Terry leaped out of the car and watched her family mingle with the crowd. Grandma was already kissing Mother. Grandpa was shaking Dad’s hand. Everywhere she looked there were relatives and more relatives. But where was Becky?
Two ice-cold hands grabbed her waist. “Gotcha!”
Terry screamed and jumped, then turned and saw Becky grinning at her. Becky’s black hair was pulled back into braids, and her brown eyes twinkled. “Welcome to the family reunion, cuz!” she said, merrily.
Terry wondered if she had changed as much as Becky had. Last year Becky had had short hair and glasses. Of course, last year I was two inches shorter, she thought. And my brown hair had been straight, not permed.
But outside changes didn’t matter. Inside they were the same, and seeing each other only once a year didn’t put a dent in their friendship. Instead it made them use their time together to its fullest advantage.
“Come have dinner,” Terry heard Aunt Georgia say as the whole group headed toward the backyard, where long tables were piled high with food.
Becky grinned at Terry. “I’ve saved us a place near the corn on the cob.” She escorted Terry to their seats, and they gingerly sat down on the makeshift benches.
“What plans do we have?” Terry asked, reaching for the corn with one hand and the mashed potatoes with the other.
Becky lowered her voice. “Are you tired of being treated like a kid?”
Terry nodded. “Every year it’s the same: ‘You’re too young. Let one of the older kids handle it.’ When do we get to be older kids?” She waved her corn for emphasis.
Becky agreed. “We’re nine years old and deserve some respect!”
“But how do we prove that we’re old enough to do the same things that the older kids get to do?” Terry asked.
“We should do something spectacular,” Becky decided.
“Well, I don’t know about spectacular,” Terry said, pausing to slap a mosquito. “But maybe we could do something responsible and helpful. Grown-ups love that.”
Becky’s eyes widened as she looked around the farm’s backyard. “I know!”
Terry was puzzled until she saw what Becky was looking at. “You mean … ?”
“Sure! It’s a chore that Grandma has to do every day.” Becky paused to eat a bite of dessert. “Won’t she be pleased when we do it for her?”
“I don’t know,” Terry said, doubtful. “She doesn’t even let any of our aunts do it for her. Maybe there’s more to it than we know.”
“What could be so hard?” Becky smiled. “Unless, of course, you’re”—she giggled—“chicken.”
Terry laughed too.
“Tomorrow morning, early,” Becky finally whispered through her giggles.
“OK,” Terry replied. “I didn’t eggs-pect to sleep late.”
This remark sent them both into another bout of helpless laughter.
When the sun rose the next morning, Terry’s eyes popped open as if an alarm clock had rung. She reached over to shake Becky. Grandma and Grandpa would be getting up soon to do the chores. The rooster crowed, and the cows were mooing by the barn gate.
Becky and Terry wiggled out of their sleeping bags on the front lawn and ran sleepy fingers through their rumpled hair.
Quietly they crept to the back of the house and eased open the kitchen door. All was quiet.
Hanging on the wall next to the door was the egg basket. Every morning Grandma collected the chickens’ eggs.
Terry smiled, envisioning Grandma’s face when they presented her with the basket full of eggs. This would prove that they weren’t little kids anymore.
Outside the chicken coop, they could hear the hens clucking and the rooster crowing. It seemed very loud. Terry hesitated and saw indecision in Becky’s face as well. “Chicken!” she whispered and swung back the bar holding the door in place.
They had imagined that the chickens would be in neat little boxes, clucking gently, with eggs in piles on the floor. It wasn’t at all like that.
When they walked in, the chickens were suddenly silent. Then, as if they had been waiting for just this moment, they launched an attack. Three chickens cornered the girls while the rest surged like a tidal wave of feathers through the open door, the rooster in the lead. Then the three attacking chickens sought freedom themselves.
“What are we going to do now?” Terry whispered in a quavery voice.
Becky offered a one-word solution: “Panic!”
The girls ran into the yard. They tried to catch the chickens but without any luck. In desperation, they ran into the house, yelling, “The chickens are out! The chickens are out!”
Soon the backyard was filled with pajama-clad adults and children chasing chickens. The chickens seemed to view this as great sport. They used the small children for cover and ran between the legs of adults trying to grab them. They hid under the porch, and a few even flew as far as the lower branches of the oak tree, where they roosted and watched the fun below.
Uncles were shouting, aunts were waving bathrobes, children were laughing, and chickens were clucking. Grandma Christensen came out of the house, surveyed the backyard filled with feathers and family, then turned and went back into the house.
Huddled by a window in an upstairs bedroom, Becky and Terry hoped to hide out until the excitement died down.
Suddenly they heard a quiet voice behind them. “Interesting circus outside, isn’t it?”
With a gasp they turned to face Grandma Christensen. She stood just inside the door, looking past them out the window.
“Now I wonder how those chickens could have gotten out?”
Terry and Becky exchanged guilty glances. “We let them out,” Terry said, solemnly. “We’re awfully sorry.”
“It was an accident,” Becky asserted. “We were just trying to help.”
Grandma looked them both over sternly, and then her eyes softened. “Well,” she said briskly, “they’re out. Now, how are you going to get them back in?”
“Us?” They looked at each other and then at the feathers flying in the yard.
“Well,” she continued, “you were inventive enough to get them out. Just show the same ingenuity in getting them back in. Consider it a challenge.”
Numbly they nodded. As Grandma turned to go, Terry asked, “How did you know we’d be up here?”
For the first time Grandma smiled. “Because this is where I hid when I left the gate open and let my father’s cows into the garden.” She went out, closing the door behind her.
Five minutes later Terry and Becky went downstairs. By that time the yard was a combat zone. Chickens were still running and clucking all over the yard. The rooster sat on a windowsill, just out of reach, crowing directions to his troops. In the human ranks, enthusiasm had been replaced by desperation. Several chickens had three of the younger cousins backed up against the barn and pecked their toes whenever they tried to move.
The two girls went over by their grandmother. “We need everyone out of the yard,” Terry explained.
Grandma smiled. “That’s easy.” She went to the porch and rang the dinner bell. “Breakfast everyone!”
The yard cleared miraculously. Only Becky and Terry and the chickens were left.
Becky and Terry went into the barn, took bowls from a shelf and filled them with chicken feed. By the time they stepped outside again, the chickens were clucking contentedly and beginning to forage in the yard.
Becky and Terry snuck around to the chicken farthest from the coop and began laying a trial of chicken feed. Soon the chicken began to follow. As the girls walked through the yard, leaving trails of cracked corn and grain, more and more chickens followed them. Terry felt like the Pied Piper. Even the chickens in the trees were intrigued enough to investigate. Soon all the birds were following the girls.
The chickens were so intent on their breakfast that they didn’t even notice when they entered the chicken coop. Both girls dumped their bowls at the very back of the coop, and soon it was a riot of noise as all the chickens fought for their fair share.
Using the clucking and squawking as cover, Terry and Becky quickly tiptoed to the door. After gently dropping the wooden bar into place, the girls leaned against the outside of the coop and sighed with relief.
Becky looked at Terry and started to giggle. Terry giggled too. Soon both girls were leaning against the door, barely able to stand because of their laughter.
“That wasn’t eggs-actly what I was eggs-pecting to happen,” Becky choked out at last.
“Well, now we know that if we chicken out, we have to chicken in again,” Terry said with as straight a face as she could manage.
“Maybe it’s just as well that we only see each other once a year,” Becky said with a final giggle.