The chicks are in!

On Wednesday, the Lenten study group at our church was meeting over Zoom. Our facilitator asked us to share one thing about Holy Week that we remembered as part of our introductions. I have so many Holy Week memories that it was hard for me to give a single memory as an example. Maundy Thursday services came to mind, but it was more of a category than a single memory. When it was my turn, I shared a Maundy Thursday memory. After class, I started to think of decades of Lenten Memories. It wasn’t just Holy Week, but rather the entire season that sparks memory upon memory, layer upon layer. My memories are not just of church events, but because I was raised in a family that was active in church, the memories of church blend with other memories of the season.

One of my Lenten memories is the birth of donkey colts. My father was a bit of a hobby farmer. We usually had a few animals even though our income came from providing services to farmers, not from being farmers ourselves. We raised a few donkeys back when the US Forest Service bought donkeys for trail work in the high country. Dad tried to have a new donkey colt for Palm Sunday each year. The gestation period for a Spanish burro is about a year and can vary quite a bit. Generally a Jenny produces a single colt every other year, with breeding and birthing taking place in the same general season. Palm Sunday, however, moves around the calendar, falling between March 15 and April 18. Some years we got lucky and had a young colt for Palm Sunday and some years we didn’t. On year, the colt was born on Easter. We named her Hallelujah, which quickly got shortened to Lulu.

Another Lenten memory that mixes the secular with church in my mind is the arrival of the year’s chicks. We tried to have chicks in stock at the store. Nearly every year a few were sold individually to folks around town as part of Easter baskets. A few of them would raise their chick, but most of them ended up bringing the chicks back to our store. We raised whatever chicks went unsold for the freezer, so we had chickens from the spring through the fall, but didn’t keep them over the winter. The day the chicks arrived in the spring was always an exciting day. At least once it landed on a Saturday when we didn’t have school and I got to go with my dad to the post office to pick up the chicks first thing in the morning. The chicks arrived at the post office by truck during the night and the postmaster was eager to have them picked up. There were a few other big customers on chick day, notably the Hutterite colony up north, but we received several cartons of peeping masses of chicks. We took the chicks to the shop where we had a stock tank filled with bedding material, wood shavings and a bit of hay. There were heat lamps suspended over the stock tank to keep the chicks warm. We mixed up a powdered supplement with water and filled the waterers in the stock tank. Then the chicks came out of the cartons one by one. We held their beaks in the water until they took a swallow, then released that chick in the stock tank and took the next one from the carton. Dad could do two at a time, one in each hand, but I couldn’t make their beaks go in the water unless I handled them one at a time.

Well, the chicks came in yesterday. Not cartons and cartons of chicks, just a dozen. Here, the feed store takes advance orders and tries to get the customers to pick them up the same day they arrive. Chicks still travel in the mail along with other parcels. Last year our son’s family got six laying chickens. As is not unusual, five turned out to be hens and one was a rooster. The rooster found a new home after being listed on Craigslist for a few days. The hens produce eggs for the household. This year, they added a dozen to the flock. The feed store is in the town where we live, so the chicks and our grandchildren came to our house for a few hours in preparation for the trip to the farm. We set up a heat lamp and set up our brooder in a moving box. The chicks got their beaks dipped and then were left to feed while the children played and their mom tried to catch up on a bit of work. I know that I have a “no pets” clause in my lease agreement, but no damage occurred to the house during the temporary visit and these aren’t technically pets because they will be raised to be working birds, producing eggs for the family.

Our nineteen-month-old grandson was absolutely fascinated by the chicks. He required constant supervision whenever he was in the room with the chicks. The heat lamp was too hot to touch and the chicks were too little and fragile for his tiny hands. We held a couple so he could touch their down. Like the rest of us the song of their cheeping drew him to the brooder box.

I don’t know if he will remember the day the chicks arrived. I can’t place memories from that early in my life. My earliest memory comes from when I was about a year older than he is now. Certainly his cousins will remember the arrival of chicks, but they may not remember individual years, but the year that the chicks visited grandma and grandpa on their way to the farm may be distinct form other years when they look back. I don’t know if any of them will make a connection between Lent and the arrival of the chicks.

But they will remember that tiny birds need constant care. They will remember that life has cycles with a season for the chicks to arrive and a season for grown chickens to produce eggs for the table.

And the chicks sparked plenty of memories for grandpa, who this year can just watch and occasionally help feed the chickens with the real work of caring for the tiny birds falling to the younger generations. The brooder was moved to the farm and my house was quiet by the time I headed for bed to dream and remember.

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