“Man’s inhumanity to man” Robbie Burns
Spring was here. The farm hummed with new life including newly hatched chicks. Dad arrived at the back door cradling a little chick, about 3 days old. The mother hen had hidden her nest, and the brood was just discovered. “He’s damaged,” said Dad, “he drags one wing. I’ll have to destroy him but I feel badly, the little guy is so game!”
The chick looked up at us and chirped, and of course, the battle was won. A pen was built in the house yard, hand feeding and cuddling by all of us — talk about bonding! Dad still worried, saying “This won’t work. Chickens do not accept anything that is different” – but we did not want to listen.
Charlie, so he was named, grew quickly as chickens do. Well fed, well loved, well exercised chasing after Doris and myself – all the while dragging one wing. When we called he came, answering as he did. The family chicken flock was “free range” before the term was known. Sometimes they would be right outside of the house yard fence. Charlie would press against the wire fencing of his pen and call to them, with no apparent response in return.
Eventually the family decision was to have a trial run, to see if Charlie could be united with his own kin. We opened his pen and he ran towards the flock of chickens, dragging his wing and chirping. Results – then and for the next weeks – mixed. Ignored, accepted, rejected, he received it all. Sometimes the rejection looked severe enough that we would call him and he would return to safety. Eventually he spent the days with the flock and the nights in his pen. One evening as darkness fell he did not come home. I went to the chicken coup and called – and Charlie answered. For the first time he was perched on the roosting rails, on the lowest one and at the edge of the flock, but he was there and not rejected. I closed the door and left him. Another step had been taken!
A few weeks passed, happy ones I believe for Charlie. He occasionally left the flock to run over to one of us to be picked up and cuddled. One afternoon Dad and I were both outside and suddenly there was a mad crowding together of excited, screeching chickens. Dad came running from one side and I from another. With some difficulty Dad dispersed the maddened flock – and we saw what remained. The bloody and ripped body of our feathered friend lay in a pool of blood.
Dad held me as I sobbed, and through his own tears said “We tried, and Charlie tried, but sometimes creatures are just so afraid of anything different that they go wild, and bad things happen. At least Charlie had a taste of being one of the flock.” With that he sent me to the house. Then he gathered up what remained of Charlie, wrapped the pieces in an old cloth and buried them.
Years have passed since then, about 80 I believe, but Charlie remains in the shadow of my consciousness. When I read a newspaper account of some young gay man being killed by a mob, I say to myself “They are still doing it, Charlie, and these are people!” When I hear of schools including handicapped kids and mixing them successfully with non-handicapped kids, I say “Well Charlie, we can’t do much about chickens, but things are getting a little better with people.” Did I hear a chirp?