When I was seven years old, my parents were struggling financially so we moved to a house just outside of town in order to grow a garden. The property also had a brooder house and a hen house. One evening Mom announced, “I’ve decided to raise chickens and sell them to Riggen’s Poultry House.”
My four-year-old sister and I could hardly control our excitement. We had begged for a bright pink, or blue, or green baby chick each Easter, but Dad had always vetoed that with a, “No one should dye a chicken,” comment. Now, we not only would have one baby chick, but many baby chicks.
The chicks arrived, all one hundred of them, on a cold, blustery, spring day. My sister and I giggled and squealed as we poked our fingers through the air holes in the shallow, brown, cardboard boxes, and tried to touch the fuzzy chicks. We had to yell at each other to be heard above the high-pitched, frantic cheeping.
After we helped take the chicks out of the boxes, my sister and I squatted around the brooder light and kept an eye on our babies. To our dismay, four died that first night, due to travel and the chilly weather.
For a few days, the chicks supplied the main source of entertainment for us. We laughed hysterically every time one drank and raised its head to let water run down its throat. My fascination, however, soon began to wane. I had to pump water and carry it to the chickens. A month later, “feeding the chickens” was added to my list of chores.
When it came time to clean the hen house and move the chickens, I no longer considered the chickens cute. It seemed to me that the chickens lived with their heads in the air, letting water run down their throats. I could hardly wait for them to grow up and leave for the poultry house. The summer day that Mr. Riggen captured and caged half the flock to be sold as fryers, was a happy day for me.
My younger sister, however, felt differently about the chickens. Since she didn’t have to carry food and water to them, the chickens never lost their charm. She considered the chickens her pets. One Plymouth Rock hen returned that affection. The black and white chicken, which she named Chippy, trailed my sister every place she went.
One evening, late that summer, my mother said, “I talked to Mr. Riggen at the poultry house today. He’s coming out to get the rest of the chickens next week.”
“Great,” I yelled. “Now I don’t have to feed those stupid chickens.”
My sister began wailing. “Does Chippy have to go?” she sobbed.
“I’m only keeping a few laying hens. Chippy hasn’t laid any eggs and she’ll have to go. I bought those chickens to try to make a little money. I can’t afford to feed chickens that don’t lay. You can have one of the laying hens for a pet.”
“I don’t want another chicken. I want Chippy. She’s my friend.”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t keep a chicken that doesn’t lay eggs,” Mom said. “Keep an eye on her nest and maybe she’ll start laying.”
That night, my sister included Chippy in her prayers. “Please God,” she asked, “help Chippy start laying eggs.”
As an older sister, I stifled a snicker. I knew that God cared about big things like making us well when we couldn’t afford a doctor, or providing groceries when we had no money, but praying for a certain chicken to lay an egg was expecting too much out of God.
Each day, that week, my sister made several trips to the hen house. If Chippy was on her nest, my sister would slip her hand under her warm, soft body and feel for an egg, but Chippy never produced an egg.
On Saturday morning, after lugging feed and water to the chickens, I asked, “When is Mr. Riggen coming for those chickens?”
“Thursday,” my mother replied. My sister ran wailing toward the chicken house.
During the next days, she and Chippy were nearly inseparable. One mid-morning, early the next week, my sister ran screaming from the hen house.
“Chippy laid and egg! Chippy laid an egg!” she cried. “Now I can keep Chippy. Chippy really did lay an egg!”
Beaming through tears, she placed an egg in Mom’s hand.
“Let’s check this egg,” Mom said, as she cracked it into a bowl.
“Would you look at that!” Mom exclaimed as she put the bowl down at our eye level. “Chippy laid a double-yolked egg.”
From that day on Chippy laid eggs – double-yolked eggs – and no one ever mentioned taking her to Mr. Riggen’s poultry house again.
Martha Hawn VanCise©2013 Signposts On High Trails