“Come back and visit your Best Little Buddy whenever you need help.” That was what Lefty had told me when I last saw him.
I had almost laughed at the idea of ever going to a chicken for help, even a fine rooster like Lefty, but I was glad I hadn’t laughed. As things turned out, I seriously needed his advice on what to do about Amelia.
There was no surprised look on his face when he heard my bicycle tires on the gravel driveway of his farm out in the country. Somehow he knew I would be back. Maybe news of how I had adopted two homeless hens had reached him through the songbirds or the farm crows. Maybe he already had heard how Amelia was having a tough time in her new home.
Even under the solid gray of the overcast sky, Lefty’s feathers and comb were still especially handsome. The calendar told us spring had arrived, but the temperatures said it was still winter.
“Come and see,” he said before any of the normal greetings I had expected us to exchange. It made me feel as if no time had passed since we last spoken on the day I brought Rudy to join him on his farm.
I followed him over to their coop. His steps got quicker and more excited, almost like when he was a young cockerel with hardly a comb and playing in my backyard.
“Look inside,” he said.
There was Rudy, sitting in her warm nesting box. Tucked comfortably under her feathers were three baby chicks. Each looked quite different with a mixture of Lefty’s Buff Orpington coloring and her Rhode Island Red coloring.
“They are the finest baby chicks I’ve ever seen,” I said. “I am so proud of you both.”
“Would you like to pick them up and hold them?” said Rudy. “It is fine with us. They will trust you because they know we trust you.”
The three little chicks looked up at me without any peeping. I was just a curious-looking stranger to them. They were warm and safe and happy.
“As much as I would enjoy that, I’d better just look at them right where they are. How many boys and how many girls?”
“There are two cockerels and one pullet,” said Lefty. “She will have two big brothers to watch over her. She is the youngest, the last to hatch.”
Rudy gently nudged each of them forward with her beak so I could get a better look at them. Then with a low, motherly-hen tone, she said something to them in Old Chicken, the language only chickens understand, not the Chicken language that Gracie had helped me to learn.
They each tipped their beaks and gave me a few wing flaps. Rudy was making sure they grew up with proper manners.
“Well done,” said Lefty. “Now what do you tell our guest?”
“PeeP!” they each said in turn.
Then one of them added, “CheeP!” and the three chicks returned to Rudy’s warmth.
“That one is the oldest,” said Lefty. “He hatched first.”
“He must be a fast learner. And always wanting to be first. Just like his Dad.”
Lefty beamed with fatherly pride.
“Rudy and I have something to ask you,” he said. “Will you give them names?”
“I will if you’d like, but you are their parents. Why don’t you just name then? I’m sure you can pick some great names.”
“It does not work that way for chickens,” he said. “Only people give names. It is the way things are, the way things have always been. These three need names from a person so they will know they matter. We have high hopes for them.”
“You know they matter to me, but does it have to be today? I’d like to get to know them a little to make sure they get the best names possible.”
“That would be fine, and we thank you. Just let The Farmer know you would like to name them. You may need to watch them playing to pick the best names. With the gray sky, it will be too cold to play outside today or for them to go far from Rudy. Winter has lasted longer than usual this year, or so I have heard. It was our first winter.”
“What did you think of the snow?”
“It was just as beautiful as I imagined it would be. Rudy and I danced together in the snow.”
“Like you did in our little backyard garden?”
“Yes. As closely to ‘The Waltz of the Snowflakes’ as we could remember. I miss those days. There is no record player here. And we do not talk with The Farmer the way we talk with you. Would you do one more favor for me?”
“Anything, Lefty. Because I have a favor to ask of you too.”
“Would you tell Gracie that I am sorry for calling her ‘Princess’ the first time I saw her dancing? And tell her when I danced with her, it was the first time in my life that I did not try to be first and best. And tell her without what I learned from her, I would have never become A Guardian.”
Rudy looked at Lefty and cleared her throat as if she was troubled by what he had said. Perhaps being A Guardian was something the baby chicks were not supposed to know about.
“I absolutely will, Lefty. But why haven’t you asked The Raven With Blue Eyes to tell her?”
Rudy cleared her throat again and whispered something to Lefty in Old Chicken. This time she was frowning sternly.
Lefty pretended not to notice.
“Some messages are best delivered by one like you who has known both of us our whole lives,” he continued. “You can say the words so she will know they are coming from my heart. And so, what do you need advice about? Are you building something?”
“Actually, it’s more like I am repairing something, an adopted hen named Amelia. I thought you might be able to tell me what’s wrong with her because you were both adopted. You were adopted by The Farmer, and she was adopted by me.”
“Let’s give these little ones a chance to take a nap,” he said. “This is the most excitement they have had in the past few days. We can find a place to talk where we won’t keep them awake.”
And so I told the baby chicks, “Rest well,” and the two of us found a spot by the barn to sit and talk. We were both hoping the cloudiness would break and let a little of the sun’s warmth through.
“The first thing you need to know is that being adopted does not make something wrong with someone. Being adopted was actually the best thing for Rudy and for me. We now have those three beautiful baby chicks.”
“Yes, but they weren’t adopted. They are with you, their parents.”
“But they have adopted us.”
“What do you mean?”
“For chickens, being adopted goes both ways. I do not know if it is that way for people, but it is that way for chickens. Rudy and I have adopted all three of them with our hearts. We care more about their welfare than our own. But they have to adopt us as well with their own hearts.”
“And how do they do that?”
“They do that by deciding to trust us to care for them. They do not have to do that. They choose to do that after we have shown them they can trust us.”
He gave me some time to think about what he had said and then added, “You might think that you adopted me and the others that day at The Feed And Seed Store, but that was only half of the story. We adopted you too. Gracie adopted you the moment she looked into your eyes. For the others, it took a little longer.”
“So, Lefty, you adopted me?”
“Of course, I did. Otherwise I would not have let you call me such an impossibly long name as ‘My Best Little Buddy’ every day. I could find six worms in the time it took you to say all of that.”
”Do you remember when I would stay out all night with you and the others when you were very young?” I asked. “At the time it really felt as if you had adopted me instead of me adopting you.”
“We had. For chickens, a family is not based on who laid an egg and who hatched out of an egg. It is something bigger than that.
“It was our trust in you and our love for you that made us a family. Gracie, Bessie, The Emperor, The Empress, Rudy, and Your Best Little Buddy were all a family that summer because of you.
“Even though we weren’t all the same kind of chicken and even though some of us turned out to be roosters and some of us turned out to be hens, how we feel about you is the one thing we have always shared.
“Now tell me about Amelia.”