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Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You!

We live on a farm and keep an odd assortment of chickens and waterfowl. The chickens, for the most part, are a congenial lot, whereas, the waterfowl have an “ATTITUDE”   every day. You have to be really careful around a certain gander, named after a character we heard about on a children’s record from the 1950’s. The song  goes something like this:

Ozzie the Ostrich,
the bird with the long long legs,
nobody knows where he goes to doze,
or where he lays his eggs!

Crazy lyrics, but years ago, that song inspired our older daughter, Claire, to name our new white gander, Oswald.

You have to watch your backside when you’re in Oswald’s presence. You never know if he’s going to bite you, especially after you’ve just been nice enough to feed and water him. Our other geese are a little less threatening, but once there was a rooster who must have been a distant cousin of Ozzie’s. This high-strutting cock refused to appreciate just how good he had it here on the Novak funny farm. And because of that, he no longer lives here.

At first we thought “he” was a “she” so we named her “My Fair Lady.” Her beautiful black and white feathers reminded us of the striking costume Audrey Hepburn wore in a racing scene from the movie of the same name. However, when “My Fair Lady” started to “cock-a-doodle-do,” we realized our mistake. “She ” was a “he,” so we quickly changed her name to “Henry Higgins.” The name fit perfectly.

Henry was ornery and dangerous. He had the habit of jumping in the air and kicking you hard with his spurs when you least expected it. He nailed our landlady in the rear one day when she tired to shoo him back to the barn (we weren’t home at the time – oh, how I wish I could have seen that). Another time, he flew around the side of the garage like a stealth bomber and attacked our four-year-old who was innocently playing in the sand box. This premeditated maneuver brought Henry’s military career to an abrupt end.  For everyone’s peace of mind, Henry had to go.

When our neighbor asked if she could have a rooster, we offered her Henry – permanently. With no little children running around her farm, her barnyard was much better suited for Henry’s aggressive and unpredictable behavior.

Although this happened many years ago, thinking about our current situation brought back fond memories of Henry Higgins demise (Just you wait, Henry Higgins, just you wait!). The last we heard, Henry had mysteriously disappeared into the woods, likely carried away by a fox or coyote. Needless to say, not a tear was shed. He was the meanest animal we’ve ever had on the farm, that is, except for Oswald.

One of the most aggravating farm chores we undertake on a daily basis is feeding the geese (or trying to feed the geese). It’s not too bad if you’re just pouring feed into their pans, but if you reach out to offer them a piece of bread, they show their appreciation by honking their heads off and trying to take a chomp out of your fingers. I’m almost positive this is where the saying “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” came from. I mean, how ungrateful can you be? Geese have a love/hate relationship with the human race, that much is obvious.

Well, Grandpa has been exhibiting similar “goose- like” behavior with us the past few weeks. He’s back to complaining about minor irritations, digging below the surface like a chicken scratching for bugs in the burn pile. Yes, Grandpa’s been working overtime to find something to be disgruntled about, and in the process, he’s been aggravating the “heck” (sorry for the graphic language) out of his grandson and granddaughter, his chief caregivers, cooks, and bottle washers. In other words, he’s biting the very hands that feed him, get him out of bed, change his diapers, prepare his meals, wash his clothes, and puts him to bed at night…you get the idea. I sure wish Grandpa would!

I  don’t know if it’s because I haven’t been there much in the last month and he misses my maternal input (it’s the most time I’ve had off in a year, and I’ve really needed it) or because it’s after the holidays, and cabin fever has set in, but Grandpa has gotten cranky and down-right demanding again. The object of his disdain this time is the issue of “double dipping ” and “germs.”

First he refused a jar of apple butter Eric placed before him at breakfast.

“You’ve all been double dipping out of that jar,” he complained.

“What are you talking about, Grandpa? Nobody’s eating this stuff right now but you!”

“Well, I’m not eating it!” Grandpa retorted, like a spoiled three-year-old.

“Fine,” Eric said, tossing the jar back in the fridge. “It doesn’t bother me.” Don’t major on the minors, right? Good job, Eric.

The next issue to surface was a request for Eric to put gloves on to dispense his medicine.

“You need to put gloves on when your handling my pills,” Grandpa demanded.

“What the heck, Grandpa?” Eric replied, incredulously. “I’m not going to do that!”

We’ve been dispensing Grandpa’s medicine for almost a year and a half now, and putting latex gloves on three times a day to place his pills on a spoon would be a waste of time and energy, not to mention completely depleting our local Walgreen’s store of their latex glove supply.

I could only imagine what might come next.

“Grandpa’s driving me crazy,” Eric confided to me on the phone, one day.

“Is he getting enough water?” I asked, my standard question whenever I think Grandpa is becoming internally imbalanced, which can lead to crankiness and erratic behavior.

“Yeah, he’s getting enough water,” he said.

“What about cranberry juice?” I suggested, trying to figure out if he had the second cause of cranky, erratic behavior – a urinary tract infection.

“Yeah, he’s getting his cranberry juice,” Eric said.

“Well, tell him we’re not changing anything,” I said.

You see everyone will be going along fine, when all of the sudden, Grandpa wants to change the routine. It’s not good enough that everyone’s happy and life is running smoothly; let’s change the routine so we can be in control. Maybe that’s part of Grandpa’s discontent, the need to be in control of something – anything, because all of his life is in the control of others, and when he can’t get his way in little things, he begins to feel that no one is listening, no one cares.

But that’s not true. We’re all just a little battle-weary from taking care of a 90-year-old rooster with Parkinson’s. Most of the time Grandpa gets what he wants the minute he asks for it. Like Henry Higgins, Grandpa loses sight of just how good he’s got it. He forgets how bad the care was in the the nursing facility and when we least expect it, he hits us in the rear by recounting his current list of grievances to the visiting nurse. When we meet his needs 99.9% of the time, it really hurts to hear about the 1% we’ve missed (kind of like a peck to the posterior by an overly protective goose).

In order for everyone to continue to be able to handle this situation, its necessary to remind Grandpa of a few things when he begins to act up. “We’re not changing anything, Grandpa. The routine works and we’re not changing it.” Now that we’re on to him, that’s one of our new lines, and of course there is always my personal favorite as a last resort – “Tell him, he’s biting the hand that feeds him!”

Honestly, doesn’t Grandpa realize that Eric is one of the last people he should be picking on? What if Eric get’s really mad someday and flies the coop. Not many 19-year-olds would put up with this kind of nonsense – this long (I haven’t told you the half of it). Where would Oswald (aka 90-year-old Grandpa) go then?

I think, maybe Grandpa and Oswald ought to share accommodations for a while. I know a nice little place where you can get all the eggs you want, and Grandpa just loves farm fresh eggs. After all, birds of a feather flock together – and those two have a lot in common.

3 Comments

  1. Love this story, Jill…though I’m sorry Grandpa’s being such an ornery gander, you are wise to not be flustered by it all. A sense of humor will also go a long way, because he’s not likely to change.

    We had a George once who was a bit like Ozwald. We could tolerate his goosey ways, but when we hosted homeschool coop events he would chase our guests and bite them on the back side. That’s when we found him another home, from which he quickly disappeared. We suspect he was Christmas dinner.

  2. Found Ozzie the Ostrich on YouTube. You might like to hear the song.

  3. Thank you, Rich. Yep, that’s it!

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