A spring chicken

Helen Row Toews

Spring is all about new life. Whether it be calves kicking up their heels in the pasture, or a litter of pink piglets pushing for position at the milk bar (otherwise known as mom) we see birth everywhere on the farm. One of the most exciting events is when baby chicks arrive from the hatchery.

I recall one spring in particular when my oldest son, Chris, was nine. Dad set the box of peeping little chickens in the henhouse, and Chris and his two siblings gathered round with wide, shining eyes and eager hands that itched to hold the tiny morsels of life. All but one chick hopped free and scurried over to gather under the red glow of two heat lamps. Dad expected to lose one or two. The trauma of such a journey was usually too much, and not all made it to their final destination.

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However, this tiny fellow hadn’t expired, but was prevented from movement by what appeared to be a broken leg. He crouched quietly in the container awaiting his fate. Soft-hearted Rebecca was near tears.

 “Oh no,” she whispered, looking up at me with glistening eyes. Unfortunately, we didn’t know what to do other than set it carefully under the light with food and water close by.

Later that day, I straightened up from where I knelt in the garden, slapped the dirt from my knees and, holding a hand to shade my eyes against the hot afternoon sun, looked around for the kids. Suspiciously, with that mom kind of intuition, I trudged toward the house, calling their names. No response. Kicking off my rubber boots, I stepped inside the door where a wall of hot air assailed me like a blast furnace!

“What’s going on,” I hollered as, struggling to breathe, I staggered down the hall toward the sound of guilty scuffling and hurried shushing.

“Nothing,” Chris assured me from his position in the middle of the living room floor. He sat strangely erect, shoulder to shoulder with his brother and sister, and wore a deliberately nonchalant air as he gazed with studied interest out a nearby window. The other two, although sweating in the blistering heat, followed his lead and assumed similar poses in a solid block across our lovely orange shag carpeting.

It was quite an admirable attempt at subterfuge, but doomed to failure since due to the warmth, all three were garbed in nothing but their underpants; a highly irregular situation. Perspiration breaking out across my forehead, I turned to consult the thermostat — 98 degrees! I flipped it down, flung off my jacket and strode across the room.

“What are you hiding,” I demanded. Their carefully constructed human wall crumpled and they shuffled aside to reveal an old mandarin orange box lined with a baby blanket. Inside, looking quite pleased with himself, perched the fluffy chicken with the injured leg. All four looked up at me with beseeching eyes. Yes – even the bird.

“Please mom, we can’t let him die,” Justin spoke earnestly for the group. I relented, and thanks to them it was a happy ending for all when the chicken pulled through.

Of course, his ultimate destiny was a soup pot, but that’s not the sort of ending we’re looking for here. We’ll leave it with the pleasant thought that bones always mend quickly when you’re a spring chicken.

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