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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie and Bessie Learned About Friendships (Chapters 25 to 28)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Gracie and Bessie Learned About Friendships (Chapters 25 to 28)
If you were worried that you didn’t receive last week’s email, it wasn’t anything with your email provider. We didn’t send one out last week. Things got a bit hectic for us and our writing was replaced with drawing in hopes that doing some drawing might help inspire our writing.

When we last left off, Gracie was working on ballet performances in the backyard, she also learned about The Living Library when her friend, The Robin, visited. Finally, she had her first encounter with The Air Shadows.
All too soon, the peak of summer arrived. Everyone’s attention turned to the garden’s bounty.
Gardens and chickens naturally go together. Chickens are excellent at catching and eating garden pests, but they are often impatient for the vegetables to become ripe.
Lefty was the most impatient of all. He would pace back and forth without rest, hoping to speed up the ripening process. It did not matter how often I told him that he was just wasting his time. We all had to be patient with him while he learned to be patient with the watermelons.
We had saved the first ripe watermelon for July Fourth, Independence Day. It was as perfect as a watermelon could be, and I cut it into big round slices. They gobbled down all the seeds they could see before doing anything else. Then they took whole bites and shook the watermelon juice from their faces, combs, and wattles. It went everywhere, but they didn’t mind.
Watermelons were the last garden treat my six original chickens would share together. Lefty was learning to crow. His first attempts were weak and even embarrassing, but he was persistent. He practiced until he got it right. My neighbors did not appreciate his dedication to perfection.
My heart had hoped that somehow he might learn to be quiet. He had been My Best Little Buddy from the moment he started watching everything I did. He had studied all the tools I used in the construction of their new home as if he was going to use them to do everything he saw me doing. Likewise, he had been my best gardening companion while we prepared the garden beds. Whatever I was interested in, he was interested in too. 
But he had to be what he was hatched to be, and that was not a calm and quiet bird who happily followed me wherever I went in the same the way I had followed my grandfather around. It seemed wrong for me to be so eager for Gracie to grow up and be a hen when I was so reluctant for Lefty to grow up and be a rooster.
“There is more to a rooster’s life than you realize,” he told me. “Do you know why roosters crow, even young roosters like me?”
“Is it to show everyone that you are the boss?”
He laughed. “That is what I thought at first too as I was learning. We send news and warnings and sometimes even commands straight from our hearts as loudly as we can to other birds farther away.”
“And what do they do with what you tell them?”
“They pass those messages along to others who take action for the safety of all.”
“But they don’t speak the Chicken language.”
“There is a voice, a language, in all bird tongues. It is under the layer of species and kind. It is The Ancient Language, created when the first birds leapt into the air and flew. They called out in amazement to all creation about the miraculous gift they had been given. It is the common language we birds hear all around us. It is a language that encircles the world at the speed of flight and the speed of sound. It unites us all.
“Then above The Ancient Language is Old Chicken, the language of the first chickens. It is only for chickens. No other bird can understand it.
“Above that is Chicken, the language you hear us speak with other chickens and the people who love us. We build language upon language and then language upon language again.
“To your ear, when a bird speaks or calls or sings, it may seem like a single sound, a single language, but it is not. This is why someone must listen with their heart to understand what we are truly saying.”
I had never read anything like this in an encyclopedia. But I believed every word.
“Lefty, you are not a little chick any longer, are you? These are not things a little chick would say. You really are a rooster now.”
He nodded proudly.
“You’ve grown up, and I hardly noticed until now. I had wanted you to stay My Best Little Buddy forever. But that’s not possible, is it?”
He shook his head sadly. He had been sensing an even bigger change was coming for him, bigger than how much larger his comb and wattles had grown, bigger than the newfound strength in his crowing.
The other birds, the ones who flew from place to place carrying messages, had told him change was coming. It was in their calls of news from the outside world. He had heard what they said about roosters out in the countryside and around the world. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good.
There would be hundreds and even thousands of hen voices for a single rooster voice. Roosters did not matter as much to people as hens. 
But Lefty mattered to me.
“You were the first one I picked out at The Feed And Seed Store. Do you remember?”
He nodded.
“But your comb is practically straight now that you’ve grown up.”
He saw the sadness in my eyes.
“You don’t have to tell me about what is to come,” he said. “And I will always be Lefty, just as you named me.”
By then, it was late evening, and we watched the crows moving from treetop to treetop. They were sharing secrets I would never know. But Lefty knew those secrets. He was already learning of life out in the country from the messages they brought to him.
“I am sorry I could not be the kind of chicken you wanted me to be,” he said.
“Don’t apologize, Lefty. It was wrong and selfish of me to want you to be something you could never be. I wanted you to stay small and quiet and to always be My Best Little Buddy. I wanted us to always do things together. Just the two of us. Side by side. Forever.”
“We did have some good times together, didn’t we? I did like it when we built things together.”
“But you grew up, and I stayed the same. I should never have tried to hold you back or silence you. Love always has hope, but love is not love when it won’t let another be who they are meant to be. I don’t know what else to say except I hope you will forgive me, Lefty.”
“Rarely will a person to ask forgiveness of any animal, especially a chicken. Our lives depend on you.”
“But that doesn’t mean we can treat you any way we want. Even when we are treating you well, if it is not what is best for you, then it is wrong. No one should be mistreated. It is something I worry about, Lefty.”
“Perhaps you have not stayed the same as much as you think.”
“If you don’t mind, I would like to always think of you as My Best Little Buddy.”
“Gracie is right about you,” he said. “You do have kind eyes. I will miss them.”
I did not know what else to say. He knew he was going to be taken away from the only home he had ever known, and yet he would willingly go without a protest.
Some people say heroes fight. Heroes fight and never give in. But that is not always true. Sometimes heroes yield and trust that love alone will prevail.
It must be that just as it is for songbirds, words for people have a magic of their own. As soon as he had a chance, Nate added to his notebook what Lefty had explained to him about languages in the world of birds. He read through his list of words, and added more that he had forgotten to add in the past and a few new ones he had learned from speaking with Lefty. 
Then he sadly transcribed sentence after sentence of what Lefty had said to him. On paper, he could hear Lefty saying those things to him anew. The words held the promise of recalling their best and richest days together and of remaining friends forever. 
“Words by themselves are one thing, but when we assemble them together and give them life through our breath, they are truly magical,” he said. “Now I know why the songbirds sing and the roosters crow.”
There were so many things that Nate understood, not just because of what Lefty and the other chicken had told him, but because of what he himself had actually experienced.
Most people know what happens in a garden by day, but what about at night? Do chickens sing songs to each other at night? Do sunflowers share secrets together in the dark? Nate knew. 
He knew because he had spent nights outside with his little flock of chickens, filling notebooks with details few would have ever believed until he had the beginnings of a book, a dictionary of the Chicken language. He wanted it to be as much like a real book as possible and so on the cover the wrote its title.
“There it is,” he said to himself. “The Dictionary of Curious Words. If people could just understand the language of chickens, then they could understand chickens and appreciate them. Maybe they would change the laws so a good rooster like Lefty doesn’t have to move away from the only family he has ever known.” 
And then he said as he wrote, “Dedicated to Lefty.”
We had seen how carefully he had listened and learned and added to his notebooks almost daily even before he began listening to them sing each other to sleep. Those pages of lullabies and psalms were his favorite pages, and he treasured those the most. 
No mother hen had been there to sing his young chickens to sleep as they huddled beneath her fluff feathers to keep warm and safe. They discovered it all for themselves — how to comfort one another in the dense darkness. The sounds of the night prompted them to crowd together in the farthest, safest corner where they had taught each other to sing. One voice strengthening another as they became our garden’s evensong choir.
As a single voice, they sang each other through the shadowy unknowns and into the feats of derring-do for the day ahead. Another world came to life each night prompted by the songs of those who call themselves “the least of these.”
Night after night, he wrote down what he heard, in those curious songs with curious words, composed by his tiny flock. There in the dark, he taught himself to listen with his heart. He wrote the sounds his ears heard. Then he wrote the words his heart heard. 
There in the dark, he solved the mysteries of the language spoken at night by garden itself, and the garden loved him all the more for it.
He knew that sunflowers do indeed share secrets together, but only after midnight. He knew that a single raven with blue eyes gliding silently across the disc of the moon meant that all would sleep soundly that night. He knew when a box turtle leaves its moist hollow beneath a tree stump, it may unfurl imagined wings that glisten in the moonlight. While on such a night, it may be too heavy to fly, that was only for until tomorrow, tomorrow may be the tomorrow for the impossible to occur in this, our magical garden.
“Gracie, does Lefty believe this garden here is A Most Wondrous Place for him to be like it is for you?”
“He has never said. There are times when we must make one, BruK-Ä-BwawK for ourselves the best we can,” she said. “And then we must wait.”
The idea of waiting brought a heaviness to Gracie’s heart and to mine as well. 
“What if the waiting never ends? What if someone has waited their entire life for something, and it never happens?”
“And then we must wait a little longer still,” she said.“What else is there to do when we have done all we know to do?”
It felt as if she was speaking for every bird, every animal, and every living thing in the world without a home, a meal, or a happier tomorrow to anticipate.
Somehow, Gracie knew Leftie would be leaving soon. Maybe Lefty had told her.
“Wherever you take him, be sure it is a place where there is hope,” she said. “Everyone needs hope.”
“He turned out to be a good friend to you, didn’t he?”
“With Bessie, it had been so easy to become friends. It was something I never had to think about. It just happened. The same was true for Mayflower. But with Lefty, it was different. He had made fun of me. He had teased me. He was the last one I ever thought would be my friend, but when we danced together that first day in front of everyone, we started to slowly become friends. What we both enjoyed connected our hearts.”
“I don’t want him to go either, Gracie. But there is no other choice. I’ve found the best home I could for him.”
“Do you think they will have a record player at his new home?”
“I’m not sure, Gracie. I’d like to think that there will be.”
“Would you make sure he takes the record with ‘The Waltz Of The Snowflakes’ to his new home? That was always his favorite. He loved being the wind.”
I nodded.
“And even if there is no record player, it might help him to remember us all and the fun times we had together,” she said. “There is hope in remembering.”
I nodded again.
“I will never forget those days when we danced together. He was my friend. An unexpected friend. But still a friend. Knowing he will be leaving hurts more than I ever imagined it would.”
Moving Lefty out to the country was difficult for all of us. I had wanted to do it quietly, but there seemed to be an exceptionally large number of songbirds in the garden that morning. They flew out in all directions, leaving a flock of crows to follow us as I slowly rode out to the country with Lefty on the back of my bicycle. From inside the wire crate, he silently looked back at the road behind us. It was a road he would only remember but never travel again.
His new home was a small farm with a coop and run area built just for him. There was a nice barn, but there were no farm animals in it yet. Lefty had only a big, friendly dog named Otis for company. 
As Lefty was getting settled, he looked at me as if to say, “How can you do this to me?” But he did not pace back and forth like before. He had learned to be patient with life, and he gave me time to figure out what I needed to do.
The next day and without wasting any time, I took Rudy to be his companion. She chattered happily about the new sights along the way and about her own new hopes.
Lefty was aimlessly scratching and pecking when we arrived. He looked up in surprise when he heard my bicycle tires on the gravel driveway. The news we were coming had not reached him yet. The songbirds never anticipated this would happen. People seldom give away a pullet who will one day be a fine egg-laying hen. 
As soon as he recognized it was me and saw Rudy, he rushed over to the fence and greeted the two of us.
“Bür-Ä-Bök! Bür-Ä-Bök!” he said again and again, flapping his powerful wings.
Lefty eagerly showed Rudy around. He made sure she knew where the food and water were and showed her how to get up to the best and safest perching spot. Rudy could have easily discovered these things for herself, but she let him help her.
He pointed towards the forest at the back of the yard and told her about what he had seen lurking in the shadows earlier that morning. 
“But do not worry,” he said. “I will make sure you are safe.”
A rooster without anyone to protect just doesn’t feel like a rooster any more. From his intense watchfulness to his desire to be the first at everything, being a farm rooster was what he had been training for all his life. His patience had been rewarded, and he was going to be the best rooster any farm ever had. There was no doubt in my mind or in Rudy’s mind either.
As I was leaving, Lefty told me, “Thank you. Come back and visit Your Best Little Buddy whenever you need my help.”
I did not want to offend him, and so I didn’t ask how he could ever help me. I could not imagine anything he might be able to do for me.
“Just so you know—I am a Guardian,” he said.
He flew up to the top of their coop and stood his proudest. I could hear Rudy inside rearranging the straw and tapping the sides of the nesting box with her beak. She was making sure it would be ready for when she would begin to lay eggs in a few months.
On the way out to the main road, I suddenly heard Lefty’s joyfully loud “Cock-a-doodle-do!” echoing off the huge farm oak trees. He had not made a single sound the day before, but he did the day Rudy came to share the farm with him.
An odd feeling of peace between us filled my heart, and I hoped his crowing meant he and Rudy were in their own BruK-Ä-BwawK, their own A Most Most Wonderous Place at last. Even though I was still unsure what those words meant, I knew they were good words and what I wanted for both of them.
A flock of crows led by a single raven followed above me along the winding country lane and out to the main road. Then the crows returned to their field, leaving only the raven. 
I wondered if Lefty had sent them to see me safely as far as their territory allowed. It did seem like something Lefty would do as a Guardian, whatever that meant. Hardly anything about the secret lives of chickens is what I or anyone else could ever imagine it to be.
It takes time and patience to learn about chickens. They will hurry to get something to eat, but they will not hurry to share their secrets. If Lefty could be patient with me while figuring out what was best for him, then I could be patient with him while learning his secrets too.
Before long, Lefty and Rudy would begin raising their own little family, and I would come back and visit to see how their baby chicks turned out. There could be quite a variety of colors and patterns since he was a Buff Orpington and she was a Rhode Island Red.
From time to time, I would catch glimpses of a raven in the trees around the garden, and I wondered if it was the same one who had followed me home from Lefty’s farm. It would be just like him to want to make sure we were all doing well.
Several weeks later, The Emperor began crowing. Then I took him and The Empress to a different farm farther away. It was bigger, and there were other chickens already there. As I had expected, they were still the most regal, and the raven had followed us there too.
Only Gracie and Bessie remained. Although they never said it to me, I knew both were wondering if one of them would be the next to go.
From time to time, they would have quiet conversations together. The only word I ever heard them say clearly was “BuH-HuB?” Whenever I came over to join them, they always seemed to find something to do somewhere else.
Their questions were likely the same as mine. Why does life give us the gift of friends who will one day leave us? Why didn’t anyone warn us that taking someone into our hearts is risky?
Each day, I would tell Gracie and Bessie, “This is your home. You will always be together.”
They would listen to me and stare at the empty stage we had set up in the open garden gate. They would tap The Record Player with their beaks as if to be near something Lefty had loved. The two of us had fixed its arm so he could select the songs to play, and he was careful to never scratch a single record. The stage had seemed quite magical in the evenings for their shows. More than anything else, Lefty’s enthusiasm had helped make it that way. He loved to dance with Gracie. Without Lefty, it all looked like just an odd pile of junk in the backyard.
There were times when Gracie would look towards the brambles.
“What is it, Gracie?” I asked. “Do you hear something there?” 
She would never answer. Bessie acted as if she had not heard anything. 
It took time for Gracie and Bessie to trust that they would not have to leave or be separated. I had expected them to just believe me about how they would always be together. But chickens are cautious, and when so much seems to be against them, I suppose they really should be.
After many almost silent days, Gracie and Bessie came to me and sat down. They looked at each other to see who would speak first. 
“We have been wondering if we could get some new chicken friends,” said Gracie.
“If we can, then it would be nice if they were ones who will stay and not move away,” added Bessie. “Because if they are going to have to move away, maybe they’d better move away before they even come to live here. But if they have to leave, we will still be happy for the time together.”
“Let me explain a bit more,” said Gracie. “We think it is better to have had friends—even if they are only with us for a time—than never to have had them at all.”
“I am so proud of the two of you. New friends might be exactly what we all need.”
And so, there were baby chicks to take care of in the sunroom once again. It was good to hear the two of them peeping and cheeping, and when I first showed them to Gracie and Bessie, it felt as if I was holding out much more than little bundles of feathery fluff. It felt like I was holding out hope.
“Meet Blanche and Pearl,” I said.
Gracie and Bessie were thrilled. They cooed over them just as if they were their own baby chicks.
But from the day I brought the two of them home, Pearl was different. She was always noisier and more active than any of the others had ever been. She never seemed to be able to completely settle down, not even when it was time to go to sleep in the evening. Pearl wanted to entertain and be entertained. Blanche just wanted to eat. 
I had hoped Pearl would get better by the time they were able to move outdoors to live with Gracie and Bessie. Instead, she only got herself into more trouble.
Mishaps seemed to follow Pearl. She would accidentally turn over the food dish or the water bottle. She would even climb on top of Blanche to get to where she wanted to go simply because it was the shortest distance. Through it all, no matter how troublesome Pearl might be, Blanche kept loving her. 
Pearl never quite understood how to be what the others called “a good, normal chicken.” It was something I didn’t understand myself. I only knew she was different.
But Pearl did not see herself as being different. She looked like Blanche except she was smaller. They were both White Plymouth Rocks like the big one on top of The Chicken Place Restaurant. To her way of thinking, that should be enough.
I had never wanted any of my chickens to know about The Chicken Place Restaurant, but I let it slip out one day when I was trying to convince Pearl that she really was a good, normal chicken.
“You and Blanche look just like the big statue on top of The Chicken Place Restaurant that everyone sees and admires. That big chicken is sort of a celebrity in our neighborhood.”
“So why don’t you take us all out to dinner at this restaurant? After all, it is called The Chicken Place Restaurant. Then the other chickens here would see for themselves that there is nothing wrong with me. They might treat Blanche and me like celebrities and not the newest chickens who do not know as much as they do.” 
“Pearl. It doesn’t quite work like that.”
“What do you mean? If it is any kind of respectable restaurant, they will have a table big enough for the four of us, and you too, of course. We can all sit in booster seats and wear bibs. We do get messy sometimes, and for some reason, I always seem to get the messiest.”
I was unsure how to explain it to her. Even though it is named The Chicken Place Restaurant, that is only because chickens are on the menu, not seated at a table. It was not going to be easy or comfortable to explain how “We Serve Chicken” is not the same as “We Serve Chickens.”
“It has to do with the menu,” I began.
“Don’t worry about that. If the menu has no pictures, they should not mind if you read the menu to us.”
“It’s like this, Pearl—”
“Yes?” she said, looking up at me with hopeful and innocent eyes.
“They don’t have eat-in dining anymore,” I finally said. “It’s only take-out.”
That was indeed true, and it seemed to satisfy her curiosity for the time being.
“But the big white chicken on the roof is still a celebrity, right?”
“Most definitely.”
And so, Pearl set out to do her best at copying everything Blanche did even though Blanche was just as new to the world as she was. Most importantly, Pearl never gave up hope of one day finally figuring it all out.
Blanche did whatever she could to help. I heard her telling Pearl more than once, “You just have a heaping helping of what makes a chicken a chicken. That’s all.”
And that was true too. One thing chickens have is persistence. Pearl has an abundance of persistence.
Gracie was persistent as well. Maybe not as persistent as Pearl, but she did not want to give up on Pearl. She had asked for new friends, and even though Pearl was not the kind of friend she had expected, Gracie remembered how it had felt to be different. She had been different on the outside, while Pearl seemed to be somehow different on the inside.
“When we told you we wanted new chicken friends,” Gracie said while Blanche and Pearl were off playing, “We had no idea one of those new friends would be like Pearl. There has never been a chicken like Pearl. She does not seem to be able to do anything right. Blanche fits in fine, but not Pearl. Why is that?”
“Gracie, would it change anything to know why?”
 We smiled, shook our heads, and shrugged our shoulders the way Pearl always does when she can’t figure something out. Then we laughed. 
“As irritating as Pearl can be, she also brings us smiles and laughter when we need them the most,” said Gracie. “There is no reason for that either.”
“So maybe you think we do not need to worry about the why questions so much?” I suggested.
“Maybe so. Then we would simply love her the way Blanche does,” said Gracie. “Love does not need a why.”
Gracie was looking forward to having more dancers for ballet. Four was not six, but four was better than two. Two pairs of dancers would look nice on a stage. Dancing had helped Gracie. Maybe it would help Pearl. 
It felt good to bring out The Record Player again and stacks of albums. Blanche caught on quickly, but Pearl did not. Like Gracie, Pearl had a natural talent for dancing, but it was not ballet dancing. Pearl tried to copy Gracie’s steps, but often she just ended up making silly wing flaps before falling over. Mostly what she did was regular chicken dancing and a “heaping helping” of it too.
Nevertheless, something unexplainable happened whenever Pearl was dancing on our homemade stage by herself. Once again, the stage looked magical.
It had not looked that way since Lefty and the others had moved away. By herself, Pearl would dance however her heart dreamed, and Gracie could find no fault in that. It was what she herself had always done.
There were still times when Pearl tried everyone’s patience. Reasoning from me didn’t help. Scolding from the other chickens didn’t help. Pearl would look sad, but then she would do something so silly that no one could stay angry at her. 
For a while, I wondered if it wouldn’t be best to find a new home for Blanche and Pearl. Perhaps they would do better where they were the only chickens and where Pearl would not need to worry about being an outcast. 
But Gracie and Bessie had asked for new friends who would not move away, and life had given us Blanche and Pearl. Gracie had decided in her heart to be Pearl’s friend no matter what Pearl did or didn’t do and whether she ever fit in or not.
How could I ever explain it to Gracie if Blanche and Pearl had to leave?
Then one day, Pearl ran up to me while I was working in the garden. Earlier, Bessie had given her another peck on the head as a reminder to not cause any trouble. This happened almost every day. Sometimes it happened more than once a day, and so I thought she was running to let me know she had been pecked again for just being herself. However, something was different this time because she had the happiest expression on her face.
“What is it, Pearl?” I asked.
“Like everyone else, I just discovered what A Most Wondrous Place means!” she said, pointing toward where Blanche was sitting in the shade under the sunflowers.
After making a joyful little hop up into the air and stretching out her wings as if to give me a hug, she ran back to where Blanche was sitting. 
She plopped herself down and chattered away happily. Blanche simply listened and nodded as she always did.
As Pearl leaned against Blanche, they looked up to the tops of the sunflowers together. A goldfinch had landed on one of the faded flower heads and took a few seeds for himself and dropped a few more for them.
“This is A Most Wondrous Place, Blanche,” she said. “It truly is.”
Pearl meant it with all her heart.
After that, I never thought about finding a new home for Blanche and Pearl. Somehow it would all work out. But I did wish I knew what A Most Wondrous Place was for myself. If even an awkward and silly little chicken like Pearl could figure it out, why couldn’t I?
What none of us realized at the time was that if Pearl had not been the awkward and silly little chicken she was, Gracie might never have discovered the biggest secret of The Air Shadows and The Absence of Love.
Our Latest GraciePress Merchandise!
And here is where our drawing and writing (and dancing) led us! We are loving our latest design for “Gracie’s Academy of Dance.” We had originally thought of using “Gracie’s Academy of Ballet,” but there are other kinds of dancing than ballet—just ask Pearl who dances her own unique way whenever she decides to “Dance whatever your heart dreams.”
The new design is available in a variety of styles, colors, and sizes. Below is a closer look at the sweatshirt which I am ordering for myself. It should keep me nice and warm during our practice sessions.
Front Design showing “Gracie’s Academy of Dance” and “Student”
Front Design showing “Gracie’s Academy of Dance” and “Student”
Back Design
Back Design
And I am sure that Gracie and the others will be looking forward to the “Youth Tees” available in gray, black, pink, light blue, and white. We may need to do a few modifications so that their wings will fit into the arms properly.
Gracie’s Academy of Dance | Bonfire
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J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

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From A Small Backyard Garden and A Most Wondrous Place in Portsmouth, Virginia