The King Homestead is on the Kayes Road in Georgetown Royalty.
The area has grown up a lot since I was a kid, with lots of summer homes and cottages popping up. For most of my life, we only had one neighbor – a bachelor named Frank Costello.
Frank was a high school principal. Though he was stern and proper, he always thought a lot of us and was very kind. During his summer vacations, Frank operated Island View Cottages, a popular summer tourism business which was also a frequent location for boy scout jamborees.
To service the volume of people in the remote location Frank had a small canteen, full with the little mini-boxes of ABC soap for the washing machine and other sundries, all kinds of chocolate bars, bags of milk, a clip rack with dozens of bags of Hostess chips in the tinfoil bags, boxes of candies and jars of black licorice. There was also an old-fashioned pop machine – one of those that suspended the bottles by the neck and required you to guide the bottle through a steel maze before you could have it.
We spent a lot of time there as kids.
Frank had constructed a log-ladder bridge to make it easier to scale the large bank by the road next to our house. The bridge led to a well-worn pathway through the woods. The path was surrounded on both sides by wild blueberry bushes. Often we would stop for a little snack on the way to and from Frank’s canteen. At the end of the path were two large barns that housed Frank’s pride and joy – his prized poultry.
Frank’s favorite pastime – his passion – was to breed, raise and show poultry at fairs and exhibitions in the Maritimes and beyond. He was a decorated shower of poultry – undoubtedly the best in Prince Edward Island and likely one of the best in all of Canada. His show hens won thousands of ribbons at Old Home Week and the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto. We would always ask him about the shows. He loved to share his success stories with us.
The barns had individual stalls for the Rhode Island Reds, Gamecocks and many other breeds. Each stall had a hand painted sign above it – proudly displaying the names of the impressive creatures. There was PEI Pete, Happy Harry, Royal George and Jumpin’ Jack. But the grand champion, the winner of countless ribbons and awards, and Frank’s pride and joy – was Big Al.
Big Al was a Rhode Island Red. He stood about four feet tall. He looked like Foghorn Leghorn from the Bugs Bunny cartoons. He was as impressive as he was tall. He walked with an imperial strut. Big Al was a winner and he knew it. When we would stroll by the barns, my brother Mark and I would mostly always stop and admire Big Al.
One evening, Frank returned from the Old Home Week show. It was another success. He had a big ribbon count as usual and Big Al was the big winner again. Frank was most proud of his most decorated bird, but he was also saddened because Big Al’s time at the top was coming to an end.
“He’s getting too old now,” Frank told us. “It’s time for him to just take it easy and enjoy life.”
With that, Frank asked Mark and I if we would like to take Big Al home, and keep him for our very own. Frank told us Big Al just needed a place in the barn to keep to himself, along with some friendship and kindness from two young lads. Frank wanted Big Al to find a nice home, a place where he would be loved. It was determined the King Homestead would be a perfect new home!
We had a few barns in our backyard, so room wasn’t an option. Dad always liked having animals around, so we didn’t expect that to be an issue. So without much hesitation, we jumped at the chance.
“We will take him,” Mark said quickly.
With that Frank, put Big Al in the back of his truck and carted him a few hundred feet up the road to our place. The big fella was unloaded. Frank waved goodbye. Mark and I were grinning like only a 10 year-old and a 7 year-old can grin. It was like our life’s dreams were fulfilled. We couldn’t have been happier.
“Can you believe it,” I said to Mark. “We own Big Al.”
Big Al was about the same size as my brother Mark, and a quite a few inches taller than me. It was like a brand new member of the family was instantly sub-planted into our lives. We sat cross-legged outside of his coop and marveled. Big Al just sat and looked back, he seemed quite content in his new home.
After a few minutes of watching Big Al, we were growing bored. The novelty of owning Big Al was wearing thin. Kids have wandering minds, and ours wandered more than most. Mark thought it would be good for Big Al to stretch his legs, and I didn’t need much convincing. We opened the cage and let the big fella out. He began to explore his new surroundings, strutting around and pecking the ground and he strutted.
Mark and I walked beside him for a while. And then we grew bored of that. It was decided we should chase Big Al around the house. So we did. Big Al was quick, and proved too much for Mark and I. We wanted a rematch. And one after that. And one after that.
We must have raced that chicken 25 times around the house. Mark and I thought it was great – but it seemed to be taking its toll on Big Al. After all, he was too old to be part of the exhibition poultry shows, and was given to us so that he could enjoy some R and R. We noticed Big Al’s pace had markedly slowed during his last two or three trips around the house.
Mark and I didn’t want to stop – we were having too much fun with our new friend. We figured Big Al needed more encouragement, so we started yelling, screaming and clapping our hands as we chased him around the house. It worked for a minute or two. Then Big Al slowed. His once imperial strut had turned into a drunken stagger. He stumbled a few times and collapsed to the ground. His feathers fluttered for a second and then he fell silent.
“I think he’s sleeping,” I said to Mark.
Mark shook the big fella but there was no movement. We called Dad over and asked if he could help us wake up our new friend. Dad surveyed the situation and didn’t mince his words.
“That chicken is dead,” he said. “Frank should know that you can’t give you fellas nothin’.”
Dad grabbed him by the legs and dragged him over behind the barn. He either buried him or we had him for supper. The reign of the grand champion had some to a rather sudden end. Mark chased me around the house a few more times, but our game was ruined.
We had to break the news to Frank. He was none too pleased. He never treated us the same after. He was still cordial, but our conversations at the canteen became strictly transactional. There was no longer small talk about the fairs or exhibitions. We never talked about poultry again. Our neighborly connection decayed. The wooden-ladder bridge eventually rotted and was torn apart. It was never replaced.
I don’t think Frank ever forgave us for killing Big Al. And though I never figured Frank to be a person who sought retribution, events over 30 years later make me wonder.
I was back living at the family homestead. Frank remained as well, and though he had long-stopped showing prized poultry, he kept a barn full to pass his time. Sadly, Frank had fallen ill with Alzheimer’s disease and was eventually moved to a nursing home. The remainder of his prized possessions were given away.
Not long after, on one cool fall morning, I woke up to hear was some rattling of dishes in kitchen. When I went down stairs, I saw four large rats climbing over the kitchen table. They were as big as house cats. Horrified and panicked, I ran out the front door, screaming like an old lady who just had her purse stolen.
I jumped in the car in my driveway and sat there, frozen in fear. One of the four rats on the table looked out the window and let a squeal out. In the rear view mirror I saw rats coming down over the bank by the dozens. It was like they were following the Pied Piper!
In the process to move Frank from his home and unload his chickens, someone forgot to take the feed with them. The old barn and the ample feed proved to be a great base for the rats…and then the food ran out. The four rats I saw on the kitchen table were part of the reconnaissance mission. The King Homestead was deemed to be a perfect new home!
It took weeks to rid the property of the infestation.
Though my old neighbor didn’t know his name and couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast, I often hoped that somewhere deep inside he could find a sense of satisfaction for his patient and effective pay back scheme.
It was a fitting revenge for the death of Big Al.