Author Jennifer Trainer Thompson recalls her earliest experiences raising chickens and contemplates the impact of that incredible edible: the humble egg.
Growing up in Maine in the ’60s, I was once given baby chicks dyed pastel pink and blue for Easter. I have a vivid memory of my mom, who knew little about farming and almost as much about domestic affairs (she stapled my Girl Scout badges because she refused to learn how to sew), thinking it would be fun to let them live in our little kitchen by the sea.
Small fluff balls no bigger than the palm of my 4-year-old hand, they’d perch on the refrigerator pedal to stay warm and chirp by my ankles. Over the next few weeks, when they grew as fast as Jiffy Pop on a stove, they started flying over the baby gate into the dining room, sending our dog Jezebel into a tizzy (who knew chickens could fly?). My parents said they had to go. We loaded them into a box and drove to a farm that had dozens of pink and blue birds running around. The image makes me think of Gary Larson’s drawing of a boneless chicken ranch, with a bunch of limp chickens hanging out by the entrance.
I still love Easter, though I celebrate it now by getting a few new heirloom chicks to add to my flock. But if truth be told, the holiday is a bit odd. How weird is it that a hare lays eggs? And is the hare a her? There’s a strong argument to be made that Easter (and indeed Passover) pre-date Christianity and Judaism, having evolved from a ribald pagan festival in Saxon times that celebrated Eostra, goddess of fertility. During Eostra, eggs were exchanged as a gesture of friendship and romance, much as valentine cards are today. You gotta hand it to the Christian missionaries in the second century, who did wicked spin control on these pagan traditions, turning them into rituals that helped tell the story of the resurrection and convert heathens throughout Europe. As the Latin proverb claims, Omne vivum ex evo: All life comes from an egg.