Over time, my ears learned to pick out Gracie’s peeping because when she peeped, the sound always made my heart happy. Whatever “PeeP!” meant to chickens, Gracie always said it with more joy and gratitude than any of the others.
Even with knowing Gracie’s voice, one “PeeP!” sounded like every other “PeeP!” to me. Before long, all the baby chicks were not only peeping, they were cheeping too. And, of course, those cheeps all sounded exactly the same as well.
But I did wonder if there was a difference between “PeeP!” and “CheeP!” As silly as it seemed to me then, maybe they were real chicken words with different meanings.
As I learned to focus on only what Gracie said, I noticed her peeps were not all the same. One “PeeP!” no longer sounded like every other “PeeP!” to me. Something was just a little different. The same was true when I listened more carefully as she said “CheeP!”
This was all quite curious, and I was determined to learn more. But my learning was not nearly as important as theirs. They needed to understand there was a much bigger world waiting for them to explore and enjoy. The sunroom floor with its afternoon warmth was the best place to start, but an odd thing happened the first time the baby chicks had a chance to play outside their brooder box.
Since I didn’t want to chase fourteen excited baby chicks around in every direction, they had their playtime in small groups of friends rather than all at once. Bessie and Gracie were last because of how timid Gracie was about protecting her side.
When I placed them on the wool rug, they looked around but didn’t start eagerly exploring like the others. Instead, they remained in one spot, looking up at my knees.
They peeped and cheeped back and forth as if discussing something of great importance. Bessie did most of the peeping and cheeping, and then she gently nudged Gracie towards me.
Gracie walked over to me, one slow and hesitant step at a time. I was sure she would run back to Bessie with my slightest movement.
She took a deep breath, and her little body trembled for a moment as she looked all the way up to my belt. Then Bessie peeped and cheeped quite sternly.
If I had understood at the time instead of much later, I would have known she had told Gracie, “When your heart is full of love, there is no place for fear. Don’t be afraid of The Big Scary Thing.”
Gracie looked all the way up and up at my chin. “PeeP! CheeP!” she said and looked back at Bessie.
She must have done extremely well because Bessie peeped back happily. Then she made several big wing flaps which I guessed was how chickens clap since they don’t have hands.
Gracie looked at me again and all the way up and up and up into my eyes. I was sure she would fall over backwards at any moment.
“PeeP? CheeP?” she asked.
She waited politely for my answer, never taking her eyes off mine.
“You must have something very important on your mind,” I said, “But I don’t exactly understand what that might be. Maybe it would help us if you hopped up onto my shoe and showed me while you tell me again.”
And that is exactly what she did. She hopped up onto my shoe, the shoe of The Big Scary Thing.
“PeeP! CheeP!” she said and then stood on her little toes and spread out her wings.
Whatever “PeeP? CheeP?” meant, it definitely was important to her even though I didn’t understand.
Maybe she wanted to know if they were allowed to play in the big room with the warm afternoon sunlight streaming across the floor.
“Yes,” I said. “Here you can do anything your heart dreams.”
It was then I realized chickens must know how to listen with their hearts from the time they hatch because their eyes sparkled with joy. Gracie began to run and leap back and forth in front of me, and then Bessie copied what she was doing. Whatever I had agreed to had delighted them, and that had delighted me in a most unexpected way.
These two were different, and I wondered why that might be. None of the other chicks had acted this way when they had their turns at playing in the sunroom. Some would try to find things to hop up onto. Others would look for things to hide under or explore inside. None spoke directly to me, only this timid one The Sales Clerk had dismissed as not quite good enough.
Gracie did not seem at all troubled by the lump on her side when she was playing this dancing game with Bessie. It did not prevent her from doing whatever it was she had told me she wanted to do more than anything else.
There on the sunroom floor with her best friend, she was free to be herself, doing whatever her heart desired.
“Little girls, it’s time to join the others,” I said at last when they seemed exhausted. “You will probably need something to eat and drink after all this exercise. But you can play again tomorrow and the day after and the day after that one too.”
Gracie spread out her first tiny tail feathers and did what looked amazingly like a ballerina curtsy.
“So you were dancing! Well, one day when you are performing on the grandest stage in all of Paris, I hope you will remember that your first stage was my shoe.”
She stood on her tiny toes and nodded as if to promise with all her heart that she would and then hurried over to where Bessie was waiting. I gently scooped them up together and return them to the brooder box.