I’ve been pretty serious lately, so I think it’s time for some silliness. I was just out in the chicken coop collecting the day’s eggs, and it hit me that hens are the epitome of brainless inanity. Therefore, today’s posting is about chickens. More precisely, it is a somewhat (but not very) fictionalized story about how we got our very first chicken, Bawky. The year was 1986….
I was scraping cereal off the last of the morning’s dishes to the accompaniment of Bert and Ernie, when the doorbell rang. Dropping the bowl back into the soapy water, I grabbed a tattered dishrag to dry my hands. The sound of running feet heralded the breathless arrival of two little girls, curious to see who was at the door. Chubby hands gripped my knees. We opened the door together.A gust of wind rustled a scattering of late fall leaves that had escaped bagging. Sunshine pouring out of a cobalt sky reflected off the car in our driveway, the only one visible in the immaculately manicured cul-de-sac. Standing in front of me was Mrs. Thompson, our next-door neighbor, obviously on her way to the office. Every dyed hair was lacquered in place. Her gray skirt and jacket, white blouse, and matching gray pumps shrieked authority. Mouth pursed in an expression of extreme distaste, she held one arm out in front of her. And at the end of that arm, dangling head down from its feet, was a dejectedly drooping … chicken?
“Here, I thought your girls would enjoy having a pet,” she asserted, as she thrust the now agitated bird into my arms. “We couldn’t catch her earlier, so she got left behind when the rest of them went to the egg farm. You can have her for free.”
She hastily backed off the porch, turned, and hurried home as fast as her spike heels could take her.
I stood stupidly gaping after her until two pairs of hands tugged on my jeans. Then I looked down at the hen nestled in my arms. She seemed happier being cradled than when she had been suspended by her legs. “Mommy, can we keep her?” Two pairs of wide eyes looked up at me with earnest pleading. It was enough to melt a mother’s heart. “Pleeeeeeeese? We’ll take care of her, honest we will.”
“Well, let me talk to Daddy,” I hedged. What would Pete think if he came home this evening and found a chicken in residence? My practical side started asking questions. Where would we keep her? What would we feed her? At least I already knew who would be cleaning up after her.
Realizing we were all still standing in the open doorway, I ushered my charges back into the house and closed the door. Now what?
“We can name her Bawky,” announced 5-year-old Teri. She had learned that those who take the initiative usually get their way. “Yeah, Bawky!” echoed her 2-year-old sister, Karin.
“Let’s put her in the backyard while I call Daddy,” I quickly interjected. “We don’t want to give her a name quite yet. I don’t even know if it’s legal to keep chickens in this neighborhood!”
Opening the sliding glass door, I dumped the chicken into the fenced yard. She shook out her ruffled feathers, looked around and, squatting slightly, dropped a large mass of fertilizer onto the patio. Great. At least she had waited for me to put her down. The girls hurried out after her, totally absorbed by the unexpected attraction. I slid the screen closed, leaving the glass door open so I could keep an ear tuned, stopped to turn off the now neglected TV, and headed for the phone.
“Hello, Pete’s desk, this is Pete!” my husband’s familiar voice answered on the first ring. “Oh good, you’re there, it’s me.” I was relieved. “How are you? Are you having a good day?”
“Um, sure, I’m fine. What’s up?” My husband was understandably suspicious. I try hard not to bother him while he’s working.
“We have a … situation here. Nothing life-threatening, don’t worry.”
“A situation? What kind of situation?”
“Well… um… we, er, seem to have acquired a chicken.”
There was dead silence on the other end of the line. Then I could hear him inhale. “A chicken? Where in the world did you get a chicken?”
“Mrs. Thompson came over this morning on her way to work. She just threw this chicken at me and ran away! I didn’t even have time to think… plus the kids were right there at the door with me. I don’t know… it just happened so fast.”
“A chicken,” repeated Pete. He seemed to be having trouble getting past that initial bit of information.
“Actually, she’s sort of a nice chicken.” I was trying to justify myself, I knew. “She’s mostly red, just like Henny Penny in the kids’ book. And she’s soft and warm; I was really surprised. You should see the kids—they are so excited. They really want to keep her!”
Was this me, advocating for poultry ownership? What was I thinking?
“Do you want to keep this animal?” Pete’s voice was incredulous. “You know who would end up taking care of it! And are chickens even legal here? Don’t we have to live on a farm or something? What would the neighbors think? What if it crows? Besides, we don’t have a coop or anything to keep her in.”
“I don’t think hens crow, only roosters. She just sort of clucks as she walks around. It’s kind of soothing.” I answered the easy questions first. “And I know what one neighbor would think—she gave it to us!”
“Mrs. Thompson, huh? I’m guessing it was left over from their pumpkin patch lots. You know, they run those ‘Pick your own close to home’ pumpkin operations for fall… the ones they turn into Christmas tree lots in December… maybe they added the chickens because of all the little kids who go there on fieldtrips.”
“Ohhh!” I said slowly, the light finally going on. “That makes sense. I couldn’t figure out what Mrs. Corporate was doing with a hen, right in the middle of Silicon Valley!”
“So… where’s the chicken now?” Pete was still trying to grasp the situation. I knew he’d been concentrating on his latest software project before I interrupted his workday.
“I put her in the backyard. It’s fenced, so she should be okay,” I answered.
“What about Henry?” he countered.
Oh no! Henry! I had forgotten about our huge orange cat. This was the cat that left me lizards on my pillow and mice on the doorstep. Twice now, he had even dragged home the bloody remains of Norway rats almost as big as he was. I couldn’t imagine where he had found those. And he was out in the yard with Bawky! I had to rescue the chicken before something terrible happened.
“I have to go. I didn’t even think about Henry! Oh, and the kids are in the backyard. What if he attacks Bawky, and they see it? They’ll have nightmares for weeks. Love-you-bye.” As I hastily hung up the phone, I could here Pete’s faint voice asking, “Bawky?”
Hurrying back to the patio door, I slid open the screen and rushed outside, carefully avoiding the lump of chicken droppings. Right, I needed to clean that up. Happily, I hadn’t heard anything that sounded like a chicken being attacked by a cat. Yet. Best to ward off disaster before it strikes, I thought. The kids were out on the lawn, staring into the bushes. They appeared to be hunting for something.
“Mommy, we can’t find Bawky!” Teri wailed. “She was running around and we were chasing her, and then she ran into the bushes and now we can’t find where she went!”
“Bawky!” said Karin.
I couldn’t exactly blame the chicken. Letting the kids out unattended to play with her hadn’t been the most brilliant of ideas. But now how would I rescue her from the real threat of death-by-mauling? We searched as well as we could, but the backyard was well landscaped and there were plenty of hiding places. She was probably getting more and more scared by the commotion the girls were making.
“We’ll just have to let her come out on her own,” I finally decided. “Let’s go inside for a snack. She’ll probably feel safer if we stop chasing her. I’m sure we’ll find her then.” Breathing a prayer that I’d find her before Henry did, I ushered the girls back into the house.
String cheese and juice proved a sufficient distraction. The morning wore on, with the girls playing in the family room while I started in on the day’s chores. I was thoroughly engrossed in paying some bills when I heard a howling meow coming from the backyard. Oh no! Henry and Bawky!
Racing down the hall and across the family room, I arrived at the backdoor just in time to see the chicken running across the patio, our cat in hot pursuit. Flapping her wings for added speed, Bawky sailed over the lounge chair, her momentum carrying her off the pavement and around the corner of the house. Henry followed, eyes crazed and tail flying behind him.
There was a squawk and a screech, then nothing. I was frozen in place. I willed my legs to carry me out the door, wanting yet dreading to see what had happened. Somehow, my brain-body connection didn’t seem to be working.
Suddenly the cat shot around the corner of the house and sprinted back across the patio as fast as his four paws could carry him, looking for all the world as if he’d seen his worst nightmare. Ears flat against his head, wild eyes staring, he was headed for the tall fence that bounded our yard. Right behind him, head thrust forward, wings flapping, with the most unearthly screeching coming from her beak, came Bawky.
“Mommy, mommy, look at Bawky!” I hadn’t realized that Teri had joined me, Karin in tow. “She’s chasing Henry!” Karin giggled, and both girls dissolved into peals of laughter. I took a deep breath, let it out, and felt the tension drain from my body as I joined in.