About a year ago, my husband completed the long promised "chicken coop". We bought nine baby chics and we were in the chicken farming business. One of those chics was a "Silky" breed. They are Japanese with long furry feathers, big top knots on top of their heads and black skin and meat. They lay small eggs. But my daughter loved her so she became a member of the family.
Leiren spends hours in the chicken coop sitting on an upside down bucket and watching the chickens, petting them and talking to them. They have formed a mutually loving relationship with one another. She reminds me often of my younger days as a daughter on the farm.
Our childhood move from suburbia was not forced upon the children in the house or at least we did not believe it was. It was preceded with negotiations regarding each of our fancies for farm responsibilities and promises of fulfillment of those dreams. My brother chose pigs and to this day loves the smelly creatures. They are intelligent enough but their propensity for nastiness left me not wanting a lot to do with them. They would eagerly await him in the mornings though, sometimes half hanging over the short wooden gate and gladly snort and grunt when he talked to them.
My choice was chickens. Daddy built us a large chicken pen and converted an old shed into a makeshift chicken house. That shed leaned a bit and had a lot of holes in the walls, but the laying boxes he designed and the door he constructed made it appear to me a work of perfection. My mother ordered our first chickens from a mail order catalog. We got fifty baby chicks delivered by the mailman on what was possibly the hottest day of the year. They had been in his car a while and when we opened that box, we thought they were all dead. After a lot of water and cooling them off with the fan, they seemed to recover.
We began raising those babies in a box in the utility room. I didn't know you couldn't put baby chicks in the pen but they were so small they could have walked right through the wire. We spent hours on end changing papers, refilling feed bowls and waterers. My mom found some waterers that screwed to the tops of Mason Jars and they were ideal for our situation. I was so thrilled to have these little creatures and was willing to spend all day taking care of them. I soon learned that if you turn the lights off and cover them up, chickens fall fast asleep. Yes America those tiny brains really only work on a tiny scale. Dark is dark and they go to sleep. My brother and I occasionally would cover them up and then quickly uncover them just to see their heads pop back up in surprise. It was funny until Mother caught us.
The babies soon grew big enough to be put into their pen. I sat with them for the first three days to make sure they were "adjusting" assuming that all creatures have human characteristics and could not adjust without the aid of their "parent". They did fine of course. It wasn't long until my brother assisted me with discovering another instinct. If something flew over them making a shadow, they would scatter into the house and scream assuming it was a hawk or dangerous predator. It was divine....we made paper planes, used big dead leaves or sometimes managed to hand mime a shadow across the pen with the sun at our backs! Then we could go into the pen and they would converge upon us as if we had saved them. As per every venture, Mother caught us and there was punishment. For me, the punishment was being forced to stay away from them a few days. My brother probably had to mow the grass or something- I don't remember.
In our household, it was very seldom that we were given any sorts of candy. I was big enough to ride my bicycle to the store and Sybil, my neighbor had her pony, so we had our adventures back and forth several times a week. We would pick up bottles and trade them in for whatever the take on the bottle fees would get us. Sometimes I had enough candy left over to take home and hide somewhere in my room. My favorite during those days was Charms Blowpops. They were new and delicious. They had candy on the outside and a huge sticky piece of bubble gum on the inside. However, if I ate my candy in front of my siblings, I was forced to either throw it away if I didn't have enough to share or share it with them. So...I would take my candy outside somewhere and hide and eat it.
On one particular occasion, I had an extra Blowpop. It was cherry flavored. This particular day was not too hot and muggy and I desperately sought a hiding place outside where I could devour this wonderful treat. The safest spot for me was in that chicken pen on an upside bucket. I had convinced both my sisters that chickens were dangerous to everyone but the "chicken handlers" and that they did not yet have the skills it took to subdue them. So they were terrified to open the gate. So, I grabbed a bucket and headed for the chicken pen with the booty hidden in my pockets. I turned that bucket upside down, turned my back to the house and began enjoying and savoring the delicious sweet treat. It was awesome. I am quite sure Mother knew what I was up to but as long as the sisters were not crying, she wouldn't force me to toss the candy. They didn't know - I had pulled it off with masterful precision.
I was ten years old at this time and losing and cutting various molars in my mouth. It seemed I forever had a loose tooth just begging to come out and I was not a person who willingly gave up anything - including loose teeth. Sure, the Tooth Fairy would pay me for the loss, but it was the act of losing, the blood, the empty spot, the fact that it came from my mouth....that made me fight to the last second the loss of the tooth. The only gain in this would be the quarter under the pillow that would serve to fund my next store adventure with Sybil. On this particular day I believe it was a molar on the right that was loose. I had forgotten the tooth in all the excitement of actually tricking my sisters. I reached the chewy bubble gum center but I couldn't seem to get it off that stick. I chomped and peeled the remaining candy off, enjoyed it and then set about getting the delicious gum treat into my mouth. It was sometime during this effort that I forgot about the right side and grabbed that gum with all my might. I was pulling the stick with my hand, holding the gum with my teeth, refusing to release the gum and believing the stick would eventually release it first.
Suddenly there was a release of the pressure. My hand flung out as the pressure was released unexpectedly. But something was wrong. There was no gum in my mouth and I didn't realize in time that the object I saw sailing over the gum (still on the stick, still in my hand) as it was recoiling, was my loose tooth. It sailed, ever so slowly, ever so gracefully over my hand. I watched it, unable to move, distraught at the calamity of yet another useless gap in my mouth. And then....the chickens saw it. They raced across the pen like well trained catchers in a World Series game. They bumped into each other, fell over each other until finally the tooth landed. It was the rooster that got there first. He clucked his victory cluck and grabbed it, teasing the rest of the flock with his new prize.
I then realized that all profit from this loss could be gone and raced the hens to this rooster. This was the meanest barnyard creature on the farm and he quickly flared his wings and feathers at me challenging me for the prize. For the first time in my career as a chicken handler, I stood my ground - that tooth was mine and when he jumped up to bare his claws and spurs into me, I caught him by the feet. He started pecking and screaming and I shook him until he stopped. I won! I beat the old jerk and he would never bully again! But I forgot what the fight was about and just as I remembered, I saw one of the hens eat my tooth!
When a girl is ten, there are just some victories that prove not worth it. I stood there for a minute feeling the overwhelming shudder rising from deep inside. As the sobs began, I turned to run to the house. All my hens favored one another and there was no guessing which one had managed to eat the tooth. My only hope was a mother who was smarter than me. As I ran into the house, fully sobbing with tears making the floors slippery, I blitheringly tried to describe the entire scenario to Mother. I remember saying something about the rooster and how I fought him off and then I realized...I would have to lie to her regarding the reason the tooth was lost to achieve any sympathy from her. Even worse, I loved my chickens and to turn in the wrong one would mean certain death to an innocent fowl. Oh the horrors of deceipt! This only served to increase my sobbing and complete inability to communicate.
My mother finally calmed me down to the point that I could talk. One would have to know that Mother wasn't the most sympathic person. If one cried, she normally sent one to one's room until they quit crying and then asked again what the problem was. If one began crying again, one was sent back to the room. This of course did not apply if there was blood or protruding bones. But, on this particular day, she realized the drama was real and she patiently wiped my face and calmly asked me the problem. As I calmed down I could only blurt out that a chicken ate my tooth and show her the horrific blank spot in my mouth. Amazingly, she didn't ask me for details and I wonder if she imagined this ferocious hen pecking my teeth until one came out. I still remember the twitching in the corners of her mouth. I still remember her expression of amusement and her final "well, the chicken didn't know it was a tooth" as she responded. She didn't get it! This would cost me a whole quarter! We were not allowed to use curse words even in the most dire situations so I could not even respond to her because all I could come up with started with "d" or "s", so I just sat there peering at her through my tears and hoping no additional details were required.
I don't recall how long this drama continued, but I do remember Mother starting supper as I still sat there trying to reconcile to the loss and betrayal of my subjects. I did begin to recognize my ultimate victory over the evil rooster and my Mother even pointed out that perhaps now my baby sister could venture into the pen and play with the chickens as well since he would probably remain subdued in my presence - oh joy- now I got to share my treasures with HER! That was even o.k. Baby sister was a sweetie and I could manage that. Then, the most amazing thing happened. My mother handed me some beans to snap and as we sat there snapping them into the pan, she told me the story of a little girl, a farm and a wayward duck. On this farm, this little girl treasured this duck and one day this duck ate - yes - ate a lost tooth. She couldn't remember the details of how the tooth came out and it wasn't even important to her (Oh say it isn't so!) but she sure did remember how horrified she was that her duck betrayed her. That story was worth far more than any monies the Tooth Fairy could have left and I ended the day fully victorious. I had a bond with my Mother that I already knew was there but this story served to convince me that my Mother saw something of herself in me and that she maybe liked what she saw.
I went to bed that night still wondering which chicken ate that tooth and wondering would it die. I recounted to myself the fearless manner in which I addressed the rooster and visualized the experience one last time before drifting off to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, miraculously, there was a quarter under my pillow. Somehow my mother had reached the Fairy and told her about my tooth. She even left me a little box for the next tooth and a note describing how it better be a very important tooth -worth the price of two teeth! My Mother I realized, was awesome!
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