The next day, everyone celebrated just as they had planned all along. That part of Gracie’s plan stayed the same except for one small change. Our celebration time moved to the afternoon because as soon as the chickens woke up, there were throngs of songbirds in our yard.
The chickens spent the entire morning sharing the details of what had happened with the wrens, robins, thrushes, and other songbirds. As Pages in The Living Library, they were eager to learn as much as they could. One wren even took measurements of Gracie’s first egg to make sure those details were recorded into The Living Library. Anything and everything might be important one day, and so several barn swallows who held knowledge about joinery and simple machines arrived from the country to inspect the construction of The Sewer Rat Eradicator.
All the chickens were interviewed, even Blanche and Pearl. Much of what had happened the day before seemed inconsequential now to the chickens since their big adventure was over, but everything seemed important to the songbirds.
Blanche and Pearl enjoyed being asked for their perspective as they had witnessed everything. Pearl acted out each and every detail from beginning to end as dramatically as possible.
The songbirds seemed to be very interested in how Bessie was able to overcome her fear of The Tuxedo Cat. Her words “Love chases away fear” held special significance and were saved by more than one Page of The Living Library.
But Gracie was looking forward to simply being Gracie again rather than a celebrity. The dozens of songbirds were taking up her favorite dancing space, and what she really wanted to do was dance as her own way of celebrating. She did not care much for the sudden attention, and she felt, as she had repeated countless times during the interviews, “As the leader of the flock, I was just doing my job.”
Even though no one was sure if The Tuxedo Cat had caught The Sewer Rat, the songbirds knew something amazing had occurred. No bird likes an egg thief, and rats are notorious egg thieves. But a humble backyard chicken had defeated an egg thief with a marvelous invention. Nothing like that had ever happened in all the history of birds, and the songbirds wanted to record every detail.
When the sun was as high in the sky as it would get that day, we heard a loud call. It was Gracie’s friend, The Robin, announcing our celebration had been delayed long enough.
Just as quickly as the Pages of The Living Library had descended on our garden early in the morning, they left. Gracie told me it was time for them to report to the Indexers. I imagined whatever the Indexers did, it was very important and had to be done before any information was forgotten and lost.
Once everyone settled back into their regular routine of scratching and pecking, I called Gracie over to me, and we sat on the ground together.
“Gracie, I have gifts for you and Bessie. I found an apron and chef’s hat at The Thrift Store for Bessie. She might enjoy wearing them while we make some celebration treats.
“I have a gift for you too. I hope you will like it. I wanted to find a dancing outfit for you, but there were none at The Thrift Store. I may have to make one myself. It will take time and practice for me to learn how.”
“I don’t mind.”
And so I took the apron and chef’s hat out of the paper bag to see what Gracie thought of them. I had been unsure of the size.
“She will absolutely love these,” said Gracie. “And I will love seeing her wear them.”
Then I took my gift for Gracie out of the paper bag. It was a shoebox.
It was not the big shoebox I had used to bring home the other twelve baby chicks from The Feed And Seed Store. It was not the shoebox I had shown to Gracie when she was thinking her life might have turned out better if she had never grown up.
It was a much smaller shoebox. It was the shoebox I had used to bring home only Gracie and Bessie. It still had pieces of straw in it.
She looked at the shoebox. Even after many months, she recognized it and looked up into my eyes.
“So why did you save this shoebox?”
“For a long time, I saved it because it had been holding my baby shoes I had outgrown. Now I have saved it because it has been holding my memories of when you and Bessie were baby chicks.”
I took one of the shoes out and held it next to one of the shoes I was wearing.
“See? I can’t wear them any more.”
“So why do you still have them if you cannot wear them?”
“Because they remind me of how much I have grown.”
She examined me from head to toe.
“Yes, I can see that.”
She looked at the other shoe still inside the box. She was going to see if the shoes were both the same because she remembered Bessie had told her about my two left feet. But before she could ask about whether I had two left shoes, she noticed the straw.
“There is straw still inside,” she said.
This puzzled her. To a chicken, straw is simply straw.
“So why did you save this straw, the straw you put in here when you brought us home that day?”
“Because anything you have ever touched, Gracie, is perfect and beautiful to me, even this old shoebox and straw.
“You have made this garden a kind of wondrous place for me, even though I do not understand what A Most Wondrous Place means to chickens.
“But for more than any other reason, I saved this shoebox and this bit of straw because there is no garden without you, Gracie.”
She scooted closer to me and rested her head on my leg.
“There really is no garden without you. All of this is for you.”
As I stroked the soft feathers of her head and back, we both began to relax. The last few days had been tense for both of us.
“So what will you put in your shoebox, Gracie? We don’t have to keep my old baby shoes in there. You can put whatever you want inside of it. The shoebox will be yours forever to do with however you like.”
“Owning things is a new idea for me. Chickens do not own things. All we can ever truly call ours is an eggshell. That was all I ever owned.”
”And you outgrew it, didn’t you? Just like how I outgrew the shoes in this shoebox?”
“But you have owned more than your eggshell. I gave you a name, Gracie. The most perfect and beautiful name I could image for you. It’s yours now. You own it, and I will never give it to another. There will never be another chicken like you.
“And if I gave you a name, then I can give you a shoebox too, can’t I? And it will be yours now and for as long as you want it, and anything you want to put in it will be yours.
“Your memories, those are things too. Did you know that? They are, even though you can’t touch them. Your memories belong to you, just like your name does. We never outgrow our good memories. They stay forever young, even as we grow older each day.
“How about if we put your best memories into this shoebox, or at least whatever will kindle them afresh in your mind and in your heart?”
Gracie looked up at me. There was a spark of excitement in her eyes. She liked this idea. The shoebox was now too big for her, but it could certainly hold more memories than she could count.
”Why don’t you think about it while Bessie and I go and make a nice celebration treat for everyone? Would you like to help her put on her new apron and chef’’s hat?”
Some may think chickens can not smile because they do not have soft mouths like people do. Chickens have hard beaks instead. But if you know chickens well enough, you will be able to tell when they are smiling. They smile with their whole bodies.
Gracie absolutely was smiling later that evening after our celebration as she rested her head on her shoebox and thought of all she had learned about scary things and about seeds and especially about herself.