This is a tale from the days of yore. It was a simpler time then, following the anticlimactic end of the impending apocalypse that was the millennium. In a historic white Victorian home, on a quiet street, in a small town, in the South, one morning was about to have a momentous disruption.
My family had purchased baby chicks as an Easter present for the three of us children, ages four, 10 and 15. Northerners may be unfamiliar with this practice, but in the South, it’s very common to go to farm supply stores and buy baby animals in bulk. They have pens, crates and troughs filled to the brim with baby chickens, geese, ducks and most any other small fowl. This was one of my favorite indicators of Spring because you could just walk in a play with the little chicks without any annoying store clerks breathing over your shoulder. This particular year, my parents thought it would be precious to add some in to our Easter Baskets. They even came with their feathers dyed in bright colors like Easter eggs, but this particular batch was au natural. As you can imagine, we were over the moon to receive the chicks and played with them for several days.
This is when my parent’s plan remains unclear because though there was no real “city” aspect to our small town, we were the farthest thing from a farm, living only two blocks from the town square. Our modest unfenced yard was no place for chickens to roam, and most likely broke several city ordinances. The best I can guess is our parents didn’t intend on the chicks living very long after Easter. (Sorry PETA) Unfortunately for mom and pop, the chicks thrived and grew, and showed no signs of slowing down. They were living in a large box in my parents’ bedroom, with a dowel rod straddling the top holding up a heat lamp until my dad could build them a proper hen house and pen.
On one particular morning, no different than any other, my sister and I went off to school while my mom started her daily ritual of assorted chores. It’s still unknown where dad was in this story, but he was not home for any of the events that took place. As mom emptied waste baskets and made beds, my little brother went in to their room and peeked in at the chicks. It was then that he noticed the skinny wooden dowel rod- thinking it would make a great sword – proceeded to pull it apart from the makeshift indoor henhouse, causing the heat lamp to fall to the bottom of the cardboard box.
After a few minutes, my mom smelled smoke and ran into her bedroom to find the box of chicks smoking. Letting her instincts take over, she pulled open the exterior door in her bedroom, and ran outside where my dad’s big red pickup truck was parked. She placed the box inside the truck while she got the smoke out of the house, first making sure they were all okay. The little chicks pulled through. She went back in the house to deal with the situation at hand.
A few minutes later, she heard a loud banging on the front door. She went to look, but no one was there. There was another loud banging on another door. The crazy thing about our old house is that it was converted from three apartments to one single family home, so there are tons of exterior doors. Each time she would reach a door where she heard banging, it would move on to the next door. Finally she ran outside in her awful granny nightgown (with no bra) to find whoever was beating on the doors. It was the local volunteer firemen. Apparently at this time, since the fire department was not funded by the city, there was a charge to the citizen for answering a call. To protect themselves from lawsuits, they had to have the resident’s permission before letting their hoses loose. While more and more firemen showed up in their personal vehicles and parked all over her lawn, she tried to explain there was no fire, only smoke from the chickens in the big red farm truck.
After a lot of back and forth, they finally agreed that they needed to at least be sure the box would not catch the truck on fire before they could leave. Axes and hoses in hand, the firemen opened the truck door to have a cloud of smoke roll over them. Someone reached into the truck and pulled out the box. All the chickens were still kicking! They may have suffered a little smoke inhalation, but were otherwise fit as fiddles.
After this incident, building the outdoor henhouse was at the top of dad’s “honey do” list. The chicks grew into mature chickens and even produced eggs for our family. The next Easter, our dad sold or gave away the chickens without telling us. Obviously, we didn’t want our pets to be eaten, but he did nothing to reassure us.
I think our parents learned an important lesson about the responsibility of pet ownership, but even more importantly, my mom never wore those ugly granny nightgowns ever again. She immediately upgraded to mature matching pajama sets that are much more appropriate, and also sleeps in a sports bra in case she ever has to debate firemen in her front yard again.