Sometimes a simple object will trigger a flood of memories, things of long ago and almost forgotten. The recent high windstorm blew a small churn that I used to store umbrellas off the porch and smashed it in the yard. I looked at the broken pieces and thought about the past when we broke an earthenware crock or bowl.
Mom would set us to work pounding up the broken pieces into a fine grit. This was used in the chicken lot instead of oyster shell or store bought grit. Chickens must have some type of grit in order to digest their food. If they run loose, of course they pick up plenty of material. It took me back to childhood days on the farm.
I remember Grandma O’Dell mixing up a thick batter of flour and water, and dumping it out on a board for her chickens to eat. I don’t know whether she was out of corn, or if it was something the chickens needed. Sometimes an old hen would peck her on the arms, leaving purple splotches on her thin skin. (I am walking in my Grandma’s shoes, with my arms covered with purple spots.)
I love chickens. We raised bantams one year, and had dozens of small banties running around in the yard. My pet was a white Silky named Dorothy. She was so tame that you could pick her up anywhere—and that was her undoing. The grandchildren played with her, and baptized her once too often. At least she was ready to go.
There is nothing like hatching out a brood of baby chickens. There is a thrill in seeing the shell “pipped” and knowing that a little doodie was pecking his way out. When the mother hen cuddled them underneath her warm body and they dried off, the little balls of fluff were irresistible. We loved for Mom to put them in a wire coop, as the babies would run out through the wire but the mother hen couldn’t get to us.
Oh, those Mama Hens were fierce! Fighting roosters are scary and dangerous, but a mad setting hen was almost as bad. Last year Minnie followed me to the chicken house, and quick as a wink one of the hens flew at her, landed on her back, and flogged her halfway back to the house. She sort of shied away from the chickens after that.
There is an art to setting a clutch of eggs. Mom would put a layer of dirt under the straw in the nest, (this was so thunder wouldn’t kill the chicks in the shell) and fasten a piece of screen wire over the opening. This was to prevent other hens from crowding in with her and lay fresh eggs. Of course she let the old hen out once a day for food and water. A setting hen had to sit on that nest patiently for 21 days.
Sometimes a hen would “go to settin'” when Mom didn’t want her to. To break up a setting hen, Mom would grab her by the feet and dowse her up and down in cold water. I guess that would work, as their body temperature rises when they want to set. I remember the grandchildren watching this process, and later found them dowsing the kittens. They survived, and they never did try to “set.”
Spring is a wonderful time for young children on the farm. Spring calves are being born, and sometimes there is a wobbly-legged colt. There is nothing cuter than a litter of baby pigs, although a mother sow is not anything to mess with. We had an old sow once that had 13 little piglets. She only had enough hook-ups for 12, so we raised one on the bottle. I remember Mom putting him in a box close to the stove. And we all begged to feed him a bottle. He thrived.
It is a mistake, however, to name and pet an animal that is marked for wintertime consumption. Matthew had a big black pig named Charlotte, and she would fall over on her side for Matthew to scratch her. Needless to say, we couldn’t butcher her, but had to sell her. If they butchered her, at least we didn’t know it.
We were always so anxious for spring when I was a kid. The milk cow, which had been turned dry, would have a spring calf and begin giving floods of milk. Our appetites were whetted for fresh greens, after a winter of canned and dried vegetables. We pounced upon each little sign of spring returning. We still long for spring, and are heartened by each faint signal that the season is changing. It seems that when March comes, warm weather is not far behind.
I’ve been looking through some old notes that I made years ago, and found this notation, “We need to pray for compassion for others, and for a sensitivity for the needs of others—wobbly and pitiful old people, so old and feeble—and we are headed that way!” (I was 60 when I wrote that. Now I am here!)
We received a poem from Betty J. Banks of Charleston, which we’d like to share with you.
Dear God, when You thought of this earth of ours
With its beauty unspeakably rare,
All filled with creatures of every kind,
Its marvels of wealth to share;
Dear God, when You thought of a mountain range,
That reaches to heaven’s height,
Reflecting hues of purples and blues,
With quiet, majestic might;
Dear God, when you thought of the seas so wide,
That stretch from shore to shore
Carrying secrets of eternal years
In their powerful, endless roar;
Dear God, when you thought of mysterious skies,
With the stars and moon and sun
To light the night and warm the days
Since creation first begun;
Dear God, when you thought of heaven’s rewards
And pardon from fires of hell,
By sending Your Son to give to men
Life from salvation’s well;
Dear God, when you thought of Your holy plan
And a home for souls with Thee,
When you thought of all these wondrous things,
Dear God, what made You think of me?
“For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3-16)
(We have never found Chloe, and I thank my friends for the cards and letters of sympathy.)
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