‘…there must be a fox in the hen houses’

The closest I’ve come to gathering eggs these days is from the local grocery store…Back in the day, it was my job to gather eggs from grandma and pa’s hen house.

To me there was no prettier sight than a basket filled with eggs in nature’s entire spectrum of colors. I loved to reach into the straw lined nesting boxes and carefully holding the warm eggs before placing it in the basket. Hens and chickens were a valuable food source to our family. In those days, most of our neighbors had their own flock of chickens or other foul for food supply.

Grandma thought nothing of wringing or chipping a chicken’s head off for a fried chicken meal. I was never happy on these occasions, my grumbling mouth always got me into trouble with grandma. My punishment was to help her scald and then pluck the feathers off the chicken. To me, this was akin to murder. The hens and chickens were like family pets to me. I gave them names and would never think of eating a living creature I fed and cared for. Grandma was not happy with my attitude and said I was sure to starve to death. She hoped time would change me.

However, I lived just fine on fried potatoes, pinto beans, corn bread, sweet milk and grandma’s fried apple pies.

As a rule, things were peaceable in our community but the news was spreading that some of the neighbors heard disturbances around their barns and chicken coops. Granny Berkley’s lived next door to us and was missed a prized hen from her flock. News traveled fast. The word was out there must be a fox in the hen houses taking hens and chickens.

Grandpa started counting chicken heads and watching close after the news of this problem traveled up and down the lane. He took his shot gun down from its place on the wall and placed it near his bed. He said he wanted to be ready just in case our luck ran out. We did not have to wait long. Grandma missed one of her best layers early one morning. The news from up the lane told that other neighbors were missing chickens taken on the same night. The mystery to everyone was how this could continue to happen and not one single fox had been sighted.

Grandma was growing weary of hearing all the theories. I recall her saying, “That is the way it is living in a small place, you don’t see much but what you hear makes up for it.”

Grandpa was beginning to suspect it was a two-legged fox instead of a four-legged one. We were soon to know the truth of grandpa’s theory. A disturbance in the hen house late one night alerted all of us. He slipped out the back yard and headed to the hen house just in time to see two men trying to flee by the light of the moon. Grandpa took aim at one of the fellows with full intentions of bringing him down. Squawking chickens flew everywhere, the fellow fell to the ground, only to get up and run for his life. His partner is crime was long gone. This happening ended the fox in the hen house theory. The days and nights became peaceable again on the lane, however, grandpa kept his shotgun handy just in case the two-legged FOX decided to return.

My thought for today: everyone should write down at least one childhood memory, however dull it seems compared to life today. For such stories show history as it is—a procession of interlocking families and their place in time.

Mildred Higgins