Nooks and Crannies

A bird in the hand and other growing-up lessons

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Have you ever considered how when we were children we couldn’t wait to grow up and do all the things grownups do, but later, when our lives are full of responsibilities, we long for the days when we were young and had no worries?

The youngest of six growing up on our South Dakota farm, I often felt like my siblings always got to do the fun stuff, and I was stuck with the menial tasks. Of course, as I got older my help was needed, but my idea of helping differed drastically from those older and wiser, especially my brother.

In late October every year, the young pullets that had grown from “chickhood” in the brooder house needed to be moved to the henhouse, taking over the job of egg production. The old hens who had resided there for a year or two were gone. Some were sold to neighbors. Some had been processed in Mom’s magical pressure canner and would be served as creamed chicken over mashed potatoes on a cold winter night.

Moving day arrived, and, enviously, I watched Delmer load five straw bales onto the hay rack hitched behind the John Deere 520 and then deftly maneuver the tractor right next to the henhouse. He tossed the bales inside and motioned to me with his too-big leather glove to come and help. I watched him push his knee into a bale as he pulled the wire ties. The wires slipped off, and the yellow straw was left on the floor in a loose curve. It looked easy to me, so I tried the knee trick. Note, I say “tried.” “I’ll get it,” my brother said. “You can spread the straw around.” Resentfully, I tossed and kicked the dusty bedding through the building. Soon a fluffy, dry layer covered the coop floor and the bottoms of the nesting boxes. The henhouse was ready.

Just before dark that night, Mom, Dad, Delmer and I headed to the brooder house for the relocation operation. Dad caught six pullets from the roosts, held them by the feet and began the walk up the hill to the henhouse. Squawking faded into the distance as Mom and Delmer each grabbed four birds. I stepped in, eager to catch one. “Sis, you just open the door for us,” my older brother ordered. I looked at Mom, hoping she would see my side. She said it was important that no chickens got out, trying to make me feel better. So, I did doorman duty, all the time thinking I could not wait to grow up.

At last, there were only six feathered critters waiting on the roosts. Dad caught them and was about to stride out the door. I saw my chance. “Dad, can I help carry them?” His eyes glistened with that wistful, “they have to learn sometime” parent look. He handed me one. I held it by the feet upside-down, much to the dismay of the chicken. “Can I carry two?”

I followed Dad to the henhouse with a complaining bird in each hand. As I neared the old coop, I spotted my brother. His moving job finished, Delmer hopped on the John Deere and smoothly angled it toward the Quonset. I flashed him a proud grin and tried to lift my arms higher, hoping he noticed what I was carrying. He sent me a careless glance, pushed the accelerator lever forward and hot-rodded it into the building. Showoff!

Just then the chicken in my left hand gave a loud squawk, jerked her head up and flapped her wings. Before you could say, “chicken soup with rice” the feathered fowl was on the ground, cackling joyfully at her sudden freedom. I tried to grab her with my free hand, but she fluttered out of reach. With tears in my eyes, I carried the remaining bird to the henhouse.

We all hurried back, hoping to catch her, but she escaped under the wooden barnyard fence and disappeared in the moonlit shadows.

I got out my piggy bank after supper and counted out money to pay Mom for the chicken. “Just wait,” she said. I could not sleep that night. In my imagination every coyote, raccoon and badger in the state, plus a few African jungle predators prowled in the darkness of our yard.

The next morning, I hurried outside before breakfast, praying I would find her alive. A flash of white scooted under the windmill! The escapee happily roamed through the yard, searching for food in the brown grasses. Later that evening, relief washed over me as I watched her stroll up the small ramp to the brooder house.

In spite of my failure with this growing-up adventure, the story had a happy ending, and, of course, the important thing in life is what we learn from our failures.

After supper a few nights later, I started to help Mom carry the dishes to the sink. Delmer excused himself and headed to his room. Dad lingered at the table, enjoying his coffee. I saw my chance. I drew in a deep breath and turned to my father. “Dad, when can I learn to drive the tractor?”

DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow.  She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of five books, "Promises to Keep," which are available at Amazon.com.

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