This is an encore presentation of a blog on another beloved animal –
not a sheep this time, but a chicken.
Spring was here. The farm hummed with new life including newly hatched chicks. Dad arrived at the back door cradling a little chick, about three 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 don’t 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 me – 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 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 – were 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 coop 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?
7 Responses to Beloved Animals Who Have Shared My Life: A Sequel
Thank you for sharing Charlie’s story. I have seen children ripped not only by one another but by teachers, principals, community leaders, judges, lawyers, church members, doctors, psychiatrists, and your average citizen. A central message of my life’s story is that music heals the “broken wings” of the audio deficits that cause learning problems, dyslexia, and more severe forms of so-called “mental illness” including Alzheimer’s disease, addictions, and much criminality. Your Charlie provides a splendid metaphor for what happens to children and adults when their audio deficits are “supported” rather than healed. Dr. Norman Doidge’s just-released book The Brain’s Way of Healing devotes a chapter to music and the Tomatis Method; that method was my starting point for and even simpler method of healing schizophrenia and other forms of audio deficits that produce abnormal behaviour. He reaches a wide audience. I am gratified to be able to to point to his writing as an affirmative parallel to mine. I am grateful to be able to add Charlie to our menagerie of exemplary animal friends. I will be sure to credit my source. 🙂
Laurna – Good to hear from you again. While I once was in mental health work, that was years ago. Science and medical knowledge are far ahead now from where we were then. While I am not qualified to have an opinion on your special niche now, I can say – if Charlie’s little story will help any person on their path, I will be very gratified (and so, I believe, would Charlie!)
A sad but potent story.
Behind our condo complex is a huge pond (man-made moat) — which you may remember — and in spring the ducks arrive and lay eggs. Some years there are broods of 10 or 12. The “runts” trail bravely along, last in a string of ducklings, but the mother ignores them and they eventually fall way behind, alone, exhausted and then die. I watched one of our on-site superintendents try to explain this natural culling process to his little daughter kneeling beside one of the fallen chicks, floating in the water. Hard to understand at that age; hard for a parent at any age to explain.
I agree, Barbara – that would be a hard thing for a child to understand, the fact that nature culls those who cannot keep up. The thing that was so sad about Charlie was that he was such a survivor. Keep up he could – but he was different from the rest of the flock, and somehow that triggered that mob reaction and they killed him. That certainly affected me, and left strong memories.
A real difference in in my lifetime has been the acceptance of and provision for people with disabilities. People may still harbour what is probably a primal fear of perceived weakness or strangeness but they sure don’t want to show they have it. And children learn by example. Young people don’t have the same fear/intolerance of The Other as their grandparents and parents who recognized what may have been a survival trait for our early ancestors, and managed to overcome such instinctual reactions.
Besides, we are all Charlies in our own ways, it just may not show outwardly.
Slowly, slowly — humanism evolves.
My appreciation, Barbara – you summarized what my childhood experience with Charlie triggered in me. It was my first experience with rejection and fear of “the other”, which my Dad obviously knew might happen. It swung me hard over on the other side and made me very conscious of group pressure and bullying behaviour. It was a tough experience, but my dear little chicken gave me something valuable.
He taught you to fight for life.
philosopher Ralph Ellison wrote:
“Life is to be lived, not controlled, and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.”