Gimpy the Emu
I was about 4 and I was riding home through the Ozark Mountains in Northwest Arkansas in my father’s old beat-up truck. My sister was off with my Aunt Lucy that day, so I was sitting in the passenger seat. My feet were tucked up under my bottom so I could see out of the windows. Filling the foot well beneath me, was a rich collection of necessary items like empty bottles, box cartons, antique tools, and an old plastic milk gallon jug, the label had long peeled off and dirt stuck to it’s crevices. The jug sat unevenly, inside spring water sloshed around, pulling bits of debris up and across the rough waters from the bottom of the jug where it had settled so many times.
In the backseat of his truck sat a large pile of items which took up most of the back seat and truck bed. Boxes of crackers that expired 4 months ago sat next to dusty toys I hadn’t touched in years, receipts, and bits of unwashed clothes, damp and moldy with the dew from windows left open and wet spring mornings. The truck my father drove at the time had a bed with wooden sides and the cab was mustard yellow. The truck dated from the 60s or 70s and it was 1992. Despite the trucks’ age what really made it look old was it’s rusted edges, dusty seats, and bits of tape holding on useful parts like the side mirrors.
We came along a strip of road that ran along side a farm of emus.
“Dad, look!” I said, “What are those?!”
Having never seen emus before, they had excited my interests and so my dad pulled off the 2 lane highway and onto the dirt road that lead to the farm house. I unloaded out of dad’s truck, quickly bending over to the ground to pick up a plastic bottle that escaped out of the foot well to roll freely across the ground. I threw it back into the vehicle and closed the door before it tried to roll out again. The farmer came out of his house and my dad explained that we were interested in his emus. The farmer told us that they had recently had some babies hatch and invited us into his barn to see them.
He bent down and pulled out a shelf of emus. I exclaimed and started to pet and touch the strange creatures. My dad and the farmer chatted as I played with the baby birds. My father then noticed that one of the emus had a mangled leg. He asked the farmer,
“What happened to this one’s leg?”
The farmer explained to us, “It was born that way, and we’ll have to put ‘em down. Wouldn’t survive long.”
“How much would you sell him for?” My father asked, as a collector and lover of discarded and broken things.
“Oh, well, if you really wanted him, you could just have him.”
“Could we, dad?” I asked, excited by the prospect of having a pet and friend emu.
The farmer got us a box to put the foot tall emu in so we could commute him home. He handed him off to my father who carried it to our truck and went to place him in the back bed.
“But dad,” I argued, “he needs to sit up here with us.” My dad gave in and I crawled into the front seat putting my feet out in front of me to rest on his floor well collection. My dad placed the emu’s little hole punched box on my lap for the ride back to my father’s house and I watched as the calm clear water began to violently shake the content’s off it’s bottom.
Arriving home I clambered out of the truck, picking the bottles that had escaped onto the dirt driveway and throwing them back into the truck. I slammed the door behind me and ran towards the steps that lead up to the barn loft which my dad lived in.
It was basically a small room without finished walls or installation. It had a long small side room that had a ratty curtain standing in for a doorway that functionally made the hall my father’s bedroom.
In the living space there was a small wood stove which warmed the house and provided a surface to cook on. Next to the stove was a chair often occupied by my father. Near the front of the loft, right of the entrance and under the window sat an old brown couch. In front of it was a single bed with a hammock hanging over it. This functioned as our bunk beds. There was also a card table which we would eat around and play games on and a bookshelf along the right wall.
The steps up to the porch creaked and swayed slightly when we’d climb them and the deck slanted to one side and had a railing which would move when touched. By the window there was a sink that pumped water up from a bucket down on the ground that collected the rainwater off the roof. My dad would use it for washing dishes and for cooking.
Out the back of the loft was a little door that opened up onto a small landing. Here we could sit on a bucket to relieve ourselves. Looking out across the woods, unhindered by railings or walls. My dad assured us it was safe but it terrified my sister and I to sit there and do our business. So we would pee, squatting close to the dirt in the surrounding edges of the driveway whenever possible.
I got the emu out of his box, wanting to bring him indoors my father argued otherwise, so I kept him in the yard. Since he hobbled about we named him ‘Gimpy’ and he lived with us for about a month.
He would follow my father around the yard as the worked on things and nap in sun patches in the dirt driveway. It wasn’t long before we came over to visit my father and found out that Gimpy had been hunted down and eaten by Coyotes.
We never got another emu, or inquired into getting one. I don’t believe my dad bought him because he honestly believed the emu would live a long and healthy life in the wild woods of the Ozark Mountains. I believe he didn’t want something to be discarded and killed because it appeared to be broken, or less than it’s brethren. My dad hadn’t try to interfere with natural selection by protecting the emu but instead created a situation in which the farmer couldn’t interfere either.