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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Bessie Saves the Flock But at a Cost (Chapters 29 to 32)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Bessie Saves the Flock But at a Cost (Chapters 29 to 32)
Congratulations! If you have been reading along with us through our latest writing project, after this edition, we will be past the halfway mark! This means we are in the middle of what is called “The Midpoint” of a novel or other type of big story where a major event causes everything changes.

When we last left off, Lefty and Rudy had moved out to country and were planning on starting their own little family. The Emperor and the Emperor did the same at a different farm. Gracie and Bessie are the last two chickens left in the backyard garden. After overcoming their sadness of losing their friends, the eventually asked for more friends. That was when Blanche and Pearl joined the little flock, but Pearl was not like any other chicken in the entire history of chickens. Nevertheless, Gracie decided she was going to love Pearl and be her friend no matter what—the mark of true friendship!
Pearl jumped up in a twitch of excitement. And, of course, that made Blanche burp.
“Bessie, what color do you think your eggs will be?” said Pearl. “They might be a splendid color like maybe amber. You do eat a lot of sunflower kernels. The very best color for eggs is amber. No. Lavender. Wait. Periwinkle!”
“Why don’t you simply use all those colors and make your eggs plaid?” suggested Blanche. “No. Striped. Wait. Polka-dotted!”
Bessie almost gave both of them head pecks for being so silly, but then she realized she didn’t know what color chicken eggs were supposed to be. She had never seen a chicken egg except for the one she had hatched from, and that had been so long ago she didn’t remember.  
“You are the bravest chicken I know,” Pearl said. “Brave beyond compare is what you are.”
“Why do you say I am the bravest?” said Bessie. “I have not really had to be brave yet.”
“You are going to start laying eggs any day now, aren’t you?”
Bessie nodded.
“Well, there you go! That is brave. None of us have ever done that or even seen another chicken do that. You will be the first of us all. It sounds a little scary to me. I’m glad that you will be able to show us how to be brave.”
Pearl was right. It was a little scary. By the way Bessie had been acting, we knew any day could be the day she would lay her first egg. She would no longer be a pullet. She would be a hen. Even with what the songbirds had told her, this was still something completely new. Bessie wasn’t sure she could show anyone how to be brave.
We were looking forward to celebrating. Our last real celebrating had been during the summer when the watermelons were ripe. That had been right before Lefty and the others had gone off to new homes in the country.
Since it was autumn, the chickens were looking forward to their first taste of pumpkin as a special treat whenever Bessie’s big day arrived.
As soon as everyone heard Bessie’s loud “Kö-qÅq-öK!” from inside the nesting boxes, they scrambled up the chicken ladder to examine Bessie’s egg. It was beautiful. Although Pearl seemed disappointed that Bessie’s first egg was just an ordinary shade of tan, the shortest and least glamorous color name, she didn’t say anything. Bessie had done something none of them had ever done, and that was extraordinary in itself.
Everyone’s attention quickly turned to pumpkins which are bigger than watermelons and must be even better than watermelons. That is what they imagined. We had already selected an oddly-shaped pumpkin for a late afternoon treat. It had one pale flattened side from how it had grown in the garden, and that seemed like the best way to get to the pumpkin seeds inside. After all, we weren’t going to turn it into a jack-o’-lantern.
When I held out a handful of seeds, the chickens looked at the seeds. They looked at me. They looked back at the seeds. They looked back at me. No one said anything. The expressions on their faces told me, “These seeds are too big, and we are hungry!”
Bessie’s shoulders slowly slumped down with disappointment. This was something she had been anticipating for days.
I picked up the pumpkin and said, “Come on, Bessie. Follow me.” Reluctantly, she did. She watched me secure both of the latches so everyone would be safe while we were away.
Bessie was hesitant because it would soon be evening and then bedtime. Having a good spot on the roosting boards in the coop was always very important. And it was going to be the first time she would be away from Gracie.
We looked back before going inside, and Gracie was standing as close as possible to the fence and staring at us.
“Don’t worry, Gracie. We will be back before you know it. Both of us,” I said.
Bessie had not been inside the house since she was a young chick. Even then, she had only been in the sunroom where I had kept their brooder box and never in the kitchen.
After I put the pumpkin on some newspaper sheets in the center of the sunroom floor, Bessie began looking around as she felt more comfortable with being back inside. Several familiar things sparked memories for her.
“Right here is where Gracie and I would leap and dance across the sunroom floor when we were little. Do you remember?”
“I don’t ever want to forget the day you helped her find the courage to tell me she loved to dance. Watching the two of you made my heart dance too.”
Bessie looked around. Their first space for dancing didn’t seem as big as it had before. Things that had once seemed so high didn’t seem quite so high anymore. She pointed with her beak to the telephone table.
“I remember that spot. Lefty flew up there the time he got out when you were cleaning the brooder box. You were flapping like a little chick yourself while you were trying to catch him!”
Then she pointed to a corner.
“And there is where you had the television set that kept us awake past our bedtime. That was when you didn’t understand why we were peeping so loudly during all of your favorite shows. We just wanted to go to sleep!”
Bessie and I both chuckled. They had all gotten a better night’s rest after I finally moved it out of the sunroom. Everything about chickens had been such a mystery then, and there was still so much more for me to learn. 
I finished scooping out the rest of the seeds and put them into a bowl. Bessie watched intently and inspected the seeds carefully.
“You do know they are still too big,” she said.
“I know. That’s why I need your help. We are going to roast them in the oven. Come on. Let’s go into the kitchen.”
Until then, she had been very chatty, just as all chickens can be when they are excited, but she became silent as she stood on the threshold between the sunroom and the kitchen. Her beak slowly opened with amazement at all she saw.
For me, it was just the room where I prepare food for myself and my chickens. But for Bessie, it was an entire world filled with more endlessly clanking gadgets and whizzing wonders than she could have ever imagined. She wanted to try them all. It would be difficult to tell her those incredible inventions were made for hands and fingers, not wings and feathers.
I took out a baking sheet and turned on the oven. Bessie peered through the oven’s glass window.
“Is this a television too? It looks like the one you used to have in the sunroom.”
“Not exactly.” I turned the light on and off. “See? It has light, like the television, but no sound. And it’s going to get hot, so we need to be very careful.”
She nodded knowingly. It was as if she had been making things in kitchens all of her life. Then she flapped her wings happily and flew up to the counter beside the baking sheet and bowl of pumpkin seeds.
“What are we going to do now?” she asked.
“We are going to be chefs and roast these pumpkin seeds. It is supposed to make them smaller and tastier, but I need your help to spread them out and then to tell me when you think they are done.”
Together, we did our best to separate the seeds from the strands of pumpkin flesh. I used my fingers, and Bessie used her beak. They were slippery and messy, and the results were not at all perfect. But it didn’t matter. We were both eager to see how this recipe would turn out.
I slid the baking sheet into the oven, made sure the light was on, and sat down on the floor. Bessie hopped down and stood on one of my knees. We watched through the oven window to see what was going on inside as the seeds slowly roasted. 
“This is much more fun than watching a noisy old television, don’t you think?” Bessie asked.
“This is the best fun,” I said.
We waited while the kitchen’s black-and-white cat clock with the moving eyes and swinging tail kept track of the time. My aunt had glued little glass jewels onto it before giving it to my grandmother. It looked almost like the more expensive kind. Cats, even plastic ones, make chickens nervous, so Bessie settled into the safety of my lap.
“What makes a great chef?” she asked.
“I once read that a great chef needs to have training, technique, and a great love for food. A great chef also needs to have a generous heart and the ability to invent.”
A concerned look came over Bessie’s face, and she hesitantly asked, “Do I have those things? Maybe a chicken can only be a chicken.”
“Don’t ever think of yourself as only a chicken. You definitely have those things,” I said. “We just need to work a little on training and technique since this was your first time visiting a real kitchen.
“We all know how everything you do is from your generous heart. That’s what matters more than anything. It’s true for being a chef or anything else that’s good to be. When a hen lays an egg like you did today, that’s just about the most generous thing there is in the whole world.”
“And what about the invent part?”
“Well, if you could invent something that was fun for chickens and for people, what would that be?”
“But I don’t have hands to invent anything with.”
“People don’t invent with just their hands. They invent mostly with their minds, and you have a very good mind, Bessie. You can invent things too.”
“Then I would invent a television without any sound so it wouldn’t keep anyone from getting to sleep,” she said. “But it would still be fun for chickens and people to watch together like we are watching this oven together. Best of all, the chickens could make the television work, and if the television was a pumpkin, then they could eat it after the show was over!”
“That would be a truly great invention. And you thought that up all by yourself, didn’t you?”
She nodded happily.
“See? You do have the ability to invent!”
We were beginning to smell the nutty, sweet fragrance of the roasted pumpkin seeds.
“They smell almost done now,” she said and stood on my knee again and stretched out her neck to get a closer look.
Her longest tail feathers quivered with excitement, and I held my breath while waiting for her decision.
“And they look almost done now too,” she said.
“Good. You get back up on the counter, and I’ll take them out. But we both have to be very careful. Everything will be really hot, just like the oven.”
She leaned over and stretched out her neck as far as she could and examined the entire baking sheet from one end to the other. Finally she declared, “Perfect!”
“Bessie, it’s past our bedtimes. We will need to let these cool before you can eat them. But tomorrow you can feast!”
After turning off the oven, I picked her up and took her back to the coop because it was too dark for her to see well enough to follow me. Blanche and Pearl had already gone up for the night, but Gracie was still there, still by the fence, and still waiting for Bessie to come back.
After I helped them settle in for the night, I heard Bessie whispering to the others, “You just won’t believe it all. You just will not believe it all. This has been just about the best day of my life!”
Back inside, I set to work and trimmed up the ragged hole I had made to get to the seeds so it was a little bigger and more like a rounded square. With a hand drill, I made one hole in the bottom of the pumpkin and another in the top near the stem. The holes would be important.
Then I gathered some scraps of wood and metal and thin cord and started working on what I hoped would be a truly special surprise for the next day’s celebration. It would be a chance for everyone to see how a pumpkin can be more than a pumpkin and maybe, just maybe, how a chicken can be more than a chicken. 
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, but not Blanche. She enjoyed the chance to get extra portions of everything while the others discussed what might be under the big towel.
After breakfast, they gathered in the play area. The four chickens all sat on the perching board facing the pumpkin, and I sat behind it. They were filled with expectation, and I hoped they would not be disappointed.
“Yesterday, our own Bessie laid her first egg,” I began.
Everyone waved 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 perfectly!”
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, including Bessie, was silent, as they wondered what it could be.
“It is a television with no sound so it won’t keep anyone awake at night, and it is fun for people and chickens to watch. Best of all, chickens can make it work and eat it when the show is over!”
The others all looked at Bessie, and she nodded to show that was really what she had said even though she had no idea what was under the big towel.
Everyone edged forward on their perch. Pearl looked as if she would fall forward at any moment.
“Ladies, I present to you The Pumpkin Puppet Theater!”
I whisked off the towel to reveal Bessie’s invention, and everyone clucked with astonishment.
“There is a little chicken in there,” said Gracie. “And look! She is wearing a ballet crown like a princess!”
“Where are all the roasted pumpkin seeds?” asked Blanche.
“It’s not time for that part,” I said. “Now watch.”
Behind the stem was a bead tied to a main cord that went through the top of the pumpkin. It was attached to the puppet’s crown. The puppet’s wings and legs had a set of cords attached to another main cord that went through the pumpkin to another bead on the bottom.
As I pulled on the top bead, the chicken puppet began to move. Its wings flapped up and down, and its legs kicked out and in.
Except for Blanche, everyone was delighted beyond words. “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 have needed them to grow some more.”
Even Blanche had to agree with that.
“She can have mine,” said Pearl. “I am loving this!”
“That is not a real chicken,” explained Bessie. “It is probably the thing called a puppet. And that is not a television. It is probably the thing called a theater made from a pumpkin. But that is all I know. If a chicken can make something so amazing work, I will be surprised.”
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. That seemed quite strange to me because all of the ballet shows they had put on were the most marvelous shows in the world to me.
“I did not think up that part about the little chicken dancer,” said Bessie.
“Maybe not,” I said, “But you came up with the idea for a television set that chickens can work. To me, that makes you an inventor. People invented toy puppets hundreds of years ago, but no person ever had the idea to invent anything fun that chickens can play with too. Only you did that, Bessie.”
“Can we eat the theater now?” asked Blanche.
“It’s still 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 be almost like a real show in a real theater. The only difference is they have popcorn instead.”
Blanche tilted her head. She wondered if it would be more fun to eat pumpkin seeds or put on a puppet show. More than anything else, she wanted to know about popcorn. She was almost certain she would enjoy it.
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. “It’s just string and wood and cloth.”
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. Each puppeteer had a different way of making the chicken puppet dance. Some dances were graceful. Others were happy. Some were silly.
They were all amazed by what they could do with the chicken puppet, and everyone, even Blanche, completely forgot about finishing their roasted pumpkin seeds.
Later in the day, Bessie and I took the pumpkin inside. We planned to chop it up into pieces before figuring out a way to make it easier for them to eat.
As we sat together on the sunroom floor beside 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?”
“In a way, I am sort of glad we are taking it apart.”
“Then maybe you want to see what we will do with the rest of the pumpkin so you can eat it? I think we can figure it out together, just like we did with the seeds.”
“That is not it,” she said. “Everyone thinks it was all my idea, but it was not. You were the one who made the puppet that everyone played with and enjoyed.
“I did not have even a picture in my head of what this invention would be. Don’t I need to have a picture in my head when I am inventing? And a way to draw it so that other people with hands can build it?”
“We can figure out a way for you to draw an invention with your beak,” I said and cut into the top and bottom of the pumpkin all 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 pumpkin. “But first there is something you need to see for yourself. Watch this.”
I showed her how I could still make the puppet dance just by holding one bead in each hand.
“See? It does not need my invention to dance,” she said. “I am not much of an inventor, just like I told you.”
“Now it’s your turn. Lift 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 pile of wood pieces and cord at her feet. Slowly, a smile of realization came over her face.
“It does not dance anymore,” she said.
“That’s right, Sweetie. Without your idea for an invention of a special television, a chicken can’t make it dance. 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.
“Maybe you can think of some kitchen inventions to help you be a chef. You can examine all the gadgets in the kitchen that people use with their hands, and then you can invent some gadgets for chickens to use with their beaks and feet. You can draw them with the quill end of a feather in some sand, and I will build whatever you draw just the way you draw it.
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.
Bessie reassured Gracie that laying an egg was nothing to worry herself about, and if it was going to happen, it would happen when it was time. Whether it happened or not, their friendship was forever.
“Laying an egg takes time,” Bessie explained. “And that is time I would much rather spend doing other things. Think about all the extra time you have to dance because you don’t have to stop and lay an egg every day!”
And Gracie did think about it. Once again, she was as happy as she thought she could ever be. She had her best friend Bessie by her side and two new chicken friends who didn’t mind learning more about dancing.
Everything would be perfect unless Pearl decided to be silly instead of serious. And of course, that is exactly what everyone knew she would do.
But all in all, life was very good indeed, and Gracie was able to devote as much time as she wanted to her dancing. More than anything, she wanted to create a ballet about chickens.
“Chickens are just as good as swans,” she said after they listened to Swan Lake for the first time, and even though none of them had ever seen a swan, they all agreed.
Some of Gracie’s favorite record album covers had rows of dancing ballerinas, and she wondered if it would be possible to make a line of dancing chicken puppets. “A corps de ballet,” she explained.
“I will do my best for you, Gracie.”
“And if it would not be too much to ask, can we have matching costumes and ballet slippers too? And a bigger, grander stage for everyone and everything?”
“Of course, but I will need to learn how to make all of those things. Let’s start with costumes and then slippers. What color do you want them to be? That is totally up to you and the others.”
To my surprise, agreeing on a color was more difficult than I had expected because Pearl was rather fickle when it came to colors. She would have a different favorite color whenever she was asked, and it would always be an exotic-sounding color.
“Fuchsia. No. Magenta. Wait. Chartreuse!” Pearl said.
Gracie did her best not to become frustrated because that would only make Pearl more silly than usual. She was hoping a unanimous decision would help Pearl take ballet more seriously.
“Why don’t we just use all of them and make our ballet costumes plaid? No. Striped. Wait. Polka-dotted!” suggested Blanche as a compromise.
“Ballerinas do not wear plaids or stripes or polka dots,” said Gracie as calmly as she could. She shook her head and wondered why no one had suggested the palest of camellia pinks like those in our garden.
“Some seeds have stripes. Some bugs have polka dots,” said Blanche. She looked just as disappointed as Gracie.
Bessie’s vote was easy.
“Whatever Gracie wants,” she said.
Bessie had her own concerns. As an egg-laying hen, she finally felt like a real leader. That took up much of her time with three other chickens to watch over whenever I was inside the house or away, but she did enjoy being able to show her leadership skills.
She stood so proudly whenever I told her, “Bessie, you’re in charge until I get back.”
Bessie took her new duties very seriously. She protected Gracie as she had always done, but there were also two younger chickens, Blanche and Pearl. She did her best to keep them in line and guide them through their awkward teenage weeks.
To help with all of this, Bessie and I made another invention together. We rigged up a container of sunflower seeds, a funnel, and a dish. The container had a cord attached to it. At the end of the cord was a tag with an “S.” The tag hung in a secret corner of the nesting boxes. When Bessie went inside, she could pull on the tag and the cord tipped over the container of sunflower seeds. They fell into the funnel and from there landed in a neat little pile in the dish far below.
Blanche and Pearl both loved sunflower seeds, and so this invention helped to keep everything peaceful. Bessie soon learned that pulling the “S” cord often worked better than pecking, and it was much less stressful for everyone, especially herself.
Just as Lefty had done, Bessie patrolled for danger back and forth along the fencing. There were several times when she tried to crow like Lefty, even though no sound came out.
She would call out “BwÖwK!” whenever she saw anything that looked the least bit dangerous or slightly suspicious. Then everyone stopped whatever they were doing, stretched out their necks as far as they could, and looked in all directions for any predators.
At first, everyone was glad to see me when I got home. Bessie looked relieved that she could relax and let me worry about keeping everyone safe.
As time went by, they became accustomed to being on their own with Bessie in charge, and everyone would be resting contentedly when I got home. Only Pearl would still hop up in the air to welcome me. That’s just how Pearl has always been and probably always will be.
But one day when I got home I knew something was different by the way they were acting. No one was sitting. Everyone, even Pearl, was pacing frantically. When I looked closer at Bessie, I could see two scabbed-over marks on her head, one on each side of her comb.
I asked her what had happened, and she told me the best she could. She had called out “BwÖwK!” so many times that her voice had become rough and trembling. She even went up into their coop to show me more.
She would talk and point with her beak and talk some more and point to a different spot. When she pointed to the blood splatters on the inside walls of their coop, there was no doubt as to how deep her trauma must have been. She went on and on for the longest time. All I could say was, “I know, Sweetie, I know.”
But I didn’t know, not the way I wanted to know. Although I understood every word she was saying as she acted out exactly what had happened, I was not a chicken. I did not know what had happened the way she and the others knew it and had experienced it. There were no People words to explain it, only Chicken words. Even those seemed insufficient.
We cried together that day.
Somehow knowing a friend also shares your feelings makes difficult times less difficult. Gracie and the others knew. They had seen everything. They were chickens, and they consoled her. Finally, she settled down, and we were able to continue with our evening routine.
A stray cat, The Tuxedo Cat, had found a gap in the fencing between the coop and the run. It was able to make the gap wide enough to get a paw through. That was when Bessie’s head was scratched so badly. Then it had tried to make the gap big enough to get more of its body through. When it realized it couldn’t, it used its claws to climb up the wire fencing of the coop door.
They could all hear the cat’s claws scraping fiercely across the stiff wire fencing of their coop door. Bessie had rushed up the ladder and then into the coop. Even though she knew the cat would not be able to open the door, she still pecked at the cat through the wires, hoping to keep it occupied and away from the others.
A cat’s claws are much sharper than a chicken’s beak. For Bessie, it was terrifying with a kind of terror only a chicken can know when protecting friends. Eventually, The Tuxedo Cat gave up and went away, but what happened that day changed Bessie.
On the outside, Bessie’s comb stopped growing, and the back half thickened and began to flop down to one side. But it was more than just that. On the inside, she seemed nervous and unsure of herself even after I repaired the narrow gap The Tuxedo Cat had made in the fencing.
What happened that day changed me as well. Having Bessie recount the story the way she did convinced me never to think of any chickens as “just chickens.” They care very much about each other.
Bessie had defended Gracie who she had known and loved since the day they had hatched together. She had defended Blanche who she hardly knew. And she had also defended Pearl who she mostly just put up with on a good day and would chase around angrily on a bad day.
Although she could have, Bessie never told me, “You don’t know what it’s like. You’re not a chicken.” She knew that I would have traded places with her that day if I could have, but there was a boundary I could not cross. I could never be a chicken or trade places with Bessie or any of them.
Undoubtedly, trading places is what Bessie did that day. Even if it had meant her death to save Gracie or Blanche or even Pearl, she would have done it.
Late into the night, I stayed with them. It was all I knew to do. They had trusted me when I brought them home together in a small shoebox filled with hopes and dreams. But I began to wonder if this little garden in the city was really the best place for their hopes and dreams.
Just before they drifted off to sleep, I heard Bessie tell Gracie, “Even with all that happened today and the bad things that can hurt us, I still believe this is A Most Wondrous Place.”
Gracie quietly nudged Bessie to rest her head on her back the way they had done when they were just little chicks. The next day, Bessie began to teach Gracie all she needed to know to be the new leader.
“More than anything,” said Bessie, “You must remember this special Promise Of Love. There are many Promises Of Love, but this one is short because when you need it, there is no time to remember a long one. Love chases away fear.”
My timid little Gracie who had started life with so much against her was to become the new leader. She had faced The Big Scary Thing and The Bigger Scary Thing. Soon she would be facing something even scarier. It was not The Tuxedo Cat, but it did have teeth.
“Well, you obviously have no business sense. That’s for sure,” said The Uncle. “I’ll bet you spent more on feed than what your friends paid you to raise those baby chicks. All you have to show for it is those two chickens and neither one of them has laid a single egg yet, and then you go and get two more.”
“Bessie just started laying eggs. She lays one almost every day now. And Gracie will begin laying soon, or at least I hope she will.”
The Uncle pulled one of the big ledgers down from the shelf behind his office shelf.
“See this?” he said, thumping a column of numbers with his heavy index finger. “It’s how much I paid for the trees that comes in here. 
“See this?” he said, thumping again, only more emphatically. “It’s how much I get paid for the boards and milled woodwork that goes out of here. That’s called profit. It’s what keeps a roof over your Aunt Grace’s head and food on our table.
“Maybe it would help you understand if you kept a list of all the expenses you pay out to feed those chickens and a list of how many eggs you get from those chickens. Then do some math and find out how much each of those eggs costs you. See how much you would need to sell those eggs to have some money left over for yourself. See if it wouldn’t be cheaper to just buy them from the grocery store.”
He placed the book back on the shelf with a thud as if to make an emphatic statement of fact.
“If something isn’t going to give you any profit, it’s a foolish waste of your time. That ought to be in some of those books your Aunt Grace homeschools you with.”
Nate looked into The Uncle’s eyes the same way that Pearl did when she had not understood what it meant to be a good, normal chicken. “Do you think I am a foolish waste of your time, Uncle Buddy?” he asked.
The Uncle adjusted himself in his chair, looked out the window and then back at Nate.
“It’s never a waste of time to help a person. God loves every person he created.”
“God created chickens too.”
“But a chicken is not a person, Nate.”
“They are to me, Uncle Buddy, and maybe to Aunt Grace too. Just last week, Bessie saved everyone from a stray cat that tried to get into their home while I was away. She would have died for them to protect them. You can’t say there’s no profit in that, Uncle Buddy.”
“Don’t you go breaking your Aunt Grace’s heart with silly talk like that. You know she loves you like you were her own. She wants you to come for Sunday lunch after church is out. Pot roast and feather rolls just the way you like them. Maybe you should talk to her and let her know what you plan on doing with your life if you won’t talk to me.”
“Yes, sir, Uncle Buddy. And I have been thinking about writing a book or two.”
“And you really ought to cut down that pecan tree. It’s too close to the house. You can at least do that.”
Nate could come to Sunday lunch, and he could talk to The Aunt. But he could not cut down the pecan tree even if it would make The Uncle happy. Nate needed that pecan tree. And although he didn’t realize it, the songbirds of the garden, needed that pecan tree. It is our Healing Tree.
That Sunday, a wren listened at the window and heard Nate say, “Aunt Gracie, you are a librarian at the high school. What is a person who writes dictionaries called? Maybe I might like to be a writer and write a dictionary.” 
“That is the job of a lexicographer,” she said. “A lexicon is another name for a dictionary. If you write a dictionary, you are a lexicographer. There are many special kinds of dictionaries too. Dictionaries for different languages. Dictionaries for different jobs.”
“Has anyone ever written a dictionary of curious words? Do you think people might want to buy a dictionary of curious words?”
“Would these curious words help people and make their lives better in any way?”
“They definitely would. The curious words I’ve been collecting have already made my life better. Uncle Buddy said that what a man can’t do for himself, he has to pay others to do for him. He said I need to understand profit. Maybe writing a book will help me keep a roof over my head and the heads of my chickens and food on my table and in the dishes of my chickens.”
“I see. Well, even though the house is all paid for, there are still things like electricity and water. I’ve been paying for those from an account your grandmother set up for you. But one day, you’ll need to be able to take care of those things yourself. And we can’t have you or those chickens going without food either!”
She smiled and leaned in closer as if to tell a secret she didn’t want The Uncle to hear.
“Nate, I’ve always felt that you were meant for more important things than carrying and stacking lumber and sweeping up sawdust. I will be the first person to purchase a copy of your dictionary for the high school library and one for our home library too. I think that would be a fine thing for you to do.”
“Aunt Grace, if people could understand the secret language of chickens, do you think it might help them to appreciate chickens and be kinder to them?”
“I think whatever is good for when people are talking to people might also be good for when people are talking to chickens.”
“Good. Then maybe they would change the laws so good roosters like Lefty don’t have to move away from the only family they have ever known to a place they don’t know anything about.”
“There are a lot of things you understand that most people don’t understand. I hope you will write about them too. Knowledge and wisdom are the kind of things people will pay for when they are in a book.
“Now don’t you worry. I’ll tell your Uncle Buddy you want to be a writer, and he will like that. I’m sure he will. And I’m going to tell him to stop talking about cutting down your pecan tree. Your grandfather planted the original pecan tree in that garden. A spring storm knocked it over the year he died. It’s not your fault the squirrels planted one of it’s pecans so close to the house.
“Holding onto that pecan tree is like holding onto your grandfather, isn’t it? There’s profit in memories too. You are so much like your grandfather.”
Until Next Time…
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia