During my early youth, my parents raised chickens. This served as our source for fresh eggs, and when the supply was more than we could use, we supplied our neighbors with the excess.
The chickens were housed in a large fenced-in area in our back yard. In the middle of the enclosure was the chicken coop with shelves that contained nesting material for the hens to roost and lay eggs.
The entire enclosure and the hen house were patrolled and guarded by an aggressive old rooster.
It was in this environment that I, as an eight-year-old, was assigned the daily task of collecting the eggs.
Every morning at 7:30 I would take my straw basket to the old gate of the enclosure and quietly open it—calmly, so as to not draw attention of the crotchety old rooster, who seemed to resent the appearance of any other male into his hen harem.
This tactic never worked, for as soon as I would close the gate behind me the old rooster was on the attack.
If one has never had a close encounter with a horny old rooster, one would assume this not to be much of a threat but let me tell you, until you have been enclosed with this angry bird, head feathers standing straight up, leaping aggressively, with sharp talons seeking out your face—you have not known true fear.
My only defense was to run as fast as I could around the enclosure hoping to tire the old bird out. Fortunately for me he was old and would eventually stop the chase, either because he was tired or because he had enjoyed his fun for the day.
With the chase concluded, I could now enter the chicken coop to face eight to ten hens sitting on nests with every intention of hatching the eggs they had laid the day before.
This would not be a friendly encounter.
The hens would not leave the nest in my presence, giving me little choice but to try to chase them off the nest, but this seldom worked as the hens were more attached to the eggs than I was to getting them.
I was down to the last resort—to reach under each hen and remove eggs. I knew from experience this was going to involve much angry squawking and aggressive pecking with sharp beaks. Still, I preferred to endure the wrath of the hens rather than to return to my mother’s kitchen with no eggs.
I quickly gathered about a dozen eggs and placed six in each pocket of my jacket as six angry hens turned to quickly run from the hen house. This, of course, drew the attention of the rooster who quickly and angrily joined the chase.
While this was great fun for the chickens, I was running for my life to the gate, which I quickly opened and entered, only to trip over the wooden threshold and fall to the ground and you guessed it—crushed most of the eggs in my jacket pocket.
The rooster was unhappy, the hens were unhappy, but most of all I feared my unhappy mother, who depended on those eggs. To my surprise, mom was very sympathetic as she helped me remove the broken egg shells from my jacket pockets.
Tomorrow would be another day. The entire cast of characters would be awaiting my arrival in the chicken pen.
I often wondered if the neighbors who enjoyed our fresh eggs understood the role of a small boy to get these on their breakfast plate.