I WAS AWAKE before 6 this morning and listening to the chickens.
I have a history with chickens.
The poultry next door are the most recent. Around 6 or so, they begin to wake up and converse. It’s not the rooster, which has a distinctive morning call. No, it’s the hens, which also explains the constant chatter from their apple tree roost.
I was born in Atlanta, but I’ve hardly ever lived there. My parents and my sister lived in Atlanta for decades, but not me. When I was about six months old, we left Atlanta and headed to my maternal grandparents’ 500-acre farm in Southwest Georgia between the towns of Sylvester and Albany.
In later decades my parents and my sister returned to Atlanta, but I never went back except to visit. It’s a beautiful city, especially in the Fall.
Among the Herefords, rabbits and cats on the farm (we never messed with pigs and there was just one dog. I’ll get to him later) there were chickens, about 2,000 of them at one time.
The chickens were my father’s doing. He intended to make a living off chickens while becoming a famous writer. Neither of those notions panned out.
One dark summer night in Georgia, a large chunk of those 2,000 chickens was stolen. I remember Sheriff Andy and Deputy Fife standing in the kitchen the following morning. We never did get those chickens back.
During those chicken days, my father would give me baby chicks that he figured were not going to survive. You read that right. My father gave me dying chicks as pets, and they did. Die, that is.
But I played nursemaid with each for a few days, keeping them in shoeboxes. They didn’t look ill to me when I got them. But they always died.
On that farm, we raised rabbits for profit, but my sister and I had one rabbit we considered a pet. We named him Rusty due to his color. One afternoon at dinner, as we were finishing up, it came out that we had just eaten Rusty.
I’ve written about some of these events, years ago, so it may sound familiar.
There was a dog on the farm too. He was named Pepper. He was a frisky, middle-sized dog of unknown mongrel heritage, and the only (almost) dog my sister and I ever were allowed to have.
Pepper was still there when we left the farm after six years. We then saw him only during our frequent visits up from Florida.
For First Grade I went to a Catholic school in Albany, even though we were not Catholics. Between First and Second grades, we abandoned farm life — chickens, cats*, Pepper, rabbits, Herefords — and moved to Jacksonville, Florida.
I never lived in proximity to poultry again. Till now.
The neighbors’ apple tree in which they roost abuts the property wall, and the chickens on occasion jump down to our yard and walk around. I’m not fond of this because chickens are nasty animals, and then there’s the poop.
But their visits are short, and they’re capable of the brief flight back to the apple tree, back to their own home where they belong.
Especially when I shoo them!
And every morning they greet dawn with chatter, reminding me that I once lived with their ancestors, thousands of the bloody things.
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* Sometimes there were up to 25 cats!