Some of my best years were at my grandparents home on the coast. The worn old cape cod was built in the early 1900’s by relatives long passed. The Northerly cedar hedge that sheltered us from the often cruel winter wind, in the summer teemed with chick-a-dees flitting from branch to branch, weaving their “dee-dee-dees” around poor “phoeeeebe” who just couldn’t seem to console herself.
On sultry summer days, I’d amble out through the goldenrod and milkweed and lay on my back and imagine what the clouds were. The honeybees and crickets were a-buzz about it but they wouldn’t tell. In the evenings we all walked up the small hill out to sit outside the summerhouse to watch the sunset. Inside, the smell of brown bread and salt pork molasses often filled the kitchen. There were two barns, the older one collapsed in on itself, the other an endless place of adventure. There was a small hen house where Aunt Julia’s kept her chickens.
I should explain about Aunt Janie. In the 40’s people unfortunate enough to have been born with deficits of any kind were often locked away in gated institutions never to be seen again. Issues like that were never discussed in polite company and only in hushed tones by the family at home. She had a twin brother, Johnny. He was normal. He wanted his sister to be able to live with dignity and respect. He petitioned the courts to become her guardian and she came home to live with him. I had an Uncle who had a similar condition as Janie, they dated for a respectable time, married and lived with us thereafter. We lived near Johnny.
Aunt Janie was quite “nervous” and prone to fits of excitement from time to time. She had several dozen hens. They were like shards of a rainbow clucking amongst the tall grass. She fed and cared for those hens like they were her children. She would stand out in the field tossing cracked corn and telling stories and whispering her “secrets”, then she’d laugh a big laugh, and clap her hands in sudden glee. They followed her everywhere she went outdoors. They’d scratch at the dirt near her feet, then tip their heads in her direction like they were listening. She knew they were supposed to lay eggs but didn’t, and she often complained about it. Her twin brother Johnny, who lived across the road from us, snuck over one night after dark and placed a dozen porcelain eggs in random nests, hoping that it would encourage the hens to lay.
The next morning, Aunt J came whooping into the house with those ceramic eggs clutched tightly in her hand. “Look!” “Looky-look!” “My girls made some eggs!” she exclaimed. Gramp explained to her that those were special eggs, and couldn’t be eaten. Later that day, Johnny came by the house and bought those “special eggs” for his “collection”. Once a week, for years, he’d sneak those eggs back into the chicken house, then buy them from Auntie J. later. When company would come, she’d insist they go out and meet her special hens, who laid those porcelain eggs. Those were the best eggs in the world, and it took me many years to appreciate the unconditional love they represented.