Four Pieces of Nonfiction
My grandfather was an Indiana state trooper with eyes as wide and good as a pair of sunny-side eggs. He used to bring baby chicks home each Easter for his four kids. The chicks were dyed festive colors: green, blue and pink, with a few lucky yellow ones. The first Easter granddad brought home the chicks, my Aunt Lisa bit hers and killed it. She was only five, and to this day no one knows what she was thinking. The next year, Lisa tried extra hard to take good care of her bird. She gave it a bath. She put it in the dryer. Thunk thunk thunk. It came out dry but dead: a warm ball of lifeless fluff, buried in the back yard with a well-attended funeral. Everyone thought Aunt Lisa was retarded anyway. It turned out she was just unattractive.
My mom was the second oldest. Her chicks were a problem for a different reason: they thrived. She fed them, named them, talked to them, gave them the run of the backyard. When her first two grew up to be chickens, her father gave them away to a farm. But the third year she got Peck. He grew up to be a large, loud rooster who rattled the windows of the Friendly Oaks subdivision about two dozen times a day, dawn included.
Peck’s feathers grew in black and rust and fanned out in all directions like a rich lady’s hat. Peck would have gone to a farm sooner, but my granddad died by the time the chick grew into a rooster. My mother’s father was killed while helping an elderly driver on interstate 65. The semi driver said he fell asleep. He was all kinds of sorry. But sorry doesn’t turn a stain on the highway back into your dad anymore than Peck’s hollering could bring up the sun.
The neighbors forced my Mom to give Peck up once the family grieving period ended. But more animals appeared: dogs, cats, rats, chicks. She’d feed and name anything she could find, bring it home, love it, sleep with it.
By 18, she was a mama of a real baby boy. By 21, she was a mama of two. She loved us just as good as she’d loved those animals, petting us and feeding us. She sang us Beatles songs as she danced around the house, cleaning out the birdcage, the guinea pig cage, the hermit crab cage, and letting the dog out. She was always right there, checking on us, tucking stray hairs behind our ears, smoothing down cowlicks, offering up a special treat. People still say she did better than anyone could have expected. After all, just like her pets, she kept us mostly alive.