A GUARDIAN ROOSTER KEEPS HIM COMPANY.
You can never be sure about these things, Porky Johnson says, but if he had to bet on it, his money would be on his late wife, Neddy.
Why else would that rooster show up in the front yard of his North Hollywood home four months ago, and decide to stay?
No, it had to be Neddy looking out for him -- making sure her 83-year-old widowed husband wasn't getting too lonely by himself after 57 years of marriage -- that he had someone to talk to while he tinkered out in the garage.
"It's the only thing I can figure out, especially when you consider the hen," Porky was saying Wednesday as his new friend -- Charlie the rooster -- sat nearby on his workbench, listening.
Yes, there's a hen in the story, too. Chick-Chick.
She showed up about three years before Charlie -- right around the time Neddy was ill and needed her the most.
You know how some people have favorite animals that they decorate much of their home with -- ceramics, towels, soap dishes, etc. -- well, his wife loved chickens, Porky says.
"We're not farmers so she never owned one, but, boy, did Neddy love them. She covered our house in ceramic chickens.
"One day, when she was in bed feeling bad, I looked outside and there was this red hen in our yard. I told her, 'honey, look, it's a chicken.'
"She smiled and told me to get it some food. I tried to tell her it would be gone before I got back from the feed store, but she wouldn't listen.
"So I told her I'd go buy a pound of seed, but Neddy said get five pounds. I tried to tell her again that the hen wouldn't be around long enough to eat five pounds of seed.
"Boy, was I wrong," Porky said. "She ate that five pounds, then five pounds more.
"I finally built her her own condo. A coop. She raised two babies here and stayed two and a half years.
"Everyday, she'd sit on the fence outside Neddy's window and just look at her. Neddy would lie in bed and talk to her like they were old friends.
"When Neddy died, Chick-Chick hung around for about another six months. I have no idea where she went. One day I woke up, and she was gone."
After awhile, Porky's older brother, Floyd, 86, moved in to keep him some company, but Floyd knows all Porky's stories so it's nice to have a fresh ear to talk into -- even if it is a rooster's, Porky says.
Charlie doesn't come in the house much, but he did the other morning while Porky and Floyd were having breakfast in the kitchen together.
"He let out one of those cock-a-doodle-doos, and damn near gave us a heart attack," Floyd said.
Charlie spends most of his days in the garage watching Porky put together custom western picture frames and branding irons that he sells.
Porky's an old cowboy at heart. He was born and raised in the Valley, and his uncle, Glenn Strange, played Sam the bartender on the TV series "Gunsmoke."
Neddy's father was Cactus Mack from the popular, local cowboy band of the 1930s called Cactus Mack and His Saddle Tramps.
Porky's one of nine children raised in poverty during the Great Depression by a father and mother who lost their small Canoga Park house in 1936 because they couldn't make the $12- a-month mortgage payment.
"We lived all over the Valley after that," he said. "When the rent came due, we moved."
His dad was a barber by trade. Every month, he lined up his five sons and shaved their heads clean as a whistle, Porky said, while Charlie sat there listening.
"Mine looked like a porcupine, so that's why people started calling me Porky, instead of my given name, Marvin.
"When you've never left your hometown, it's hard to shake your nickname," he said.
Charlie squawked. He seemed to understand.
Porky owned Van Owen Brake and Wheel in North Hollywood -- a front end alignment shop -- until he retired in 1994 after Neddy passed away.
And now, at 83, he's living with an older brother who knows all his stories, and a rooster who showed up unannounced four months ago and now has the run of the place.
Neddy, Porky says. It has to be Neddy looking out for him.
Porky Johnson watches his rooster friend, Charlie, in his garage Wednesday at his North Hollywood home.
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer