Your chickens are just so good at being chickens! says my friend when I send her yet another picture of the girls. And it’s true!! That is exactly what they are good at!!
I never imagined my love for these chickens. I had no interest in owning barnyard fowl. I have vague sensory memories from my early childhood of a chicken house on my grandpa and grandma’s farm. It was on a wagon-like structure, the floor slanted. We cousins used to run through it and jump off the end when our families gathered for holidays. Or that’s how I remember it. It may be memory made of nothing – The screened door, the wooden perches, the bits of feather and the faint smell of aged chicken poo; these fuzzy details fade away into a real family history that tells of my grandparents raising hens for eggs, and my tiny great grandmother wringing a chicken’s neck for dinner, as regular as if she were picking a tomato.
I grew up in the suburbs. We moved “to the country” when I was in the 8th grade and for the first year of that move we lived on my grandparents farm in the mobile home where my tiny great grandmother had lived out her last years of life. There were no chickens on the property by the time we lived there and if there really had once been the chicken house of my memory, it was gone. I don’t remember any animals on the farm when we lived there except the dogs – grandpa’s dog and ours. There probably were cats. And then we got the horse, Sugar, who came to us through my sister’s short-lived 4-H adventure. Sugar lived in the barn and we took her out for walks in the barnyard, but rarely (ever?) to ride. Sugar was a retired horse, pretty much good for nothing, but from her I learned to muck a stall.
From there, we moved a couple miles down the road where my parents bought an old farmhouse and barn on several acres. We got a couple calves which we bottle-fed before and after school. I remember the sweet scent of milk powder as I mixed the formula into bottles, pulled on dad’s old brown coat, and headed out to the barn holding warm bottles of milk on drizzly, dark fall mornings. Those animals were not particularly endearing beyond the time I spent with them in the cozy warmth of the barn light on early fall mornings as I tipped the bottle and they sucked my offering down. I didn’t get attached. And that was just as well because those pasture-raised steer eventually ended up in our freezer.
We got ducks for Easter one year. I remember there being one for each of us kids, they were so cute, fluffy, and small! We set them afloat in the old clawfoot bathtub. When I brought ducks up in a text thread with my siblings, they remind me that there were actually five ducklings and my memory is corrected – we named them Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, and Brown Duck. (I found the picture proof.)
When the ducks were older, they free ranged around our yard, I guess? I think we may have had a small plastic kid’s wading pool in our backyard to serve as their pond, but other than that I don’t remember much about them. Except the time when we came home from town in our big old station wagon and found one of our dogs in the middle of making herself a duck dinner. I had never seen my mother so angry as she was in that moment. She launched herself straight out from the driver seat, running after the dog, yelling at her to get away from that duck!!! The guilty dog was so scared of mom that she left the duck and ran toward us kids – we were by now standing wide-eyed beside the station wagon, all the doors left wide open, watching the remarkable event unfold. With mom hot on her heels, the big dog leaped into the car, scrambled across the wide backseat, and hopped out the other side. I can’t remember if Mom followed; the intensity of memory fades from there. In the end, I know Mom attempted to nurse the feather-plucked duck back to health, but it did not survive. Talking about it in a text thread today, my siblings agree that it was Lady who killed that particular duck and recall that it was Molly the Collie who killed Brown Duck later. The other ducks disappeared to wild predators over time.
Besides lots of cats and several dogs, we also had rabbits for awhile. I got a rabbit we called Zaika – Zaychyk means bunny in Ukrainian and we had a Ukrainian refugee family living with us at the time. Was I in Rabbit 4-H, is that why I got a rabbit? I can’t remember. Zaika often came into the house, I think. I remember holding her soft, warm bunny body, and the word that comes to mind when I think of her is kindness, but I have no explanation or reason for telling that fact. My brother had a rabbit too. And his rabbit and my rabbit made some (intended) babies one day – A LOT of babies which, for some reason I can’t recall, were born into a straightway grotesque death scene that I won’t describe here. We never saw them alive. That brutal episode is pretty much the last thing I remember about our rabbits. I don’t know what happened to them after that.
After those 5 years of “country living” I left for college. A couple years later, my parents and younger siblings moved across the state, and the farm adventure was over. I took from it a love of digging in the dirt which isn’t even the point of this post, obviously. And this survey of our family’s animal farm wasn’t supposed to be the point either! But – how to bring it all back around to where it began? I guess I’m not going to try. I’ll let the opening stand because it’s true and it sent me down this trail.
I’ll just leave with this – memory is interesting and complex. In the process of writing this post, I texted my siblings to ask which dog attacked the duck and ran through the station wagon with mom chasing, was it Lady or Molly? That question sparked different angles on the same memory and the four of us went back and forth on other details that I’ve included in this post. Because I live with my parents now, I was able to pull out the family album to help us remember together. In the end, this post is my version of the way things happened. Since texting with my siblings, I’ve edited a bit. I took out some things to widen the view and leave room for additional/alternate takes.
What I know for sure is that the trail that I have written here treks through five of my much younger years, and it stretches far beyond that in both directions on the timeline as it reflects on a family fit together with love and fidelity. To be able to reach into the rich memory bin that I share with my siblings is a gift. I don’t take for granted the fact that my siblings are also my friends. We tell stories, recognize our different perspectives, and we laugh together. Our parents built a solid model of good care and deep, abiding love and we have had the temperaments and will to lean in. I am grateful.
Also – I turned comments off on this website a long time ago. They can’t show up here now and correct me! But I’m the oldest. They’re used it.