BACK BAY — Hope was a sick Rhode Island red when our daughters adopted her from the larger flock at their aunt and uncle’s real farm and carried her down the path to join our own tiny flock back when we lived near “downtown” Pungo.
That chicken should have died three summers ago, but she made it until this month. She had some tender loving care and, at times, the sort of dumb luck enjoyed by wealthy folks who are born on third base but remain convinced they hit a triple. Sometimes, Hope wandered her way through potentially life-threatening scrapes with the bliss of a feathered Mr. Magoo.
Our middle daughter recently found the bird dead in her coop. Hope apparently had gone peacefully in the night. All and all, the girls are taking the loss pretty well.
“We expected her to die in two weeks,” the 12 year old, the one who found her, told me, “and it turned into three years.”
Indeed, Hope had a pretty nice run. She dodged a few bullets even after she’d been nursed back to health – thanks to special feed and the like – and she even started laying again after we’d thought she might be egg bound.
As our 14 year old reminded me, Hope later survived an attack by a hawk who, fortuitously for our chicken, was chased away by my wife.
“Remember when she got lost?” the 14 year old asked me.
No, I had put that out of my mind. One day at the old house, Hope didn’t report back to the coop for evening muster. After an incomplete headcount, she was locked out overnight. We believed her to be lost forever, but it was only two days.
I remember walking the farm after Hope went missing, expecting to find remains of a hen along the fields or on the path, maybe with telltale coyote tracks like the opening scene of a country version of Law & Order. Instead, I heard the relaxed coo of a perfectly fine hen who, despite weak eyesight, had the good sense to find cover beneath a bush where the fence met the house.
“I’m pretty sure that chicken made a deal with something,” the 14 year old said.
After we moved to Back Bay a while back, Hope also had our barn-red coop all to herself. Our other hens stayed in Pungo because they kept attacking her.
Hope was in much better health, but she still was comparatively frail, and she was either mostly or completely blind. We chose Hope over the healthier hens because our family’s emotional pecking order on such things is the reverse of natural selection.
You can see our logic here as either humanity or stupidity or both. Hens don’t structure their little societies as people do. Or maybe they do, and that means our family is doing it all wrong. If you work out that conundrum, please let me know.
Made of sterner stuff, we might have culled or even made a meal of her. Hope essentially was a pet toward the end, but she helped feed our family along the way. Her passing is small drama, of course. She was a chicken we happened to like more than other chickens we’ve met.
And we’re not always sentimental. We’ve eaten the eggs from our flock over the years. We ate one of the other birds. That was a rooster whose meat in a soup was not so different from his disposition in life – tough as a mountain goat’s hoof. After we explained what was on that dinner menu, the girls cried at the table. As did my molars.
But Hope was different. She was sweet and, as far as human-chicken relations go, a fine ambassador. All we have left is her final brown egg. As I write this, it rests in a wire basket atop a kitchen counter. We aren’t quite sure what to do with the thing.
“Eat it?” the 14 year old suggested when I posed the question to her, as though anything else would be insanity.
“Sure,” the 12 year old agreed.
Our youngest, who is seven, isn’t certain.
“Because then we won’t have anything to honor her,” she said.
“I have an idea,” my wife offered, overhearing this conversation.
“What is it?” the seven year old asked.
“We can take a pin and blow out the egg.”
Make an ornament of the empty shell, my wife explained. Dye it, put buttons on the sides, string it, hang it up somewhere.
“That would be super nice,” the seven year old said.
“Then we could have a decoration that would remind us of Hope,” my wife told our youngest child.
There’s a risk, my wife noted.
Shells can break when you blow out the insides of a raw egg through the little holes. I assure you the Doucettes of Back Bay are not famed for their delicacy.
This is the best idea, though.
Lots can go wrong, but sometimes, against all odds, it doesn’t.
© 2021 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC