We were a young student family trying to establish a degree of self-sufficiency that summer when we were given the chance to purchase chicken for a mere fifty cents per bird. Certain that this was a heaven-sent opportunity, we withdrew thirty-nine dollars from our savings account—twenty four for the chicken, and fifteen to rent a cold storage locker to freeze it.
But the morning we were to pick up our chicken brought a surprise. The poultry we ordered wasn’t being delivered in neat, plastic-wrapped packages. Our chicken was arriving complete with heads, feet, feathers, and cackle—forty-eight living, breathing, egg-laying hens.
Dismayed but not discouraged, my husband, Quinn, and I discussed the situation. It might have been a simple matter to dispatch the chickens to our waiting locker that day, but we had already planned to attend a family reunion in a neighboring town.
Now, a tiny yard in a mobile home park was probably not the best place to leave our new flock of chickens, but with the limited time we had, there was little choice.
Quinn made a few phone calls and came up with a 1952 pickup truck and a rather substantial piece of chicken wire. With the wire he fashioned a large crate in the bed of the truck. Congratulating himself on his cleverness, he loaded the chickens into the makeshift crate and parked the vehicle on the shady side of our mobile home.
We returned later, having thoroughly enjoyed our get-together, feeling a spirit of satisfaction. That spirit proved to be short-lived. When we pulled into the trailer court, we could see that some largish, white birds had taken up residence on car tops, front steps, and lawns all down the street.
“Oh, no!” Quinn exclaimed under his breath.
When we pulled into the driveway and stopped the car, it was immediately surrounded by neighborhood children. “Your chickens are loose! Your chickens are loose!” they cried, giggling and dancing excitedly from foot to foot.
Quinn looked at me, his mouth a grim line. “I’ve got to feed the baby,” I said, and scrambled out of the car and up the front steps.
He said nothing as he followed me into the house and changed his clothes. But when he went back outside he was carrying a large fishing net. I told myself I couldn’t bear to watch.
As soon as I had fed the baby, I went to the window. Quinn was in the yard on his knees, one hand grasping the net and the other stretched toward a nervous hen. “Here chickie, chickie. Nice chickie.” I pressed my knuckles to my mouth and decided I was right in the first place—I couldn’t bear to watch.
I busied myself in the kitchen until I could stand the curiosity no longer. But when I looked into the yard again, I saw no Quinn and no chickens. I opened the door, stepped out onto the porch, and looked down the street. Suddenly a half dozen frantic hens sped past me, their necks outstretched, feathers flying. My husband galloped after them, his fishing net flapping wildly above him, a squealing gang of delighted children behind.
The group rounded the corner of a nearby mobile home and disappeared, reappearing a few seconds later from the other side. This time, the children were in the lead, squealing in something other than delight while the terror-stricken chickens squawked and flapped at their legs. Quinn, his face a mask of intense determination, thundered after them.
It was nearly dark before the scattered hens were safely gathered. Quinn made some phone calls and found an accommodating coop in a nearby town.
I stood in the driveway and watched the old gray pickup disappear down the road, white feathers fluttering from the tailgate. There was a movement against my leg, and I looked down at a lone white hen next to my foot. She cocked her head and studied me with an unblinking red eye. “You missed your ride,” I said.
Those chickens never did make it to our locker. The next morning when I went out to water the lawn I found more than a dozen eggs in the grass. One of our friends offered us the use of a piece of property where we built a coop, and our feathered flock lived useful lives, providing us not only with fresh eggs, but a little extra income as well.
There were other days those chickens gave us a run for our money, but we never regretted the exercise in self-sufficiency.