I posted about my pilgrims yesterday afternoon, and then went out to talk to Certain Man about the state of things in the chicken house. In the middle of his sermon yesterday, he stopped and said, “You are going to have to excuse me — Deborah, the chicken house alarm is going off, could you or Gary or someone go and check it for me please?” And so Rachel, who is our chicken house gal, went home to check on things.
For those of you who were in Delaware yesterday, you know that it was an oppressively hot, humid day. We have big chickens, and as carefully as Certain Man was to manage things properly, we still suffered a heat loss. 500 of our biggest, nicest birds. Chicken growers know that heat always gets the biggest ones.
So I asked him what he was going to do about picking up the dead. “Oh,” he said, matter of factly, “I’ve been throwing them to the doors all day. It is just a matter of picking them up.”
“I’m going to come help,” I said.
“No, you stay in the house. It’s too hard for you.” He smiled at me reassuringly and headed on out.
The humidity was still high, the temp was still over 80, but he thought that since night was falling he might just as well get busy. I took care of some in the house things, fielded a call from Youngest Son in Ohio (Who was out of electricity for almost 30 hours) and finally got out of my still Sunday dress and pulled on an old dress from the closet. I found an old kerchief to put around my Sunday clean hair, and found my old chicken house sandals. Beloved Son in Law is the one person who so often helps at a time like this, but he was out with an old friend. Youngest Daughter was memorizing for Quiz team, Middle Daughter had disappeared into the upper story. And Eldest Son and His Beloved were at their home. Eldest Daughter does not do Chicken House Stuff. She had come to spend the evening with home folk while Beloved Son in Law was out with his friend.
“I’m going out to help Daddy pick up dead chickens,” I said to Eldest Daughter as she sat with her laptop in her Daddy’s La-Z-Boy recliner.
“Nice do-rag!” she commented briefly, looking at my perky kerchief over the edge of her computer.
“Yes, well — ” I said, and went out into the dusky light. The magnificent sunset stopped me for a minute, but then I saw Certain Man out by the chicken house with his reliable little tractor and loader and knew I had best get on my way. I came around the tractor to see a great pile of chickens inside the chicken house on the floor in front of the main door. Certain Man was methodically throwing them, one by one, onto the loader.
“How’s it coming, Sweetheart?” I asked him.
“Well, it’s not going too bad,” said my husband. (I never quite know just how things truly are by his responses. Sometimes I think that something cataclysmic has happened because of what he says, and then I find out that it wasn’t really quite as earth-stopping as it sounded. And then there are times when things are really, really awful, and he is unusually cheerful about it all.)
“Are you almost done?”
“Well, I’m done with house one, and have the worst half of house two done, and I have house three yet to go. House three will be the worst.”
“What can I do? How can I best help?”
“Suppose you drive the tractor!” he says with a gleam in his eye.
“I don’t know how to drive the tractor!” I say indignantly. In my mind, I can see the posts to the compost bins come tumbling down while I try to dump the bucket load of chickens into what seems like an inordinately small space.
“Sure you can. I’ll teach you!”
“Why don’t you drive the tractor and I’ll pick up chickens.”
“You should go in and get boots,” he said sternly, looking down at my chicken house sandals. “These chickens have sharp claws. You’re liable to get hurt.”
“I don’t have any chicken house boots,” I said cheerfully. “Let me try and see how it goes, and if I need to go get shoes, I’ll do it.”
And so we set to work. He loaded the chickens that were thrown to the door, and then came and helped me to pick up in the house. Then, when there was a big pile by a door, he would go and load them up and take them to the compost bins. One of the best blessings of our marriage has been that we can work together really well (once we settle who is doing what!) and the time passed with good camaraderie and cooperation. We finished house two and went on to house three. And it was worse than house two, but Certain Man had gone before, and many of the chickens were picked up and thrown to the doors. There were still a number to pick up, but while he loaded and hauled the ones that were already gathered, I was able to finish covering the house and finally, we were down to the last door. I stood on the inside, while he stood on the outside with both of us loading the last load. That was when I noticed that he was only using his left hand to pitch them on except on very rare occasions. Then his right arm would only bring them up to somewhere between his knee and waist, and with a wrench somewhere in my middle, I knew that his troublesome shoulder was giving him alot of pain.
“Sweetheart, is that shoulder really hurting?”
“Yeah, well, it is the way it is. It’s been bothering me ever since this morning at church . . .It’ll be alright.”
We finished up, and he took the last load to the compost bins. I went in to get a shower and wash my hair and get ready for bed. It was already pretty late. I was amazed again at how dirty a person can get, and how wonderful it feels to be clean. I watched the dirt swirl down the drain and thought about pilgrims and clean houses and celebrating Harvest and keeping family traditions and being thankful. And I thought about how my life holds so many incongruities and contradictions. I can be in the middle of one beautiful thing and enjoying it to the fullest, and in such a short time be at an entirely different place with anything but beautiful and esthetic surroundings, and yet it is all life. Even in (maybe especially in) the dirt and the smells of death.
Yesterday in that smelly, hot chicken house, I saw again how Certain Man’s courage and love give life and meaning to me and to our children. How his example of keeping on when it’s hard and when it hurts and when it seems like you have to do it mostly by yourself is something that is beyond price.
And so, while I am glad for the finer reminders to be thankful in this Season of Grateful Praise, tonight I give thanks for a reminder I found among the losses strewn in the heat at a chicken farm in Delaware.