Rabid Chickens

My memory of the wall is tinged with blue-green. A very pale blue-green, mind you.

I honestly don’t know if it’s real, or hopelessly colored and skewed by more than half a century.

I scoured old photographs this morning looking for it. Surely this white-washed cinderblock wall, with a hint of aqua, so prominent in my memories of Kagnew Station would show up in some pictures.

Stewart, Peter, Donabeth, Sally — Kagnew Station Christmas

When I was 2 years old until I was just barely 5, my father was stationed at an army base in Ethiopia. My earliest memories are from there, but have been reduced largely to color.

Kagnew Station was blue-green.

Fort Devens was red-brown, like the color of bricks. Our address there was drilled into me, 84D Walnut Street.

84D Walnut St, Fort Devens Christmas

Similarly, the distance between the earth and the sun was drilled into my youngest brother after we moved to Cooperstown.Why he needed to know that distance was beyond me, but my parents and older siblings made sure he could recite it, asking him often, “How many miles to the sun?” My tow-headed little brother would answer, “93 million miles,” and we would cheer.

That’s a memory draped in the lush green of Cooperstown and farm land and maples in summer.

My youngest brother and me — Cooperstown summer

But the wall around Kagnew Station — I remember my mother warning me about it. “Don’t go beyond it,” she said, “because there are rabid chickens on the other side.”

In my head, now, I know that’s ridiculous. I’m sure she never said a word about rabid chickens.

For one thing, rabies only affects mammals. I learned that as an adult when a veterinarian friend gave a presentation on rabies to our homeschool group. When he made that statement – rabies only affects mammals — I blurted out, “But what about chickens?” He looked at me long and hard, waiting to see if I was serious. Unfortunately, I was. The seed had been planted decades before.

For another, I don’t think the wall around the base was very high. A chicken could have flown over it.

My working theory is this: my mother warned me to stay away from the wall. I had heard my father talking about the dangers of rabies.  At some point I saw a chicken fly over the wall. It all mashed together, like when bits and pieces of life swirl together into the implausible reality of a bizarre dream.

I probably inserted the chicken into my mother’s words. I’ve always liked chickens.

A rabid chicken sounds so dramatic, too. Picture an innocuous chicken. Add some drool and a deadly virus. Like Chanticleer meets Old Yeller. Maybe that was the scariest image 4-year-old me could conjure up.

The memory is covered in a pale blue-green haze.

In the meantime, I have an assignment to write about a place (#sorryLaura) and this is what came out.

Strange.

Almost scary.

Like a rabid chicken.

J is for Journey

“I ran away once and you didn’t even notice,” one of my children told me accusingly.

It brought back a flood of memories.

I ran away once. Slighted once too often by my siblings, unappreciated by my parents — I knew it was the only thing I could do. So I put a loaf of bread in my backpack, along with a flashlight, a jacket, and a pack of matches, and headed up the hill behind our house.

The first bit was steep and prickly with wild raspberry bushes. I huffed with exertion and didn’t stop to enjoy a single berry.

I hiked past the little spring-house that had been the source of water for the house before my parents dug a well.

Finally I reached a grassy knoll and sat down to rest.

I waited for someone to come looking for me. Surely someone would notice I was gone.

I waited, imagining the shock and the worry. My mother would ask each sibling, “Have you seen Sally?” and the worry would grow.

They would look all around the house and the barns. She’d probably make Peter or Jimmy climb into the hayloft to see if I was there.

But they wouldn’t find me.

The tall grass on the hill was perfect for putting between my thumbs and whistling — but I stopped myself. Someone would hear it. Then they would know where I was.

The grassy knoll, it turned out, was also an ant hill so I moved to a little mossy spot near a tree.

I pulled out my loaf of bread and ate a slice — not because I was hungry, but because I was bored. Plain bread is also boring, I discovered. I wished I had brought a jar of peanut butter. I put the bread away because I knew it would have to last me at least a week.

As I started to stretch out in the moss for a little rest, I nearly placed my hand in a pile of animal droppings. Abruptly I sat up again. Hugging my knees, I started to cry. Surely I was the most unloved child ever.

House with the garden behind it

But down the hill was my house.

And my family.

And my dog.

And our passel of cats.

I climbed to my feet and headed back.

My mother was working in the garden, picking beans or peas.

“I ran away,” I announced to her as I got closer, “and you didn’t even notice.”

She straightened up and looked at me. “You need to be gone more than 20 minutes if you want me to notice,” she said.

And she went back to work.

All that passed through my mind when my own child told me about running away.

I bit my tongue so I wouldn’t repeat my mother’s words.

“I’m sorry,” I said.


Child with suitcase and backpack from Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah! by Allan Sherman and Lou Busch, illustrated by Jack E. Davis

Plants from a broken pop-up book