Sunny Side Up

Last year at this time I wrote about a lovely mother who homeschooled her 10 kids. Every time I sat down to talk with her, a little hand was pulling me over to see what impossibly adorable thing the newly hatched chickens were doing. And as if by cosmic hand, there was one fuzzy baby for each child. Ten children. Ten chicks.

Since that day, I began to obsess over the idea of having my own collection of tennis ball-sized fluffers that would hop around the yard and one day fill my straw baskets with speckled eggs to pass around the neighborhood. Flash forward eight months to a wet June evening over pasta. I look at my son, “We should get chickens.” I get the nod from him and make a mental note to buy books, join an online chicken community and save for a chicken coop.

Two days later, my neighbor says: “So, I ended up taking the baby chickens from my son’s class and my husband says we can’t keep them. Do you want them?”

Another Cosmic Chicken Hand at play.

So, a few hours later, we had three tiny gray chirping fluffers living in the playroom. They sat in our laps while we watched television. They balanced along my son’s arms like miniature falcons. They drove our dog crazy. Yes, they pooped all over the rug, but basically they were like kittens and we were smitten with our chicken kittens.

But one thing I didn’t realize about chickens is sometimes they just die. When we went to say goodnight to Ruby one night she was on her back in the food dish. No sign of death-by-pecking, or choking or temperature mishap. Her three-week life was just over.

The Ruby funeral, which my son decided had to HAPPEN RIGHT NOW I DON’T CARE THAT IT’S ALREADY WAY PAST MY BEDTIME, was a soggy mess and we didn’t even have a proper shovel to dig a proper hole (and the dog would have dug her up in seconds anyway) so Ruby was interred in the basement freezer, resting in peace in her coffin, also known as my ballroom dancing shoes box.

And then there were two.

I spent three month’s worth of earnings from my column to buy The Nantucket. Basically, the Barbie Dream House for poultry. It took two weeks to arrive and four hours to assemble and by the end I was ready to move in myself.

Zip the Rooster and Betty were relocated. Their fluff had turned to feathers and although they weren’t as cute as their 2-week-old selves—what were those weird red things growing from their heads?—they were family. Family, that apparently, wouldn’t even be capable of paying their rent in fresh eggs for UP TO FIVE MONTHS, but family, nonetheless.

The second fatality happened in seconds. I ran inside for water and when I came back, Zip the Rooster was gone. Betty was running in petrified circles and as I grabbed her to safety, I saw signs that indicated a patient hawk had dropped by for dinner, over easy.

Damn. Did I feel awful.

Then there was one.

Well, that wouldn’t do. Betty was heartbroken and I was a clumsy replacement for her paramour. I posted on social media, seeking “Handsome Rooster, who may be looking for a nice girl to spend his days within a quite luxurious chicken beach house.”

There is no shortage of people looking to dump roosters, handsome or otherwise.

I drove to Bath to pick up what looked like what you picture when you hear “Cockfighting Champion.” He was bigger than my dog. He stared at me from the passenger seat, most likely imagining how my eyes would taste later.

Another thing I didn’t realize is that chickens don’t welcome newcomers with open wings, even if they are last chick standing. At the indignity of being shunned by his new bride, Pepperoni the Rooster took refuge under the porch. He refused to come out for three days. By this point, chicken life was more exhausting than toddler life and I was still months away from “free eggs.”

At 4 a.m. on Day Three of Porch Hiding, my dog was going nuts. Figuring she had to pee, I opened to the door, only to see Pepperoni poised quite regally smack in the middle of the welcome mat. Half asleep, I locked him in the bathroom and stumbled back to bed.

At 6 a.m., screams reminded me I had not told anyone else of the angry rooster locked in the bathroom. But, I suppose it is a rooster’s job to wake everyone up early, so…

Part of me wishes I could slap the Cosmic Chicken Hand that made the summer into Party Fowl: Lessons in Love and Loss. But then again, watching Betty and Pepperoni dig for bugs together is a sweet reminder that all can be overcome with patience, a chicken dream house, and at least the prospect of some really delicious omelettes.

Maggie Knowles writes about all things kid. She and her son live in Yarmouth, where she gardens, keeps bees and refuses to get rid of her stilettos.

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