It wasn’t an idea that hatched in our heads. It was more akin to diabolical mischief.

But what the chicken caper really got us was a scorching spanking with a leather belt that I remember to this day. And a life-long lesson on the downside of recklessness.

We were three stair-stepped brothers — Raymond, Ronnie and Ralph — with first names that began with an R. Our mother Emma’s idea. 

At the ages of 7, 6 and 5, we were on-the-hunt curious each day, looking for what situation we could get into. Our motto was “seize the day.” Or, don’t let the sun go down before doing something stupid and spontaneous. 

Our shotgun house was at the end of a block. At the other end was a funeral home. On our way to the town’s recreation center most every day, we cut through the funeral home’s parking lot. 

There, on a day that lives in my infamy, we discovered next to a metal trash can several gallon jugs with a dark liquid in them.

We grabbed the jugs and carried them to the surplus Army field tent our dad, Buddy, put up for us in the backyard. The tent was the site where we carried out our curious experiments.

The liquid inside the jugs smelled awful, like throw-up awful. Unbelievably bad stuff. But it was intriguing.

So, we poured all the liquid into one container, thinking they would mix well. Wrong. The smell at that point became more awful. 

We quickly took the jugs out of the tent and across the backyard and poured the stinking liquid down a small but steep embankment.

Carelessly, we did not stop and think of our neighbor’s chicken pen below. The smelly liquid ran down the sloop and into the pen.

You know what happened next. The chickens rushed over to get a taste. 

The next day, the elderly lady who owned the chickens told our dad what happened. He checked the jugs and found out the liquid was embalming fluid. Yikes, embalming fluid!

Like, what did you expect, dude? Funeral home jugs usually are filled with dark, ominous-looking fluids like embalming liquid.

Good old dad ended up paying the lady for her dead chickens — and apologizing repeatedly for the reckless behavior of his three sons. 

It took weeks for the three of us to finally receive forgiveness from dad and to get back into his good graces.

To lay it out, though, he was hopping mad at us for quite a while. We had to lie low and keep out of his sight so dad could keep his anger in check. 

Among all the shouting and whipping, I learned a valuable lesson. Don’t go looking for trouble. It has a way of coming to us anyway and turning out lives upside down. Just like it did to the chickens, with their spindly legs and feet sticking straight up in the air.

So why am I writing about this boyhood caper gone wrong? We are supposed to learn from our mistakes. The worse they are, the more we tend not to repeat them. 

My dad made the three of us go and look at the dead chickens. The sight was heartbreaking. The innocent chickens paid the price for our foolish action. I felt so bad. 

I learned that day there is real regret — and danger — in reckless behavior. For me, seeing what I had wrought broke my heart. 

A dumb mistake so many years ago lives on as an awful memory that still haunts me. 

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is

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