Summers on my grandparents’ farm near Drummond, Oklahoma, were a childhood delight for this city girl. Those were the days before television consumed our time and attention. My days were filled with simple outside play: swinging high under the old elm tree in a swing fashioned from an old tractor tire; building sand villages and “baking” sand cookies in a sandbox also created from a recycled tire; and sliding down the cellar door — even more fun when sprinkling water on it increased the downhill speed. Walking down the country road that fronted my grandparents’ house became a daily treasure hunt to discover the mysteries of nature like flowers, bugs, rocks, leaves and animal prints.
Not all was play though. Grandma made sure I had chores to do. Many chores were more fun and play than work, and much more interesting than city-girl chores. I kept busy helping my grandmother in the garden and kitchen, I fed the tribe of cats that populated the farm, and I helped my granddad milk the cows.
My favorite chores were feeding the chickens and gathering eggs. Black-and-white photographs show my childhood glee in scattering chicken feed surrounded by a flock of contented hens busily pecking and clucking at my feet. Perhaps it was a sense of power or control that made this so attractive. I was queen of the farm. All animals shorter than me were at my command.
Even more fun was gathering eggs. Maybe the prospect of finding a treasure was what attracted my attention, even though I knew what was in each nest.
Grandma would send me out with my basket, cautioning me to be careful not to break the eggs. For a long time, I happily and casually gathered the eggs from their nesting boxes, nestling them carefully in the basket. I always took time to chat with my hen friends in the henhouse.
All was fun — until I heard the word “snakes.” One day, my grandmother nonchalantly said, “You should probably be careful about snakes in the henhouse and maybe in the nests.”
My heart stopped, and my imagination began creating dreadful scenarios. Snakes were the terror of my childhood — possibly because we lived near a field where they would occasionally slither into our yard and startle me with their silent presence.
Hoping that I had misunderstood her, I asked, “What about the snakes?” She explained, “Sometimes snakes get into the nests to eat the eggs. It never hurts to be careful.” And fast, I thought.
“Please go with me to the henhouse,” I begged Grandma, but she said she was too busy. She tried to calm my fears by saying, “You’re a big girl. You can do this. There probably are no snakes there anyway.” I based my hope on the word “probably.”
Fear erased my enthusiasm and the fun from my favorite chore as my imagination exaggerated the size and numbers of snakes that might be in the henhouse. It became a rush job as I frantically grabbed the eggs as fast as my little hands could gather them. I deposited them into the basket, but not as carefully as I had before I learned about the possibility of snakes. I raced from one nesting box to the next, holding my breath as I reached in, ready to scream and run at the touch of anything other than an egg.
If records had been kept for the world’s fastest egg gatherings, I would have won hands down. Each day, I raced to beat my personal best time with the goal of staying ahead of the snakes — imaginary or real.
I never did see a snake in the henhouse. I think I was just too fast for them. But, as with other scenarios that crop up in farm life when one takes on certain responsibilities, the possibility did make me face my fear, and I’ll never forget it.
Linda Allen is a writer who enjoys green living and gardening on her family’s Centennial Farm on the Oklahoma prairie.