This I Believe
We had chickens when I was growing up. They were not pets. They were gumbo or rice and gravy. They were eggs.
Today I have my own chickens — four bantam hens that spent their first three weeks of life under a heat lamp in my bathtub and now have taken over my back yard.
Last Sunday I was enjoying the company of my little flock in the coolness of the late afternoon. Only one of them really likes to be picked up and held, and I had her nestled in the crook of my arm. I could feel her soft breast feathers and the fine outline of her wishbone. Her eyelids closed from the bottom up, and she was making the muted tin-horn sound that says she’s content and safe. This is Libersat, my favorite. I’ve given her my mother’s maiden name. She’s bossy and loves to eat. She’s beautiful beyond words, and she lays her eggs in the strawberry pot.
Nica, the smallest but the most independent, was scratching for bugs beneath the azaleas. One morning I heard her crow like a rooster and had to check the Internet to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. Sabine was already eying the lower limbs of my ligustrum. She’s the biggest and the first one to roost at night. She flies from perch to perch until one feels right, and the others follow without question. And poor Little Debbie, the noisiest and homeliest, the bottom of the sanctified pecking order, was flitting around trying to decide if she would scratch or perch or eat. So when my neighbor’s miniature poodle managed to slip into my back gate, Little Debbie became a target. While my terrified little chick ran for her life, and I chased in clumsy pursuit, her sisters united under the patio table in a cacophony of sheer panic. Finally, Little Debbie flew to the highest branches of my ligustrum and the perpetrator was captured and exiled. Witnessing my little chicks in their dire distress made me think of my mother.
I believe my mother has been a strong woman. I remember when she could catch a chicken that was running for its life. She could wring its neck and pluck it clean and not think about it. If she dreaded the snakes that hid in the nesting boxes, she didn’t show it.
I, on the other hand, will always be afraid of snakes. And my chickens will never be gumbo. But I believe I am my mother’s daughter. I have faced my share of difficult tasks and, I, too, have caught and wrung and plucked and learned not to think about it. I believe in doing the hard stuff and moving on. Her example prepared me for the inevitable dark days that interrupt my peaceful ones. For now, though, I will enjoy my chickens fully feathered and my gumbo made with shrimp.
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