A Visit to the Coup

June 2, 2008
By Danielle Ashpole, Medford, OR

The door creaked open on its rusty stiff hinges, and a wave of dust reached its arm deep into my lungs, making me cough and gag. Looking around the old chicken coup with watery puffy eyes, an unfamiliar, distraught room met my gaze. What used to be a not so clean, but empty room full of chickens had transformed into a cluttered old room filled with multiple items that passed their prime years ago. In the right corner an ancient, haggard boat cover slouched, crusted with spider webs hanging off every inch. Behind that lie a lawn mower, the one my family still uses today…but probably shouldn’t. Muddy shovels wearing their use in many house projects proudly on their handles were strewn all along the back wall, and a massive 1940’s TV frame with a crown of rainbow colored wires poking out in all directions relaxed smack dab in the middle. A layer of dust covered everything, but not attic dust, the dust that’s found in an old barn, thick, clingy, and gritty. Wasp nests hung at each corner, chicken feathers stuck out from the walls, giant spider webs that tickled my nose stretched across the rafters, and a dried mud floor crunched under my blue flowered rain boots. As I shifted my weight on the warped, rotted board where I sat, thick splinters come up through my thinly worn flannel pants. Closing my eyes, and taking in a deep breath of sweet, dirty air that smells like the air after a rain shower, memories flowed out from the cabinets of my brain.

The funny thing about old possessions that most would place in the “junk” category is that each piece of rubbish has lead a great life. Just because it is no longer in its youth or prime does not make it worthless. A thrashed and battered surfboard may look like an accident waiting to happen in the eyes of a surfer; but in the eyes of an artist, that same board looks like the rolling ocean and the warming sand of the beach all wrapped up in one. This is what the chicken coup is to me. Someone who has never experienced what I have in this coup may not find its chipping metal roof; mud crusted wood walls and yard full of killer Jumanji weeds appealing. But these things that a stranger might find repulsive are my childhood, and what’s inside that coup holds more importance to me than anything new and flashy.

Each piece of junk inside the chicken coup contains a story or two, which add to who I’ve become. Up high in the right hand corner sits a crisp and rusty squirrel trap, reclining in its old age. Staring at each blood and dirt stain on the trap’s wall brings back to my mind an unwelcome memory…. For my dad’s birthday a few years back, I bought him a fake squirrel, an Elmer Fudd hat, and a few b-bs for his gun. Living in the country, my family has encountered our share of rodent problems over the past years. So to liven things up a bit, my dear old dad viciously traps poor squirrels in a cage, and then shoots them. Brutal and inhumane are the only two words that my mom, sister and I can think of to describe this form of rodent extermination. However, my dad, being the only man in the house (including our female dog and cat) at times, needs to have his fun. On one day in particular my sister and I had just pulled into the driveway. Upon turning off the engine, we see my dad frantically duck into his shop and seconds later shuffle out with a guilty look on his face. My sister and I instantaneously turn our heads to the trap my dad had set that morning, and gasp at what’s inside. A ratted filthy squirrel drenched in blood from the three b-bs my dad had just placed in its chest lay there convulsing. I felt nausea run through my body, opening the car door faster than I could think, the vomit came spewing out of me, spreading all over the asphalt.

It’s the stories like this that fill up my mind while sitting on my splintered seat in the numbing cold chicken coup; stories which at the time, made me want to crawl into a hole where I couldn’t be seen. But looking back, those stories make me laugh inside; each sends a warm feeling through my veins. The 1940’s TV frame, the bulky wooden puppy box covered in pink and yellow dog prints, and the no good insulation wrapped in metal, these are items which play small but essential rolls in the stories that embellish my life.

Now dusk, my feet have grown numb, arousing me from my pondering state. With each patient sigh of my gentle golden retriever I become aware of the passing minutes. My toes sitting in the tip of my boot solidify into icicles with every tick of the clock. My stomach, giving out a long empty grumble, triggered the glands in my mouth to water for the warm, creamy, savory bite of fettuccini that waited for me on the dinner table. Warmth and food calling, I eagerly yet hesitantly leave my coup… but my memories come with me, like an eager pup they gallop at my heels.

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