By Jack Bedell

January 9, 2017


His first summer married, my father tended chickens. His job was to chase the birds out of the tin coop on hot days. The chickens always piled on top each other in the corner of the shed no matter how hot it got in there.

My father had to fight his way through the bodies until he reached the wall all the way to the back. Unless he could tease the deepest chickens in the coop to shuffle back out into the sunlight, none of the other birds would leave.

Whenever he grabbed the ones pressed against the tin and threw them towards the door, the chickens would run back to press themselves into the flock again. The only way to save the birds was to make them choose the outside air for themselves.

If my father couldn’t get his point across, the whole dirt floor would be piled white with dead feathers, too many bodies even for the workers to carry home to their wives for supper.

As many times as I heard that story growing up, I could never shake my focus off the chickens, the fault in their nature, blame and loss. All stories held hard lessons for me then.

Now that I have children myself, though, the story’s gotten a second life. When I listen to my father tell the same tale to my three kids, it’s clear his point isn’t the birds’ flaws, or the workers whose jobs were plain enough, or even the waste. His story couldn’t possibly be about anything other than the barn door, the promise of air, of space, and choice.

Photo "Chicken coop" provided by Mika Meskanen via Flickr's Creative Commons licence.


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