Laying Age

On our way to Lowe’s to get paint and a few more roses, I passed a van that had a sticker on the side: Grubbs Upholstery. Since I arrived, Sadie has had two, antique barrel-backed chairs in the back of the van that make it impossible to see out the rear view mirror. I pointed the van out to her, and she hollered for me to make a quick u-turn and follow it. We sped down the road leaving the parking lot, and turned onto Chapman Highway with Mr. Grubbs far ahead. I flew through the intersections, praying that the lights would stay green, until we finally managed to wave him down near a Beauty Parlor. Mr. Grubbs happily took the chairs from our van to his, and told us he had been practicing upholstery since he was 15; that he and his wife enjoyed antique things, which was ‘probably why she was still married’ to him.

Sadie constantly surprises me. We woke up one Sunday and left our responsibilities to spend the day at Dollywood – if you don’t know anything about the place, go ahead and look it up. It was incredible: She road every roller coaster that I did, and we stayed at the park well into the evening. She gets off work late and makes a full breakfast for me and whoever else is at the table, including fresh eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon. One night, around 1:15, we decided to organize her china cabinet in the dining room, and found my Grandfather’s old thermos, which she encouraged me to drink out of myself. The cap is long gone, and the top was rolled over by the tractor, but I bet it keeps coffee warm for hours.

Usually, on days she has to work, I get my chores done by noon and help her out as much as I can. My neighbor and I went to Morristown and picked up a used, but much larger, refrigerator. It took her so long to notice, I had to ask her to make me a snack before she walked over to it. I have weeded and mulched beds, planting seeds we found in the freezer of african daisies, bachelor buttons, and her favorite: sunflowers. Fighting off wasps and spiders is a constant job, but we have since cleaned out the shed, gotten new door mats and bird feeders, and hung pansies off the eaves of the front porch. It’s beginning to look like home.

We have had several discussions which involve expanding the chicken coop and purchasing some new hens, as her 75-100 count flock has dwindled to 5. Personally, I would like to get lavender hens: They have begun breeding purple chickens, can you believe it? Sadie has raised chicks from hatchling to hen, but since it is well into the summer, all we really need are some good laying hens that are 8-12 months old and already established. There are websites and livestock exchanges that are exclusive to the Knoxville area, but it wasn’t until I decided our mallard duck needed a girlfriend that I found the perfect solution. A woman in Sevierville was having trouble with foxes, and decided to sell her 3 laying hens and 2 beautiful lady ducks.  I messaged her 3 hours after she published the post, and asked if they were still available. She replied that they were, but I would need to come get them tonight.

I decided to surprise Sadie, and left the farm at about 8:30 with instructions for Nana to tell her I was at the store. As the sun slipped behind the horizon, I put two dog kennels full of straw in the back of the Explorer, and backed the trailer down the hill. I had not made time to go to the dump that day, so several bags of trash and a broken ceiling fan went with me. Ann lived about 40 minutes away, and I drove with the windows down, enjoying the cool evening air. I managed to find her house in the dark, and pulled up to see a short, middle-aged woman with a halo of frizzy brown hair walk out to meet me. She warmly shook my hand, and took me to her backyard, which stretched well beyond the length of her porch light. We passed raised garden beds, and she opened the waist high gate to lead me to her coop.

Since it was well past 9, the hens were already on the roost, and I felt bad we had to disturb their rest. Stressed hens won’t lay, and feeding hens that can’t earn their place leaves only a handful of options. I had also driven all this way blind, because she did not provide photos of her hens or ducks. Once the first hen emerged in a flurry of feathers and disgruntled cooing, I felt a rush of relief. She had glossy black feathers, and was much larger than our sexlink hens back home. Her comb was bright red and nearly flawless, which is a clear sign that she lays well. Ann pulled out a smaller white hen with cream in her feathers, and a red hen that she hugged tightly before placing her in the cage I had brought. Both hens looked fat and healthy, and clucked to each other softly. Ann then reached in the roost and brought out the biggest white duck I have ever seen, along with her daughter, and four infertile eggs she had been warming. They all went in the cage, and Ann helped me take the girls to my trunk.

I paid her, and assured her I would send her several pictures once they had gotten established with the new flock. Backing out of their driveway, I rolled the windows down and listened to the hens cluck and coo in their strange, new environment. I couldn’t keep a grin off my face – it was almost 11 when I got home, but we all arrived safely, and I saw Sadie’s car in the driveway when I pulled in. My neighbors Reagan and Wes met me, and we each carried a hen inside, leaving the ducks in the trunk. Sadie was in the bathroom so I knocked on the door, asking her to come to the hallway. She opened the door to us standing there, with a black, white and red hen under each arm. “My word!” She exclaimed, and I laughed. “Caroline! I thought you were at the store!”

I passed her the red hen, while the black one sang out under Reagan’s arm. “She sounds like Cher,” Sadie said, and so our first hen got her name. We took them up to the coop with a lantern, placing them on the roost just a few feet down from our drowsy hens. We went back for the ducks, who proved to be much less tame, and all stood in the hall watching everyone settle back in. I made a shallow bowl in the straw, and put Mama ducks eggs there. I checked that everyone had water, and we slipped back into the cool night. Sadie and I laughed all the way down the hill, deciding the red hen could be Sunny, and the white and cream one would be Minnie Pearl. The dogs greeted us when we got back inside, and I brushed feathers and straw from my pants. We went upstairs to tell Nana what happened, trying to imitate Cher between fits of laughter.


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