The next day could not come soon enough for the chickens or for me. Rather than waiting until the evening for our celebration, I moved the pumpkin out into their play area before opening up their coop.
Even though the pumpkin was covered with a big towel for extra secrecy, it was still the first thing they noticed as they came down the chicken ladder. While they ate their breakfast salad, I set up a perching board on some bricks in front of the pumpkin.
With such a big, mysterious distraction, it took longer than usual for Gracie, Bessie, and Pearl to finish breakfast. It wasn’t that way for Blanche. She enjoyed the chance to get extra portions of everything while everyone else tried to figure out what was under the big towel.
After breakfast, they gathered in the play area. The four chickens all sat on the perching board facing the pumpkin. They were filled with expectation, and I hoped they would not be disappointed.
”Yesterday our own Bessie laid her first egg,” I began.
Everyone flapped their wings in congratulations.
“And even though the pumpkin seeds were bigger than we had expected…”
Everyone nodded in disappointment.
“…Bessie helped me to roast them to perfection!”
Everyone flapped their wings in anticipation.
“She also had a brilliant idea for an invention. An invention that just may change all of our lives.”
Everyone was silent, wondering what it could possibly be.
“It is a television with no sound so it won’t keep anyone awake, and it is fun for people and chickens to watch. Best of all, chickens can eat it when the show is over!”
Everyone edged forward on their perch. Pearl was so curious that it looked as if she would fall off at any moment.
“Ladies, I present to you The Pumpkin Puppet Theater!”
Everyone clucked with astonishment after I whisked off the towel to reveal Bessie’s invention.
“There is a little chicken in there,” said Gracie. “And look! She is wearing a ballet crown like a princess!”
“Where are the roasted pumpkin seeds?” asked Blanche.
I sat down behind the pumpkin, and said, “Now watch.”
Behind the stem was a bead tied to a cord that went through the top of the pumpkin. It was attached to the puppet’s crown. The puppet’s wings and legs had another cord attached to them. It went through the pumpkin to another bead on the bottom. As I pulled on the top bead, the chicken puppet began to move. It’s wings flapped up and down. It’s legs kicked out and in.
Everyone was delighted beyond words except for Blanche. “Did that chicken eat all of our roasted pumpkin seeds?” she asked.
“Shh!” said Pearl. “What if she did? She is doing a dance for us.”
“And she is smaller than any of us,” added Gracie. “She may need them to grow some more.”
Even Blanche had to agree with that.
“She can have mine,” said Pearl. “I am loving this!”
I ended the chicken puppet dance with a flourish, and everyone flapped their wings as if they had seen the most marvelous show in the world.
“I did not think up that part about the little chicken dancer,” said Bessie.
“Maybe not, but you came up with the idea for a television set like this, and to me, that makes you an inventor. People invented toy puppets like this chicken dancer hundreds of years ago, but no person ever invented The Pumpkin Puppet Theater for it. You did that, Bessie.”
“Can we eat the theater now?” asked Blanche.
“It’s not time for that part,” I said. “Right now, I am going to show you how the chicken puppet works. Then you can put on shows for each other while you eat roasted pumpkin seeds. It will almost like a real show at a real theater except they have popcorn instead.”
Blanche tilted her head and gave me a questioning look. She was unsure whether it would be more fun to eat or put on a puppet show. More than anything else, she wanted to know about popcorn.
“Later, once everyone is finished watching shows, Bessie and I will go into the kitchen and prepare the rest of the pumpkin so you can eat it.”
So everyone got up and looked more closely at the chicken puppet. A few of them pecked it lightly just to make sure it was not really a little chicken.
“I don’t think we can eat that part,” said Blanche.
I showed them the bead behind the pumpkin’s stem and how it made the chicken puppet dance.
As the guest of honor, Bessie had the first turn at operating the puppet. She stood on top of the pumpkin and moved the bead up and down with her beak. Everyone sat on the perch and ate roasted pumpkin seeds while they watched the performances.
Everyone had more turns than I could count, and each of them had a different way of making the chicken puppet dance. Some dances were graceful. Others were happy. Some were silly.
They were all so amazed by what they could do with the chicken puppet that everyone, even Blanche, forgot about finishing their roasted pumpkin seeds. How could something so simple keep them entertained for so long?
Later in the day, Bessie and I took the pumpkin inside where we planned to chop it up into pieces before figuring out a way to make it easier for them to eat. It was a carving pumpkin, and so it was not soft and easy to bite into like a tomato or an apple.
As we sat together on the sunroom floor with The Pumpkin Puppet Theater, Bessie looked as if she still had something on her mind.
“What is it, Sweetie? I can tell something is bothering you. Is it because we have to take your invention apart?”
“I am sort of glad we are taking it apart.”
“You want to see what we do with the pumpkin so you can eat it. I think we can figure something out in the kitchen.”
“That is not it,” she said. “You were the one who made the chicken puppet. That was not my idea. It was yours. Everyone thinks it was all my idea, but it was not.”
I was unsure what to say. If she hadn’t thought of a television set that chickens could eat after the show was over, there would never have been a Pumpkin Puppet Theater.
“Bessie, watch this.”
I moved the bead up and down and made the chicken puppet dance. Then I cut into the top and bottom of the pumpkin all of the way to the holes where the cord was with the beads tied onto each end. This released the chicken puppet, and it lay motionless beside the pieces of pumpkin.
“Now lift up the bead like you did before when we were playing outside.”
Reluctantly she picked it up with her beak and tried to make it dance again, but it only flopped around limply. There was no dancing. There was nothing amazing.
She dropped the bead and looked at the little pile of wood pieces and cord at her feet. Slowly a smile of realization came over her face.
“It does not dance any more,” she said.
“That’s right, Sweetie. Without your invention, a chicken can’t make it dance.”
I showed her how I could still make it dance with my two hands just by holding one bead in each hand.
“You chickens don’t have hands. You and the others could only make it dance because of your invention. You did that with your idea for a special television set for people and chickens.”
Bessie stretched her wings out as if to hug me.
“I wish I could invent a way for chickens to have arms and hands so I could really hug you,” she said.
Then she did her best to hug me with her wings, and it felt just as good as any hug with arms and hands could ever feel.
She danced into the kitchen, and we spent the rest of the afternoon inventing ways to cook the pumpkin.