An Angel in the Attic

Turns out I’ve been breaking a lot of rules with respect to my shoulder surgery.  I found this out the hard way Tuesday evening.  I was standing in the kitchen and reached out for the kitchen faucet with my bad arm, but before it ever got there I felt something pop in my shoulder.  This was immediately followed by a new pain and loss of much of the mobility I had gained back.

Wednesday morning I went to my regularly scheduled PT appointment, explained what had happened and fessed up as to what my interpretation of the rules of recovery were.  Boy, did they straighten me out!  I’m not going to get into all the details, but the surgeon has been informed and the lid has been clamped back down on me.  For right now everyone is hoping what happened was just my shoulder “kicking back” at my “too much too soon” approach, but the real day of reckoning will be March 4, when I’m scheduled to see the surgeon.  Please think good thoughts on that day, and I promise to follow all rules, without self-interpretation.

In the last post I mentioned our blue bird situation.  My practice after each bluebird brood fledges (there are at least two each summer) is to clean out the bird house.  This involves clearing out all the nesting material and whatever else is in there.  It’s usually pretty nasty, so I wear a mask and rubber gloves and work outside.  Invariably I find at least one unhatched egg (they’re a very pretty blue, of course).  Once at the end of the summer I found the entire batch of four eggs abandoned and unhatched.  Something like that gets you wondering.  Was this the production of some young pair that for some reason was unable, or unwilling to fulfill their parental responsibilities?  Was there some falling out between the adults, some unwillingness on the part of one or the other to pull his or her weight?  Did one of the pair come to an early demise, a cat, a hawk?  Maybe it was just environmental, the third brood of the season and the weather didn’t cooperate.  And here’s a question, why when I cleaned out the house last time did I find wild cherry pits all over in there?  Out of the many broods we’ve had in there, no parents had ever fed the chicks cherries, weird.  I’m just trying to imagine the scenario that led to this break from SOP. 

There was probably a conversation initiated by the male, naturally, along the lines of making the feeding job a little easier.  “Look here Sweets, I’m tired a chasing bugs all over the place and then flying those squirmy things to the nest.  Why can’t we just take them these cherries here.  They taste  perfectly good, they’re easy to get and there’s no dropping them on the way to the nest.  Of course there’s a lot of skepticism on the part of the female.  “Don’t you Sweets me.  The last time you came up with a crack-pot idea like this we had a bunch of screaming chicks just about died from it.  What was it, oh yeah, those old sunflower seeds you found, terrible.  Only ones eats those are those show-offy cardinals, idiots and baseball players.”  And as is usual in these cases the guy wouldn’t listen to reason, started feeding the chicks choke cherries and the result was spattered all over the inside of the house..  Luckily, the chicks got enough nourishment from the bugs that Sweetie continued to bring, so the brood survived.  But can this marriage be saved?

Moving on, as I was cleaning this mess out of the bird house with hot water, detergent and ammonia, the scent that the mixture of bird poop and ammonia gave off smelled familiar.  They say that your sense of smell is one of the strongest memory triggers, and what dawned on me finally was that this smell reminded me of the hatchery that my gramma and grampa used to operate up in Young America, MN, back when I was a kid.

I’ve mentioned before what fun it was for all of us grandkids to visit Young America.  There were plenty of things there that appealed to us, but one of our favorites was the hatchery.  It was a single story, white, clapboard building with an attic, and it stood apart from the main house a little further down the large circular drive.  To us kids this building was a marvel in so many ways.  Inside on the left were the huge incubators.  They were made of wood, but had windows, so you could look inside and watch the big trays of incubating eggs slowly turn.  You’d invariably see eggs cracking and little chick beaks forcing their way out.  The incubators, of course always warm, threw off a lot of heat, so it was always warm in there when they were running.  Jim told me his one upsetting memory from the hatchery was seeing gramma rather nonchalantly pulling deformed chicks from the incubator and throwing them in a bucket of water to drown.  Said he felt sick on seeing that and to collect himself had to tell gram he was going outside. 

On the right side of the hatchery were rows of small cages where the chicks would be put after hatching, until they’re owners would come pick them up.  The poop generated on that side of the hatchery fell onto newspapers.  When the cages were cleaned, the newspapers full of poop were folded up and went immediately out to gramma’s big garden, which took-up the entire center of the circular drive.  Gramma or another family member would head out into the garden with a spade, dig an appropriate size hole and bury the hatchery waste.  Quite possibly, chicken poop in newspapers is the best fertilizer known to man.  You could tell this in multiple ways.  First, the fruits and vegetables grown in that garden were big, beautiful and delicious.  Second, you could sneak down in the earthen-floored cellar where the shelves were just lined with preserved produce, all from the garden.  With all the different colors in the glass bottles, it was an enticing, beautiful site.  That was another smell I just loved, that slightly musty, damp smell in the cellar.  You’d get a whiff whenever you snuck in and grabbed one of the sodas that were stored on the cellar steps.  And finally, if you needed any further convincing of the relative value of bird poop, all you had to do was look in the cigar boxes full of ribbons gramma had won at the county fair.  I don’t think there’s been a general in all the land that had more ribbons than gram.

But back to the hatchery, upstairs in the attic, wood floored and walking height, a kid could spend hours pawing through old chests and boxes full of interesting stuff.  Old, stale air with a lot of dust covering everything caused any light at all to throw dust beams across the floor.  An old spiked helmet that looked like a 19th century soldier might have worn it served as the impetus for war games.  Once all alone in the quiet warmth of the place, I just lay down on the floor and dozed.  When I got up, my image, like a snow angel, was left in the dust.

Outside the hatchery there were glass-covered hothouses on the south side.  In front, I remember many times being allowed to take baby chicks or ducks from the hatchery and playing with them.  When I think of the north side all I can think of is the time gramma had taken us fishing for bullheads in a stream somewhere.  There were so many of those ugly creatures they seemed anxious to jump on our fishing hooks.  We brought a bucket full home and as we sat on the north side of the hatchery gramma showed us how to skin those critters using a knife and a pair of pliers.  By golly, later after rolling em in flower and frying them in butter, you would never have guessed they had been so ugly.

Hatching memories
crack open after years.
And remind me what it was like
to be young and full of wonder.

Thanks for reading.

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One response to “An Angel in the Attic

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! I could see it all and felt like I was there. Wow, wish I could have had such an experience myself (all except for seeing the deformed chick get drowned).

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