The Handicapped Hen

Enjoy stories from our readers about handicapped hens, the nostalgia of dirt, memories from newspaper delivery boy, and tales of an old cookstove.

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by Arlene Jenness

The Handicapped Hen

My husband and I have been raising chickens since the early years of our marriage, and we’ll soon celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary. We raised our first batch of Rhode Island Reds from chicks. They’d just reached egg-laying age when some neighborhood dogs broke into their pen and killed them. It was a sad day, but we weren’t discouraged. We simply started again, this time with some sex link hybrid hens from a neighbor, and we later got our first broody hen.

When the kids got older, I went to work, and we no longer had farm animals. In 2012, we moved into an old farmhouse in the mountains in north Georgia. One of the first things my husband did was build a chicken coop. Soon, we had a menagerie of chicken breeds. Eventually, all but Tyrone, a Cochin, and Oz, a banty, died, so we added another six hens.

One day while we were at work and unaware that the pen door was unlatched, the birds got out and were attacked by a hawk. Only Oz and a pullet named Auntie Em survived. Auntie Em had a lot of severe injuries, but we treated her wounds daily, and kept her safe while she healed. Oz sure was lonely outside by himself, heartbroken by the loss of his hens. But he and Auntie Em would talk to each other across the yard. After about three weeks, Auntie Em was well enough to go back in the coop, and soon we added more chickens to their family. As a fearless, 5-year-old rooster, Oz was a great guardian of the flock.

One morning, I found Oz lying on the floor of the chicken coop, rolling his head around. It wasn’t until the sun came up that he snapped out of it and began acting normal. This went on for about a week. I decided to give him a sauna bath, thinking maybe his equilibrium was off. We were elated that the sauna bath helped him overcome whatever illness he was experiencing. A couple of years later, though, the strange sickness with Oz began again. Unfortunately, he didn’t recover. He wasn’t a friendly rooster, but on the day he died, I held his head to my chest.

Sometime later, Whitey, a large, pure-white Ameraucana who lays pretty pink eggs, was running toward me when she suddenly collapsed. After that, she wasn’t able to get up and walk; she had immense power in her wings and legs, but she just couldn’t stand. After a week or so, she was barely able to hold her head up to drink, and we thought about putting her down. I didn’t want to do it, so we decided to wait. Meanwhile, we fed her melons, grapes, bananas, corn, mealworms, and fruit pies. Pretty soon her comb was bright-red, the brightest of all the chickens. She still couldn’t get up, but she was determined, and she got around using her wings. After a couple of months, to our astonishment, she even started to lay eggs again. She’s still laying eggs and using her wings to get around. She’s an amazing handicapped chicken, and we’re happy she’s alive!

Arlene Jenness

Blairsville, GA

A bush of young fresh potatoes in the hands of a farmer woman on

Soil Means Survival

Reading Rebecca Martin’s editorial “Dirty Beginnings” (May/June 2019) persuaded me to write.

My ancestors had to get dirty. They were Scotch-Irish farmers from Virginia and Nova Scotia, and their very survival depended on the soil beneath their feet. They cut every tree and pulled every stump, just to use every inch possible on their small acreage here in West Virginia. The hogs wallowed in it, and the dairy cattle grazed upon the grass that grew from it. The corn, beans, tomatoes, and potatoes needed the enriched soil, fertilized by the droppings of the livestock. The peach, apple, and plum trees dug their roots deep into the dirt to stand against strong winds. My ancestors survived the harsh winter because of this West Virginia dirt.

I still feel the need to dig in the dirt. Although my family has the money to purchase food regardless of the season, I still have an affection for this soil on the farm. My garden today is enriched by compost. The blueberries and hazelnuts thrive in the soil, covered by wood chips. The same clay soil my ancestors sweated on and prayed over is still found under my fingernails. The digging and planting of heritage seeds feeds not just my family, but it also feeds my soul. With God’s grace, may it ever be so.

Charlie Nichols

Charleston, WV

America’s Greatest Family Newspaper

Some 60 years ago, Nathan Leon Tarpley, then a 10-year-old boy, read an advertisement recruiting young newsboys to sell America’s greatest family newspaper — Grit. Leon dreamed of the penny candy and ice cream that the 7 cents profit would buy him from Marvin and Rae Stewart’s local store in Thida, Arkansas.

He waited with excitement for Mrs. Selma Gipson to deliver the first shipment of newspapers to him, and then he immediately rode his bicycle door to door asking neighbors to purchase a subscription. Surprisingly, many family and friends did. He’d pedal 3 miles to Union Hill to deliver to Harvey Shaw, and E.L. Chambliss, among others, who looked forward to Friday’s delivery.

Whether it was sunny or freezing, Leon delivered the Grit newspaper. Harvey Shaw, a school bus driver, would try to take Leon home on the days he walked in the winter, but the half-frozen newsboy always declined. He was committed to doing this job on his own. The citizens of Thida and Union Hill were proud to receive the Grit newspaper for many years in the early 1960s. Leon was smiling every Friday on his way home from delivering the papers, when he’d count his nickels one by one.

Leon is one of my special customers, from whom I’ve heard many Grit stories over the years. Earlier this year, Leon and I were thrilled to discover that Grit is still in print, now published as a magazine. The Gritmagazine shown in the picture with Leon is the March/April 2019 issue.

Catherine Harris

Thida, AR

Memories of an Old Cookstove

The letter from Michael Young (“Grandma’s Stove,” May/June 2019) sure brought back memories of my family’s old cookstove. It had a 5-gallon water reservoir at the end where I got hot water to fill the round, galvanized washtub on the floor of the kitchen. The tub was usually kept outside, and in the middle of winter in Hinckley, Minnesota, it took a while for the hot water to warm it up; I can still remember the feeling of cold metal on my bottom.

When I was done taking my Saturday night bath, I’d have to go out to the well and pump water into pails to bring back inside and refill the reservoir.

My fondest memory is of Grandpa and I sitting in front of the stove, side by side, with our feet resting on a box of dynamite. That’s how we got it warm in winter, so it would be more effective when it was time to blow up tree stumps. As we sat there, Grandpa would tell me stories of his life, how he and Grandma got married in Nebraska and their journey by covered wagon to the land where they’d later build a log cabin.

I still have the curved glass china cabinet they brought with them from Nebraska by covered wagon. It was their wedding gift.

Gary Andersen

Land o’ Lakes, FL