Since the songbirds were not always reliable, I brought out my record player so my chickens would have music to use for practicing their ballet. I had cleaned it up, oiled all of the important parts, and added some decoration from one of my elementary school Valentine’s Day cards I had saved in my bottom desk drawer.
The chickens were curious but extra cautious as they examined this new box with the electric cord attached to several long extension cords. The Emperor and The Empress usually preferred sitting together and just watching everything from a distance, but even they came over to get a closer look.
I showed everyone a record, and they examined it carefully. “Is a worm going to come out of that hole in the middle?” asked Lefty.
I showed them how the hole made it fit onto the record player.
“How perfect!” he said.
I turned the record player on, and their heads moved to follow the record as it turned around and around. Once they noticed the record wobbled up and down because it wasn’t exactly flat any longer, their hips began to wobble up and down too.
”This is a dancing machine!” said Lefty.
Everyone except The Emperor cooed at how smart Lefty was.
“Actually it’s a music machine,” I explained. “And you don’t watch it dance. It plays music so you can do the dancing. Do you see this part here? It’s called an arm, and it has a little needle underneath.”
I lifted it up so they could see.
“That doesn’t look like an arm. It does not have a hand or fingers,” said Bessie. “Why don’t you call it a wing?”
“That’s silly,” said Lefty. “It doesn’t look like a wing either. It doesn’t have any feathers.”
“It is no sillier than calling it an arm,” said Bessie.
“Let’s vote on it,” suggested Rudy.
“We can not just go around changing the names for things we did not name in the first place,” said Lefty.
“Let’s vote on that too,” suggested Rudy.
I was beginning to think I would never have a chance to show them what a record player can actually do.
“Look at that!” said Rudy. “There’s something that looks like a chicken’s beak under it, only smaller and sharper.”
Suddenly everyone had forgotten about whether to call it an arm or a wing. Everyone wanted to see the part that looked like a chicken’s beak.
“That’s called the needle. When I put the arm with the little needle on the record, you will hear a song. Now don’t be afraid.”
Everyone leaned in to get a better look.
As the song began to play, everyone jumped back in amazement.
“There are songbirds in the box,” said Bessie. “Quick! Let them out! There are other things in there with them, and they might be trying to eat the songbirds!”
“It’s not a songbird,” I explained after calming everyone down. “That’s a flute you’re hearing and some other musical instruments too. Flutes only sound like songbirds. People make musical instruments that can sometimes sound like things in nature.”
“It sounds like dandelions to me,” said Gracie. “Like dandelion seeds spinning around and drifting along on a cool summer breeze.”
“Dandelions don’t make any sounds,” said Lefty, and everyone except Gracie agreed with him.
“Why don’t you show us, Gracie?” I suggested. “Maybe we can see what you hear when you listen with your heart.”
I lifted up the record player’s arm and started the song again from the beginning, and Gracie showed us exactly what she meant with a dance.
When the song was over and Gracie’s dance ended, the other chickens flapped their wings in approval.
“I could see the dandelion seeds in my imagination!” said Bessie.
“That was brilliant!” said Lefty.
“I don’t think we need to vote on it at all,” said Rudy.
Gracie did her very deepest ballerina curtesy.
“Is the song really about dandelion seeds?” asked Lefty.
“It is a very famous song called ‘The Waltz Of The Snowflakes.’ Even though you’ve never seen snowflakes in the winter wind, I can assure you they look very much like dandelion seeds spinning around and drifting along on a summer breeze.”
“Can we call our dance ‘The Waltz Of The Dandelion Seeds’? Would the record player mind?” he asked.
“Are you sure that wouldn’t be changing the name of something we didn’t name in the first place?” I asked.
“But I think the old record player won’t mind. It simply enjoys having a chance to make you happy. Whatever you call the songs and the dances you make up will be just fine.”
“When we dance, I’d like to be the wind that blows the dandelion seeds,” said Lefty. “Is that okay?”
“What do you think, Gracie?”
”I think here in this garden we can do anything our hearts dream,” said Gracie. “It is what you have always told me. It is part of what makes this A Most Wondrous Place.”
Over the next few weeks, I went to every thrift store in our neighborhood to find old classical record albums. I would play their favorite songs, and they would create whatever their hearts dreamed.
They asked me to play some songs so many times I thought the records would wear out. But if any of them had, I would have found another copy and another still.
“You do know,” said Lefty, “It would be possible to add something to the arm with the needle that plays the music. Then we could use our beaks to move it so we could play our favorite songs over and over again for ourselves. We could do it without bothering you.”
Lefty loves machines and figuring out how things work. His suggestion may have been more about him wanting to operate the record player rather than not wanting to bother me.
“I know. But I like doing it.”
“I can help you figure it out if you’re not sure how.”
“You’re very smart, Lefty. But it makes me feel like I’m taking part in what you enjoy. I can’t do the dancing part like you. I have two left feet.”
Bessie came over to us. She had been listening and looked as if she might cry.
“Is that why you always wear shoes and socks? So no one will see you have two left feet instead of a left foot and a right foot?”
“I guess you could say that.”
“Well, it’s not your fault,” she said. “Things like that happen. You must have just hatched that way. No one should fault you for it.”
Lefty patted my knee with his wing.
“Don’t feel bad,” he said, trying to console me. “You have two left feet, and I have two Lefty feet.”
And for some reason, we all thought that was the funniest thing we had heard in a very long time. Those really were some of our happiest days together.