Did you have baby chicks?
It was Easter season and our local Five and Ten Cent Store, Ben Franklin’s, had received its annual shipment of baby chicks. I raced to the store, sped across its long wooden aisles, past the dry goods, clothes, mops, detergents, and the toys, to the rear and the new arrivals. The peeps and smells of chicks and musty grain drew me to those adorable balls of fluff crammed in their high glass enclosure. I stood on tiptoes to see them warming under the glow of soft yellow bulbs. Chicks scampered everywhere; in their water, in their feed and on each other. I purchased the two warmest, fluffiest and smartest chicks along with a bag of grain, and I rushed home.
I put them in a cardboard box carefully lined with newspaper, and located it behind the warm kitchen stove. I placed a bowl of water in one corner of the box and a bowl of feed in the other. The chicks were set. Every afternoon, I hurried home from school to watch the cuddly balls bobbing and winding along on little legs and pointed toes. Despite squirming, they warmed to my touch. But all they seemed to do was eat, sleep and defecate…everywhere…on the paper, in their food, in their water and on each other. And when out of the box, they went on the linoleum and sometimes in my lap. Changing the paper, cleaning the dishes and feeding them were annoying, but I accepted the responsibility. The chicks grew quickly. After Easter, my cousins tired of their two, so I appropriated them, and I now had four chicks and was buying five-pound bags of grain.
One day, I opened the door and found them wandering about the kitchen, leaving a trail of deposits. A deeper box topped by an old screen did not help. Before long they jumped, knocked the screen off, stood on the box for a moment, flapped their tiny wings, and glided to the floor. Dad became impatient. The chicks needed to be outdoors.
“Can I put them on the porch?” We lived on the third floor of a three-story home with a porch that overlooked the neighborhood. Its rails were high enough to keep children and chickens contained, but it was usually off-limits, probably because passersby did not appreciate being pelted with water balloons.
“Okay, for now,” he said. I re-boxed them, put the screen on top and a brick on top of that. One day, I found that they had tipped the box and were out, roaming the porch. They left their usual trail. A bigger box, a larger screen, and a second brick were to no avail. I received a phone call from an annoyed next-door neighbor. “Edward, you’re chickens are on my porch.” They had jumped to the rail, fluttered their wings, sailed to the neighbor’s porch one floor below ten feet away and left some presents. It was time for relocation.
Grandfather built a pen along the rear wall of the neighbor’s garage. One day, while I was sitting in the yard, I observed an ominous, huge bird perched on our clothes pole. He made an athletic swoop toward the chickens, tried to pluck them, but was unsuccessful. Back to his perch he went, never taking his eyes from the chickens, or me. “What’s that?”
Grandpa replied, “An owl.”
The chickens had to go. Too big and too appealing to predators, they no longer belonged in the neighborhood. We gave them to my uncle’s father, who was farming land not far from our home, and who said to me, “It-sa the perfek place. They can-na stay in-na-the coop, or… run-aroun. You no haf-a-fa ta worry about the big-a bird or the mess, and it-sa good-a foh the garden.”
He said I could visit anytime. I did, once, but I was unable to identify them in the crowd.
My Easter chicks outgrew the box, the cage, the kitchen, the porch, my neighbor, the yard, my father, my grandfather and me. I wondered aloud what happened to those once cuddly little pets; I never got an answer
“I’ll get a rabbit next year,” I thought.
*Published in “Growing up Italian; Grandfather’s Fig Tree and Other Stories”
Barking Cat Books a division of
New River Press