ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY:   Good old country living

© Another Day in the Country

When I got back from California, I slowly began picking up the process of living in the country. “Betty thinks she’s setting,” my sister announced. As you may recall, Betty is the black hen that has achieved sainthood in her lifetime because of her heroics in the hatchery department.

And she is old. Still a good-looking hen with her glossy black feathers tinged iridescent in the sunlight and a mind of her own. “I’ve just been taking the eggs out from under her, every day,” Jess said. “She won’t get off the nest.”

A setting hen? Hmm. I remembered my mother, 40 years ago, having a setting hen on the farm (in Oregon) when we came to visit during the summer. She hatched out her chicks while my girls were there, and Mom sent that basket full of hen and chicks home with us to California.

Imagine the fun of crossing the border back into California with all the “produce” Mom loved to send home with us, and this time when the guard asked about the basket in the back of the van, I had to say, “It’s a hen with chicks?” Who carts around chickens these days?

My mother got the biggest kick out of sending those chicks home with us. It wasn’t until I had a grandchild of my own that I understood the depth of her joy — this thrill of exposing a city child to a simple country thing like hatching chicks.

And here was our old hen, willing to oblige, offering up one of those country experiences to my grandson. I didn’t tell a soul. I just stopped taking the eggs away from Betty. I came into the house and found the calendar to count the days that my kids would be here. All we needed was 21 days, right? They were here for a month, so sometime during their stay we’d have this grand surprise. The only problem was that I didn’t know exactly when Betty “turned on the heat” for incubation. When did she decide that she had enough eggs for this time and start the ball rolling?

I still didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone saying, “You’ve got to be kidding? You know the trouble we have if some of those chicks turn out to be roosters? What are you thinking?” What I was thinking, imagining, was the delight on that little boy’s face if we “discovered” a nest full of baby chicks on another day in the country.

My kids always loved going to my parents’ farm in Oregon. There were lots of delights like the chickens, gathering eggs, the calves Dad raised. There were games of croquet on the lawn and water fights. I thought of Mom when Jess showed me a pair of water squirters she’d got, anticipating hot weather and our arrival. We tried them out with Dagfinnr and had a jolly good time getting drenched. All the while, dodging and squealing and sneaking up — I felt like a reincarnation of Mom.

Jana reminded me of how much fun the hayrides used to be on the farm. Dad would hitch the trailer to the tractor, pile on some hay bales, cover them with blankets so we wouldn’t get all scratched up, and we’d pile on. My folks only knew a few secular songs like “I’ve been working on the railroad” and “You are my sunshine.” We could do “Home on the range,” and their favorite, “With someone like you, a pal good and true, I’d like to leave the world behind and go and find…” We’d sing them over and over until we got back home and Mom would have noodle soup with “clods” (as my sister called the dumplings) and after the dishes were done we’d play a game of dominoes.

That’s pretty much how things went a generation later in Ramona. This past week I’ve been visiting Betty regularly to check for progress. Yesterday, early in the morning, before we took off for the airport and their trip back to California, I checked one last time — no chicks. Betty is getting more irate as I lift her wing to search for signs of life — maybe that’s a sign?

We were sitting on the porch swing as Jana made one last tour of the house to see if she’d left anything crucial, and I told my grandson my secret that I hadn’t told anyone. “Maybe next year,” he said pragmatically.

Well, the secret is out, now that I’ve told you! What if none of those eggs hatch? Was it a silly idea? I’d better go check that hen again…

 

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