where my formative years happened. I was under nine years old, since I started fourth grade in Portici. My memories of those early days are somewhat vague, but some are more vivid than others.
Like the rooster.
I’m not sure exactly how this happened, but somehow my very urban family ended up owning a live rooster. I seem to recall that it was an unexpected gift from someone my parents knew. Perhaps the sometimes cleaning lady, who also happened to watch us when my mother was at school. Or a kind school custodian who was grateful to one of my parents for a favor granted, I don’t know. In those days, the outskirts of Naples were still mostly countryside, with farmland, and many people who worked in the city lived more bucolic lives out there, surrounded by fields, chickens and other farm animals.
Fact is that one day, my mother mentioned that we now had a rooster residing upstairs! At the time, my family was renting a small apartment in a two-family house in the neighborhood of Capodichino (yes, where the airport is located). We lived on the first floor (which would be considered the second in the US), next door to the landlord who was a carabiniere. A very nice family, who obviously allowed my poor bewildered mother to temporarily house the lively and not tiny rooster on the floor above, where the entrance to the rooftop terrace was.
Needless to say, we kids were enthralled, excited, scared, giggly, curious, ‘helpful’. Can we feed it, please, please?! The rooster was tied to the handrail, on the landing right above our apartment, where nobody lived, and the only door was the locked one to the terrace. Also needless to say, it wasn’t a quiet rooster, but it squawked, shrilled, a total nuisance at all times of day and night. My mother would regularly bring it some feed and water, hesitantly climbing the stairs, heart in her throat, terrified and resigned at once. My brother, sister and I would follow behind, at a safe distance, even though mamma had told us not to, because she was afraid the strange creature would peck us. She shakily placed the stuff near it, then quickly retreated.
Naturally, we were aware that it wasn’t a permanent pet, and its demise would be imminent, because that’s what happens to roosters. Nevertheless, any time we could get away with it, we would run up the stairs and check il gallo, intimidated by its fierce expression, its constant, fitful motion, that regal, stiff red crest and the rust/brown/yellow feathers, which he seemed to shake off quite frequently, calling to him, making faces, trying to touch it for a second without getting pecked. My brother especially, the reckless one, liked living on the edge: he would get so close that my sister and I would watch him frozen with apprehension, as he teased him into squawking loudly, then we would all run back down the stairs, even though the bird couldn’t get too far chasing us.
I overheard my parents discussing the stressful situation at night, arguing of course, what were they going to do with that thing up there? The landlord’s patience was wearing thin, my mother was not happy to have to take care of poultry, and surely was not expected to kill the darn bird herself, even though the well-meaning giver had said that it would make excellent stock, and, sure, my mother admitted, it would make a delicious broth for tortellini…
Well, the day came when we ran up the stairs after school, and the noisy rooster was no longer there. A strange smell and a couple of colorful feathers still lingered, next to a string.
We were saddened and alarmed at once, and wondered with trepidation what would be served for pranzo within the next few days. Not a pretty thought.
Indeed, my mother had dealt with the situation as best as she could. The woman who had given us the unusual gift had quickly and matter-of-factly snapped its neck and handed it to my mother, nicely plucked and ready to cook. My poor, traumatized mother had tactfully returned it to her, saying that she could not possibly ingest a bird that she had known alive and tended to for a week or so. Grazie mille for this thoughtful present, but we are just not used to this kind of thing, we purchase our chickens (which we don’t know personally) at the butcher shop. We are city people, forgive our squirminess.
Yes, of course, I was relieved. My brother was particularly disappointed by the loss of our temporary ‘pet’, and pressed my parents to get another one to keep upstairs, just for a little while.
It was good to be able to get back to the terrace, without bypassing the nervous creature, and I certainly realized then I wasn’t made for the country life.
But grazie for this childhood vignette, galletto!