September 2013 Review: Buddy: How a Rooster Made Me a Family Man by Brian McGrory

~by Michele Gregoire

Veteran reporter and writer Brian McGrory has shared the story of his evolution from living a solitary bachelor’s life to that of a family man, and how a rooster named Buddy helped it happen. A middle-aged McGrory wed a veterinarian with two young daughters and became a step-father who was transplanted from city life in Boston to living in the suburbs. Both on second marriages, the author had to make significant adjustments to family life, including the menagerie of pets that one might expect to find in a veterinarian’s family. This family consisted of dogs, cats, a rabbit, and a rooster named Buddy. The book chronicles, in a largely humorous way, the author’s many challenging experiences in learning to co-exist with this fowl while he learned to become a step-father and suburban husband, no longer only concerned with himself and his desires but responsible for others.

Consisting of twenty-three chapters and an Afterword the book provides a relatively detailed history of the author’s life, especially his relationship with his golden retriever, Harry, which establishes for the reader McGrory’s ability to relate to animals and his great love for this one particular dog that was clearly the love of his life and his constant companion for the nearly ten years that he lived. It also provides a brief look at his first marriage, because Harry was actually a gift to his first wife, but when they divorced and she left the dog stayed. Several chapters are devoted to Harry, and McGrory tells of numerous events with him throughout the book, even after he has concluded the several chapters specifically devoted to the relationship chronology. All of these details illuminate his notably contrasting relationship with Buddy, which was overwhelmingly negative.

Buddy’s story starts in the book with one of the girls getting an egg to incubate for a school project. When the egg hatched the children took their chicken home. Naturally, until he was old enough to start crowing they all thought Buddy was a hen. By the time his gender was discovered he had already been loved and treated like any other pet so there was concern by all that they might not be able to keep him in a suburban neighborhood. That was not the case, so Buddy stayed, to the delight of everyone, except McGrory. He could not find his way into a positive relationship with Buddy, partly at first because he could not see a rooster as a pet and persisted with an antagonistic attitude towards the bird, along with frequent comments and thoughts about him being dinner, which was magnified by Buddy in his usual response.

The rooster relentlessly attacked, chasing and pecking his legs. A really good example, written in Chapter 21 testifies to the rooster’s intelligence and cunning and the author’s fear of the bird, as well as his humorous writing style. “Then there’s the … approach where Buddy gradually, casually pecks at the lawn as I throw the tennis ball for the dogs, slowly coming closer, closer still, don’t-mind-me-I’m-just-finding-all-kinds-of-interesting-bugs, until, Bam! He’s on me, euphorically going after my legs, the expression on his face scarily similar to Jack Nicholson’s in The Shining. The dogs give me a look like You didn’t fall for that again, did you? What a waste of thumbs.” This while the other members of the family showed expressions of love to the rooster, petted and held him often, and talked with a special chicken-voice to Buddy, which he clearly relished and responded to in a most favorable way. McGrory identified Buddy’s behavior towards him as a male territorial protective aggression because it was so clearly differentiated from his behavior toward the girls.

McGrory writes of life with his acquired family and the transition difficulties, sharing feelings that demonstrate his honesty in self-reflection throughout the memoir. As he settled into his new life he began to find it increasingly satisfying. Late in the story he writes about a large black SUV stopping in front of their yard and someone taking photos of Buddy, who stared at the camera “with an increasingly delighted look on his twitching face, as if he were posing, basking in the attention that has always seemed to fit him like a suit of custom-sewn feathers.” He then mused about how neighbors and people driving his street knew of Buddy and often slowed as they passed by in order to see the rooster and speak to him by name. His tone in writing about Buddy was consistently humorous, in somewhat of a grumpy vein. But then he would write about the relationship his wife had with the rooster. “More than a few times, I would look out the kitchen windows…and get a back view of Pam and Buddy sitting side by side on the top step of our farmer’s porch. I could hear her saying again and again in her whimsical chicken voice, ‘Buddy, you’re so handsome and it’s so nice here. You don’t need to crow all day. Nobody’s going to get you. You can be a good, quiet boy.’ He would, in turn, make appreciative and affectionate little cawing sounds at her, almost apologetic in their tone. I couldn’t help but think that he knew one true thing, and that was that nobody else in his life, in his kingdom, understood him – and, in fact, loved him – like the woman sitting next to him on the step.”

Many events are chronicled and one of the more amusing is the construction of a house for Buddy in the backyard. The structure was his own very large ‘coop’ (more like a small barn) that was intended for his overnight protection and warmth. McGrory’s description of the building construction and the ludicrous extent they went to in providing a small house for the bird was enjoyable reading. The book is largely a ‘no feelings barred’ memoir that climaxes with acceptance that Buddy had qualities he needed to emulate – strength, contentment, devotion to what he has, and protection of the girls in his human family. The author finds himself having a one-sided dialogue with the rooster after taking him out to his house one night. An example of how this new awareness transformed him, he questioned himself when one of his step-daughters was hurt in an athletic game and taken to the hospital: ‘What would Buddy do?’ Whereupon he went directly to be with the family.

Buddy is a delightful memoir, reminding us that all God’s creatures are gifts who enrich our lives, even when we protest, whether they be typical pet species or atypical, such as a rooster. Brian McGrory has written an engaging and entertaining account of his life, sharing in the process not only the story of Buddy the rooster but also of Brian the man who in his middle age changed his lifestyle diametrically from his past and told of how he made that transition too, with a little help from a rooster.

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Dr. Michele Gregoire has been Chair of the Education Department at Flagler College since 2004 and a member of the faculty since 1988. She came to Flagler College from Georgia College in Milledgeville where she had been Director of Music Therapy for four years and prior to that she spent one year in the same capacity at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. Dr. Gregoire earned her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy at Florida State University, her master’s degree in Music at California State University at Long Beach, and her doctoral degree in Special Education at the University of Florida. She has conducted research and published articles related to music therapy and special music education, consistently maintains a strong record of professional conference presentations, and her current interests are historical research in music education, special education, and music therapy.

Dr. Gregoire has been involved in several professional organizations throughout her career, and has served in leadership capacities in most of them. She worked for ten years as a clinical music therapist and director of internship, specializing in developmental disabilities, at the beginning of her career and continues to provide consultation in both music therapy and special education to individuals and organizations.

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