Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Egg and I
Looking back with nostalgia to when time were simpler -- is usually with selective memory or false information. There have been multiple return-to-nature eras, glorifying farm life. Read "The Egg and I" by Betty MacDonald, and she will annihilate your nostalgia.
Her hilarious best-selling memoir was first published in 1945. She also wrote four Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle early readers for children, which are delightful. In 1945, America stood on the brink of crossroads of departing from slow-motion farm life sustainably anchored in the four seasons, to shooting fast-forward like a rocket towards electronic consumerism, founded on greed and economic growth -- that is impossible to sustain.
Betty makes light of farm life -- without electricity, central heat or running water. "I estimated that I carried a minimum of 16 buckets of water a day--16 ten-quart buckets or 160 quarts a day for about 360 days. Is it surprising that my hands were almost dragging on the ground and my shoulders sagged at the sight of anything wet? That I was tortured by mirages of gushing faucets and flushing toilets?"
Her distaste for the hardships of a rustic farm in Washington State extends to the chickens she and her husband raised. One chapter is titled, "I learn to hate even baby chickens.
"I learned to my sorrow that baby chickens are stupid; they smell; they have to be fed, watered and looked at, at least every three hours. Their sole idea in life is to jam themselves under the brooder and get killed; stuff their little boneheads so far into their drinking fountains they drown; drink cold water and die; get W.W.D.; coccidiosis or some other disease which means sudden death. The horrid little things pick out each other's eyes and peck each other's feet until they are bloody stumps."
Betty found gathering eggs, a task usually relegated to children on a farm, challenging. "Gathering eggs would be like one continual Easter morning if the hens would just be obliging and get off the nests. Cooperation, however, is not a chickenly characteristic."
Luckily, most hens in the new millennium have had "broodiness" bred out of them. They don't realize their eggs are their offspring.
Roosters are still the same. The rooster pictured above is doing what he does best: dominating and intimidating.
"The rooster, now, is something else again. He doesn't give a damn if you take every egg in the place and play handball. He doesn't care if the chicken house is knee-deep in weasels and blood. He just flicks a speck from his lapel and continues to stroll around, stepping daintily over the lifeless but still warm body of a former mistress, his lustful eye appraising the leg and breast of another conquest."
Betty immersed me in her life with hilarious and heart-rendering descriptions of a hard life, dependent on nature. I kinda like modern amenities.
My chickens -- if they every arrive -- will be a hobby. My livelihood and next meal don't depend on them right now. Someday we'll finish building the chicken coop and yard for them.