To a very small child, life is full of possibilities and there is no limit to the imagination. Each day provides an exciting new adventure until, well — life hatches. As a young child, I idolized my parents and five older siblings, especially Mom and three sisters. Totally fascinated with their exploits, I longed for the day I would be old enough to do the same.
I remember skipping outside to find Mom doing the chicken chores. She lugged pails of feed to the coop. “Can I help?” I asked as my small hand grabbed a handle, likely hindering more than helping. She smiled and we trudged on. I followed her to the cattle tank where she dipped out a full bucket of cold water, carried it in her left hand, her right arm lifted.
We entered the building. Some of the flock remained inside and greeted Mom with soft chicken chatter. Bars of bright sunlight beamed to the floor from the south windows. Tiny dust motes swirled through the light, magically shimmering in faint rainbow colors. Hens jumped to the feeders and pecked happily.
Time to gather eggs. In anticipation, Mom turned to the rows of metal nesting boxes that lined the east wall. A large circle opening in every compartment welcomed the layers. Yellow oat straw lined each nest. She gently placed the white ovals in her bucket; two or three easily fit in her work-worn hands. The container quickly filled, and Mom smiled at the bounty.
A white hen remained in the last box in the bottom row. She clucked softly as we neared. Mom explained to me that this was a broody hen, a cluck she called it; she wanted to set on eggs and raise chicks. Without hesitation, Mom reached under the hen and withdrew three white treasures. The hen fussed a bit and pecked at Mom’s hand, then fluffed her feathers and settled back down.
I gazed at the snowy-white gems in the bucket. A contented smile covered my mother’s face. I could not wait to get big enough to take care of the chickens!
Time passed slowly, but finally, my opportunity arrived. A note on the table from Mom: “DeAnn, please do the chicken chores. I will be home before supper.” Yes! Anticipating the fun of this new experience, I quickly snatched the galvanized pails in the porch and headed for the granary. It took two trips, but I hauled the corn, oats, and ground feed. These waited outside the coop while I hurried to the water tank. Right arm lifted for balance, I carried the sloshing bucket of water with my left.
I hopped into the henhouse. Startled birds flew around wildly, trying to escape the intruder. Dust roiled in the air, settling on my face and arms.
With feeders and water trough full, it was time for the fun part, picking the eggs! Bucket in hand, I turned excitedly to the nests.
Six beady eyes of huge, winged creatures glared at me. As I neared, one of the broodies puffed the feathers on her neck and emitted a throaty growl. She clucked loudly and tucked her eggs under her with a sharp, scary beak.
Sweat broke out on my forehead. Tentatively, I stretched my hand toward the nest. A fowl snarl split the air and that biddy pecked me! Ouch! Immediately, I checked for blood. A purple bruise began spreading ominously. I glanced with dread at the other two, hunkered down, ready to attack.
There had to be another way. I tucked the bucket under the nests and scurried outside. There on the ground lay the perfect answer to my dilemma, a stick! Back inside I approached the boxes, bravery ebbing with each step. The cluck fluffed up even bigger and lifted her head, daring me to try. With hand as far back as possible, I pushed the stick toward her. She attacked it like a hornet, but I managed to reach under and pull out one egg. My heart pounded. I began to think that Colonel Sanders had the right idea.
That chicken and I had a stare-down, and I am pretty sure she won. Finally, I reached in as fast as I could, grabbed her by the feathers on her back and pulled her, kicking and screaming, out of the nest. Hell hath no fury like a chicken scorned! With an angry screech, that girl flew the coop, clucking noises echoing.
I had done it! At last, I could get to those eggs without suffering irreparable injury. I looked down. There on the floor were two white shells, split open, oozing yellow liquid.
Somehow I managed to gather the remaining eggs that day, but after that, dread replaced anticipation whenever I had to do the chores.
Years later, I sat next to Mom as she admired the ceramic hen our family brought her. She asked how my chickens were doing, and I suddenly felt that I should confess the times I was not kind to her hens. I opened my mouth to speak, but she beat me to it. With a knowing smirk and blue eyes twinkling, she shook her head, “When I was a kid, I hated chicken chores. There were always those big, old clucks in the nest. They were mean.”
She looked down at her hands as she remembered, and I wondered if she had used a stick. I wondered if she had checked for blood.
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, IA, Akron, IA 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. .