Once, while attending a cocktail party, I caught on fire. It was New Year’s Eve, and I had allowed myself to be roped into attending a party with a bunch of strangers. In 2001, no one carried cell phones. There was no Facebook or Instagram to prove that I, in fact, wasn’t sitting at home like a loser. It was simple. The invite to attend came. I took it. End of story.
It was freezing that night in New Orleans, as I scampered up St. Charles and into a charming old bungalow from which party lights and music boomed. As I ripped open the front door and slammed it behind me, the room of pre-med strangers grew silent. I’m not sure which was more intrusive, the rush of cold air that blew in with my entrance or my ostentatious New Years’ Eve outfit. My inherited family mantra “go big or go home” was most assuredly not appreciated by this crowd. Grinning, I shot a sideways glance at my date and mouthed the words, “get me a drink.”
My festive attire was a Christmas gift from my mom. She had attended a holiday open house at a local boutique where she undoubtedly paid too much for the most fabulous jacket in the history of human kind. It was a knee- length, form-fitting, black overcoat that tied under the bust. The neck and cuffs of the coat were outlined with a perfectly married mix of black feathers—some long, some short. To finish it off, an understated glitter swirl pattern danced across the fabric. I paired it with some black tights, black spandex shell (no brassiere required) and black boots. Y’all. I was DYNOMITE!
To cut the tension, I did what any self- assured, mature adult would do, I kept drinking. And sure enough, little by little, the volume in the room returned to normal. I began making conversation with the other party-goers. We talked about LSU sports and the weather and the home décor in the living room. The homeowner had an affinity for Mexican bobblehead animals. She also loved tea lights. Both were peppered throughout the home. As my insides began to warm up, I became more and more interested in the bobbleheads. As I chatted with my newly established friends, I leaned over, tapped an armadillo to create the bobble that cracked me up and swiped a cracker. I took a bite. I don’t remember much of what happened next. I do however, remember a flash of light and the look of terror on my date’s face. Once again, the room grew silent. There was heat. There was a lot of patting. I was stripped of my jacket. And then there I stood—in a bra top and tights in a silent room full of once again strangers. I looked like a turtle that had been de-shelled. And then I inhaled the smell of burnt hair.
I stopped drinking, but everyone else at the party kept going. As the night progressed, people got clever with their comments and jokes. I wasn’t quite ready to laugh it off as the feathers were still melted in my hair. I was also pretty sure that my mother hadn’t yet made the first payment on my newly destroyed frock. I spent the remainder of the evening figuring out how to break the news to her. My New Year’s resolution that night was to never again fall in love with something made of feathers.
Fast forward to 2016. I was a well- adjusted mother of 3, and I brought 4 chickens home from the local feed store. I’d like to say that it wasn’t an impulse buy, but I’m pretty sure that’s a lie. It was Easter, and there they sat in all their new life glory — fluffy and fresh and warm under the glow of the heat lamps. They needed to be mine. After all, it had been 15 years since my feather catastrophe. Surely, I had grown more mature and exempt from such ridiculous heartache.
On that very first day as chicken farmers, we made the number one amateur mistake. We named them. And then we fell in love. We watched them grow. We watched them run and waddle. We discovered our first eggs. And much to our surprise, one of our “hens” started crowing. Shortly thereafter, that same “hen” began taking piggyback rides on the backs of the other hens. And so, out of necessity, we all received a sex ed lesson, where it was determined that the chicken does in fact come before the egg.
Over time, our rooster, Freddie, grew larger and more territorial. He took his job of brood protector very seriously. His glossy long feathers and deep red comb were poultry perfection. The kids made a game of chase a daily occurrence. They would creep into the backyard and see who could get the closest before they were discovered by Freddie. The game was as fun for me to watch through my bedroom window. The discovery and then the drop and run were my favorite parts.
The game chase remained funny until the day that Freddie decided to charge our neighbor’s laid-back chocolate lab. The result of that game was a pile of brown-red feathers. The murder scene was emotional. There were sobs and snot. We were heartbroken. My neighbor was horrified.
The curse of the plume had descended on my household once again And so, we had a choice: 1. Throw in the towel on chicken farming due to the emotional damage it could inflict. 2. Press forward in hopes for more joy than despair.
Today, after 3 years of chicken rearing, I can tell you option #2 has served us well. I have learned more about adulting from our chickens than from any other source.
The biggest and most difficult lesson learned was the first. Death is a part of life. To date, we have lost Freddie, Lemon, Zomboss, Gertie, Hay Hay, Speckles, and Lady. We’ve lost all but one to predators. As is turns out, chickens are one of the lowest on the food chain. We had named them all, and we continue to name them. Our motto has become: It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
The good lessons have far outweighed the bad. And for better or worse, I’m still in love with feathers. I just can’t shake it. Maybe I was a bird in a former life. But one thing is for sure, we built the bonfire pit well away from the chicken run. Because even though I am hopeful for the future, I’m not taking any chances.