I am an accidental chicken owner. Or I should say friend – “free range” and “own” just don’t mesh. A Rhode Island Red pecking about my yard was not something of which my dreams were made. Fresh eggs were not, in my mind, a culinary must-have. I can sum up my thoughts of keeping a few hens in one word: Why?
But one day while on a backwoods errand picking up a part for my husband, I drove into a yard filled with chickens. They covered the lawn, driveway, front step, vehicles and trees. Turned out they were not the repairman’s, but a portion of his neighbor’s massive wandering flock.
Surrounded and startled, I could only think to say, “A lot of nice birds.”
That was my first mistake. He immediately launched into a sales pitch, including incentives, such as “take one” and “free.” That they weren’t his to give did not dampen his enthusiasm. It may have fueled it, as a large number of these birds were roosters.
Imagine the heralding of the dawn by not one, but three dozen roosters. Perhaps you cannot, because unlike me, you do not have a poultry past.
Telling that tale was my second mistake. I suddenly spied a Rhode Island Red – a dead ringer for the hen who belonged to the people next door when I was 4. Until that moment, I had forgotten Matilda, my best friend the year my family lived in an apartment as our house was built elsewhere. I cut him off mid-spiel and I’m sure just glowed with nostalgia recounting the many happy hours passing Matilda clover through her wire pen.
Calling protests of “No, I don’t want a chicken!” to the repairman’s back as he scurried into his shop was of no use. He emerged with a greasy box and within seconds, Matilda II was in the back seat of my new car. My new car with the dove-gray velour seats. There was a chicken in my spotless new car.
My third mistake was looking into her brass rivet eye and remembering, much like the fool who buys the Howdy Doody lunchbox on eBay for $100, a time lost and perhaps now found.
“She’s so beautiful,” I told him.
This story does not end with a chicken flapping wildly around the interior of a new car driven into a ditch, although it could have. It ends with Matilda stealing my heart as she sat outside the window beside this computer, turning her head to peer up at me and murmur her henny small talk; with her gift every other day of a large brown egg (they are better fresh); with my going back to get her a buddy to roost with through the long winter.
It ends with my keeping a few hens and never asking why. It ends with the unimagined joy only foolish mistakes can bring.