It took my mom a while to recognize the little man and his wife. It was the peak season at her greenhouse, and she was busy with a feeding frenzy of customers. But as their appetites for Impatiens and phlox was sated, she started to notice a strange couple standing by the cage of banty chicks she kept at the shop.
She left them alone at first, reasoning that if they needed any assistance they would come to her. The couple never bought anything, but they returned each day to gaze upon the birds. After a week, my mom asked if there was anything in particular she could help them with.
“Oh, no, we just like your chickens,” the man said.
“Well, then you should have some,” my mom said. “I would be happy to give you a few.”
“Oh, we couldn’t,” the man said.
“But I insist,” she said.
And so it was done. The man and his wife went home that day with a chirping Girl Scout cookie crate containing a few young hens and a rooster.
A few months passed before the woman returned to the shop. She wanted to tell my mom how much she and her husband loved the chickens. Her husband had built them a little house, she said, and each night the chickens would perch on his forearms and he would rock and sing them to sleep. My mom was happy to hear that the banties had landed in such a loving home.
The next spring the couple was delighted to find a peeping swarm of chicks. Their avian family was growing. But the pitter patter of chicken feet also drew the attention of the neighbor’s dog.
The man tried everything he could to keep the dog out of his yard, but trying to stop a determined Labrador is like trying to stop the rain.
Bit by bit, the couple’s chicken population was diminished. Soon, only four birds remained.
Early one morning, the man stepped out onto the porch to see the Labrador taking off with one of the chickens.
Incensed, he grabbed a shovel and took off after the pullet thief. When he caught up to the dog, he beat it across the back and yanked the bird from its mouth. The chicken was already dead.
It became evident to the man he couldn’t keep the chickens safe anymore. Heartbroken, he returned to the chicken house, sat down in his lullaby chair and started to cry.
One of the hens noticed her master’s anguish and hopped up onto his shoulder and gently pecked one of his tears away.
“Yes, you’re right,” he said, looking for the first time into her beady yellow eyes. “It was selfish of me to try to keep you here with me. I should take you someplace you’ll all be safe.”
So the man and his wife boxed up the remaining chickens and returned to my mom’s shop.
“We love them, but it’s not right for us to keep them,” the man said. “We hope you’ll do right by them.”
“I will do my best,” my mom promised.
Alas, friendly chickens are slower than chickens that have never known love. The chicken whisperer’s beauties met the same fate they would have if he had kept them.
And maybe he knows this. That was the last time my mom saw the man and his wife.