Wednesday, April 23, 2014

An oldie but goody . . .

I have endless Chicken stories. Stories that are silly, sad, happy, scary, funny, tragic and touching, all involving chickens.  I am the Aesop of chicken stories.  Rose from Golden Girls has a St. Olaf story for every occasion, I have a chicken story for every occasion.  Each and every chicken we had in Belize, like any other creature, had their own personality and temperament.  

While I could tell chicken stories all day long, this is the story of one chicken, my favorite chicken of all time: Cindy Old Hen.  

Cindy, or Oldie as we called her was an older chicken when we purchased her from Burton Caliz, a local organic farmer.  We all knew she was special from the start.  Although she was old, she had a glow about her, and unlike some of the chickens, she took to us right away.  She loved to be pet gently on her back or breast feathers, or fed right out of Sarah or my hands.  Oldie was an incredibly patient hen, which is rare for chickens.   She was an wonderful friend, always willing to share if she found an extra large bug, or keep another hen company who was waiting for her eggs to hatch.  When it came to being a mother, Oldie was excellent.  Some older hens loose the desire to hatch and raise chicks.  These older hens would rather spend their later years scratching for bugs and worms and basking in the sun instead of taking three long weeks to set on eggs, with no food or water, and then spend 3 months raising, feeding and keeping track of a bunch of rowdy chicks.  But not Oldie, as long as she was physically able, she wanted to raise chicks.  She was so nurturing that unlike most hens, she did not stop collecting food for her chicks after 3 months, but let them stay with her until they were almost fully grown.  Even when her chicks were fully grown hens and roosters, they would occasionally get an extra worm from their mom, Oldie.  

Most amazingly, Oldie was a survivor.  One afternoon, she was attacked by a jaguarundi, a vicious bush cat who preyed on our chickens.  Through her perseverance, and a quick response from our brave dog Sandy, we rescued Oldie before the jaguarundi could drag her away.  But she was gravely injured.  She had a broken leg and a huge open gash in her head.  Her body was limp and shaking, but she was breathing.  Sarah and I were hysterical, but our mother gently brought her to our thatch kitchen, and cared for her.  We wrapped her leg, and pored Benjamin's Jamaican Healing Oil in her head wound and bandaged it, then prayed for a miracle.  That night she slept on a pillow in the corner of our tiny zinc roofed house, Sarah and I slept on the floor next to her.  I put one hand on her back, so I could feel her breathing.  She survived the night, and the next day we had to feed her, she was too weak to eat, so we had to shove small pieces of bread down her throat into her craw.  We had to tip her head back and trickle water down her throat, making sure we did not choke her.   Every few days we would change her bandage, and pour more Healing Oil in her wound, which was gradually improving.  For the next few weeks we let her sleep in our house, so the other chickens didn't try to peck at her bandage.  Soon she was strong enough to eat on her own (we made her lots of cake, because it was soft) and her leg healed enough for her to walk again. 

It was truly a small miracle, especially when only 6 months after her tragic attack, she was back to her old ways, working on hatching a bunch of chicks.  Oldie was one of only two chickens to ever survive a jaguarundi attack, the other one was one of Oldie's own daughters, ironically named Cindy as well.   Cindy was attacked several months after Oldie's attack.  Our dog Sandy made another brave rescue, not only saving Cindy but her 8 little chicks as well.  Cindy was injured worse than Oldie, the jaguarundi had broken her back, and she could no longer use her legs.  After she got her strength back, Cindy learned how to scoot around the yard on her wings, and was able to care for her chicks, but as they got older, someone had to teach them how to scratch and search for insects.  Oldie stepped in to teach her grand-chicks.  She took them out every day, showing them the best place to find bugs, and always giving the chicks the bugs she found. 

 After Sarah left Belize to go to school in the States, Oldie had become my closest confidant, my best friend.   My heart was broken beyond repair when Sarah left, but Oldie would sit with me while I cried, she wouldn't leave my side.  When time began to get the better of Oldie, and she was having trouble walking, I didn't leave her side.  Every morning I would get her from the coop, and carry her to where she could get some water and food, then I would set her in a nest box while I did my chores, and took care of my little sister, Minni and baby brother, Jah.  When Jah was napping, I would carry Oldie  down by the golden plum tree, and we would sit there, while she snacked on corn and I would tell her about my woes.  As the weeks went by her condition worsened, until we all knew, it was the end.  That day I got Oldie from the nest box, she was too weak to sleep in the coop with the other chickens by this time.  She wouldn't eat or drink anything, and as I looked into her warm eyes, I could see her pain.  She didn't want to go for a walk, she just wanted to stay in her nest box, by herself.  I spent the first few hours of the day sitting next to her, begging her not to leave me, I was so broken already, I just couldn't imagine going on without her.  My parents had given me the past few days off my usual chores, they knew what was happening with Oldie, and knew she needed me with her all the time.  After a few hours I went into our Thatch kitchen, which was only a few yards away from Oldie's nest, to get a drink of water.   Within 30 seconds of me being away from her nest, all of Oldie's now grown chicks, some of them older hens and roosters themselves,  began to gather around her.  They all just stood there, in a large semi-circle around her nest, softly clucking.  I wanted to be close to her too, but I knew she needed all her family around her.  Hours went by, I sat mindlessly on the swing, watching the group of chickens grow, now grand chicks and friends had also gathered around Oldie.  Then, in the early evening, Oldie let out a loud squawk, and it was over, just like that.  The large group of chickens slowly dissipated, and went about their business.  I scooped up her body, it was still warm.  I sat there, on the dusty ground, holding her lifeless body and sobbing.  I felt lost, and alone.  Our dog Sandy came and sat with me too, she also loved Oldie.  

My parents came up and asked me if I wanted to bury Oldie's body, which was a big deal, because a dead chicken was fair game for food; an old sick chicken like Oldie would have been dog food, since we still had two large dogs to feed.  How I must have looked to my parents, 11 years old, 60 pounds, clutching a dead chicken and weeping.  They took pity on me and let me bury Oldie, by the grave of our beloved dog Wolfgang.  I put a bouquet of hibiscus flowers on her grave, (and one for Wolfgang too) and began my life without Oldie. 

 I will never forget Oldie, she was an amazing chicken, the perfect pet...and the perfect best friend.

~ Rosanna Forman
Cindy Old Hen Circa 1988

1 comment:

  1. I have never before shed tears over a story of love for a chicken. Beautiful!