The hatchery catalog arrived in January while the snow was piling up outside. It was perfect timing. The hubbub of the holidays was over and we had plenty of time to make plans for the coming spring. My Dad and I perused the catalog trying to decide which of the different breeds of poultry we would like to raise. He wanted the practical egg layers. I, being ten years old at the time, wanted the fancy chickens with the funky hairdos. We settled for a little of both and added a few of the green-egg-laying Easter Egger chickens just for fun.
The weeks passed and the weather warmed. One weekday morning, bright and early before the sun even came up, the telephone rang. “Hello?” I answered.
“Hi, this is Gladys at the post office,” she said.
“Can you tell your Dad he has a package here?”
“Um, sure thing, I’ll have him stop on his way home from work."
“No honey, I think he’ll want to come now.”
“Why’s that, Gladys?”
“The package is peeping.”
And thus began our adventures of into the life of homesteading. We eventually would not only have chickens but guineas, ducks, turkeys, ducks, geese, peacocks, rabbits, goats, pigs, a pony, a raccoon and a ferret just to name a few. It was always entertaining as
each animal had its own quirky personality. It was like growing up in the middle of a petting zoo. In fact, I often noticed people driving by our place real slow checking to see what we might have added to the menagerie that week. We were a popular attraction. It was a lot of work, but Dad loved those animals and so did I.
Many moons passed, we kids grew up and moved on. Dad maintained the small farm for a while but eventually the old barn was torn down and the barn lot converted to part of the yard. Nothing remained of the animals but the memories.
In 2002, my father was diagnosed with cancer. Towards the end of that year it was starting to look like Dad might lose the uphill battle he had been fighting. We reminisced about a lot of things. Stories like the time Ol’ Tom Turkey refused to go inside during an ice storm, froze himself to the ground and we had to go out and dig him up to bring him inside to thaw. Defrosting a turkey while it was still alive just seemed wrong. Or the time we had visitors and the billy goat chased a child up and over the fence. The kid’s shoelace caught on top leaving her hanging upside down. It sounds horrible but, boy, was it ever funny to watch. We reminisced about how much we enjoyed sitting down and looking at that chicken catalog together. When we would talk about it, there was a sparkle in Dad’s eye that I hadn’t seen in a long time. He said, “We should order a catalog.” I figured, “Why not?” If that’s what he wants I’ll get it for him. I ordered it that same day.
The next time I visited he asked me, “Did you order that catalog?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Well that’s good because I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’d really like to have that catalog.”
“I ordered it right away, Dad; I’m surprised you haven’t received it yet. I’ll run out and check the mailbox to see if it is there.” It was. Needless to say I extended my stay that night and we enjoyed perusing the catalog and discussing the merits of our favorite breeds. I really enjoyed that evening and left very happy we were able to share those memories once more.
During the next visit Dad sheepishly looked at me and said, “I ordered some chicks.”
“What?” I said. I had no idea he was actually planning to place an order. “I thought you just wanted to look at the catalog?”
“So did I but I just decided maybe I needed something to look forward to. I think if I get those chickens I can surely make it until spring.”
“Well then that is a great idea.” If you could have seen the look in his eyes, you would understand why there was no way in the world I or anyone else was going to tell him he couldn't have them.
This time when the post office called about a peeping package my Dad was on hospice care. The Easter Egger bantam chicks he chose lived in a plastic swimming pool just next to his makeshift bed in the living room. They provided hours of entertainment when we
needed it most.
It wasn’t until after Dad passed away that my brother and I realized we had no earthly idea what we were going to do with twenty-five half-grown chicks. We were both living in the city. Luckily, my uncle was able to step in and care for them for a few years. Then, once I settled into my own place in the country, they moved in with me. Now that the bantam flock has dwindled over the years, I once again find myself perusing the catalog. This time with my son, choosing our favorite breeds and discussing the merits of each. Dominiques this year we’ve decided and a few of those with the funky hairdos. All that's left to do is wait for the phone call.
Christine Byrne lives on a small farm in rural Indiana where she takes care of chickens, sheep, alpacas, llamas and whatever else meanders through. You can read more about her farming adventures at www.frontporchindiana.blogspot.com.