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McCallum: 2015 Commentary Brunch Sampler

Thirty years ago I left my university career and moved to Vermont - for love. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I thought, as I ditched suburbia for life in a drafty farmhouse and embraced it all: wood stacking, gardening, canning, mowing. And chickens. I loved caring for our small flock of aging biddies. They supplied us with eggs and demanded little in return. Often on hot summer afternoons I’d work outside at my portable typewriter on a small table near the henhouse. Gentle cluckings formed a counterpoint to my tapping.

It was downright idyllic, until my boyfriend took up with another woman. So I moved in with some neighbors on a farm up the road. They had a vacant coop, and when someone casually mentioned they’d like some hens, I said I thought I knew where we could get some.

And so the Great Chicken War began on the day a friend and I snuck over to my ex’s place while he was at work, and filled some pillow cases with unsuspecting hens. Not wanting to be greedy, we left him the rooster.

That night my ex called, furious. “Do you know where the chickens are?” he demanded.

“They’re here,” I said cheerily, explaining that because I’d been their caretaker, the hens belonged with me. “But we left you the rooster,” I added. He hung up and I savored my moment of sweet revenge.

All went well until the hens stopped laying that fall and my thrifty Vermont friends declared that if the hens weren’t earning their keep they had to go - unless I wanted to pay for their feed. So out came the pillowcases once again and my accomplice and I orchestrated a chicken heist in reverse, returning the confused but compliant hens to their old coop. The rooster was overjoyed to see them.

That night my ex called, again furious. “Why are they back?” he shouted into the phone. “They’re not laying and I have to pay for chicken feed all winter!”

“They’ve missed you,” I said sweetly, “and the rooster.”

Eventually the hens started laying again, the rooster was happy, and I had both ventured a little and gained a lot. I was now quite experienced in matters of love, war, fairness and chickens.

Mary McCallum is a freelance writer and former prison librarian who now works with Vermont elders.
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