Howie and I hadn’t thought about chickens until our dishwasher broke down.
Jason, who’d been referred to us by his wife’s ex-husband, Mark, who fixes our plumbing, found that the dishwasher’s problem was easily fixed by rubbing a candle stub back and forth across some interior part of the machine. That done, we then talked away the rest of the hour because he didn’t think it right to charge us for an hour’s work when it took him less than ten minutes.
Who was related to whom. For instance, Brian Athearn, who fixes our computers, is my third cousin twice removed. That started a chain of who was related to whom, who wasn’t speaking to whom, and the famous story, many times told and well-polished of the neighbor’s wife whose lover left a time and place for their next rendezvous on the answering machine, which her husband happened to check. From there, the conversation morphed into chickens.
“They’re pretty easy to take care of,” said Jason. “Fresh eggs every day.”
Quiet Howie perked up. “How many do you have?”
“Five. You thinking about getting hens?”
“Maybe,” said Howie at the same instant I said, “No.”
“Well, James at the Roundabout has hens for sale. Thirteen dollars each.”
That’s how we ended up with five hens, three Rhode Island Reds and two Plymouth Rocks. We collected them from James’s place near the Roundabout, a veritable playground for chickens, with a toy car, rusted bicycle, old washing machines (plural), old computer monitors (also plural), a stove, a rusted kitchen cabinet, and a plaster Greek column.
Mark Johnson of the Sunday Writers designed and built a luxury coop by renovating the shed where we’d kept the defunct mower. Every night Howie escorts the hens to bed, making sure they say their prayers, and locks the coop door against roving predators. Every morning he lets them out to roam freely over my sisters’ and our property. Some time this past summer, one of the Reds wandered away from her buddies, never to be seen again. Probably lunch for the red-tailed hawk we’ve seen cruising around.
Even though we were warned against it, we did name them — Red, Rocky, Whitey, and Blacky. When we sit on the deck swing, they hop up next to us, sometimes dozing in Howie’s or my lap. Howie’s looked out of the window and seen a hen on the swing, rocking.
Such beautiful eggs, tan, smooth, and perfectly formed. A sculptor couldn’t do better. We break them carefully into a bowl, and thank the hens. The yolks are a bright, deep orange. The flavor! Scrambled, boiled, souffléd — we’ll never go back to store-bought eggs.