The GraciePress Newsletter

By J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The GraciePress Newsletter - How Nate and Gracie Made Promises to Each Other (5 to 8)

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The GraciePress Newsletter - How Nate and Gracie Made Promises to Each Other (5 to 8)
Happy weekend, everyone! Here in coastal Virginia we are recovering from the wind and rain from Hurricane Ian. In this newsletter, we are sharing the next 4 chapters of our current writing project, a novel for middle grade and older readers.
If you have read previous books, some of this will sound familiar. Other parts have been condensed. You’ll notice how the story has changed with the inclusion of Nate as the main human character and how his interactions with his Uncle influence the plot and leads to the promise he makes to Gracie. It is a promise that will carry them through to the ultimate conclusion of the novel.
I hope you’ll find as I do that since this is not all of this story is being told from a first person point of view, it is much easier to see relationships, especially between Nate and Gracie.

Gracie did look different, just as the sales clerk had said. With the others, the feathers above their beaks were even. Gracie’s weren’t, and so her face seemed slightly odd. Even so, you can’t always tell everything about a baby chick by how they look.
The first week, a small lump appeared on Gracie’s side. As the weeks went by, it grew with her and kept her from moving like the others, but she did her best to hide it.
Gracie stayed close to Bessie whenever she could. Being more sociable, Bessie would go off to play with the others, but she always came back to Gracie. 
After the spring showers, I collected earthworms from under the bricks and logs outside. While the others enjoyed their treats, Gracie stayed back from the excitement. When it was over, she would go to Bessie. Every so often, she was lucky and found a small earthworm the others had overlooked.
Once, I picked her up out of the brooder box and tried hand-feeding an earthworm to her, but she wouldn’t take it. Any of the others would have eagerly gobbled it down, but for Gracie, being with Bessie was much more important than even a tasty snack. 
Maybe the sales clerk had been right about this timid one. As I held her little body in my hands, my heart told me otherwise. “You are so much more than good enough,” I said to her.
“PeeP!” she said to me, and so I put her back in the brooder box next to Bessie. 
She snuggled against her best friend and happily looked up at me. “PeeP!” she said again.
Soon I would learn Gracie’s gentle heart had many more important things to tell me other than just “PeeP!”
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.
“PeeP? CheeP?”
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.
“Nate, you know you can’t just keep on sweeping and cleaning and helping out here at The Millworks Shop forever,” said The Uncle. “You need to make something out of your life. It’s no secret here in the shop that I make up work for you to do as it is. We don’t really need you all that much. 
“And I don’t trust you with the machines. Your Aunt would never forgive me if anything happened to you. Remember you’re only still living in that house because of your grandma leaving it to you and then us promising to keep an eye on you so nothing would happen to you.”
The Uncle looked out the window at a flock of swallows preparing for their evening aerial dance.
“Some of the guys here think you ought to be going to the high school rather than being schooled at home with the help of your Aunt Grace. You’re making it hard for them to explain to their own sons why they can’t do the same thing. Some even think you need to be in an institution somewhere. You’re clumsy and you don’t seem to have the common sense that a boy your age should have.”
There was a long silence. Nate looked down at the floor and moved some sawdust into a little pile and covered it up with his shoe. It was all the proof The Uncle would need to be convinced that he couldn’t do even the simplest job well.
“Listen,” his uncle said, lowering his voice almost as if to plead an earnest prayer. “I just want you to find your purpose and make something of your life. That’s all. Your grandparents did a good job of teaching you to take care of the house and the garden. Your Aunt Grace is going to help you keep up with your studies so you can get a diploma. You just need to find your purpose in life.”
“I will. I promise, Uncle Buddy.”
When Nate got home from The Millworks Shop, he took out a long thin notebook, the kind newspaper reporters use, from his back pants pocket. With his carpenter’s pencil, he finished drawing a picture of Gracie and Bessie and added the words he had heard them saying to one another.
Then he drew Lefty, another pale orange-cream Buff Orpington and the first he had picked out for himself. Lefty was the most curious and always wanted to be first. Even his comb was the first to start developing, and because it began leaning slightly to the left, Nate named him Lefty. That was when Nate began to suspect Lefty might not grow up to be a hen and started calling him “My Best Little Buddy.” 
That was what The Grandfather had called Nate when he taught him how to nurture things in the garden and how to build things out in the garage. Lefty studied everything Nate did outdoors as if one day he would be doing those same things.
None of us were looking forward to the day Lefty would begin to crow, and neither was Nate. There is nothing wrong with being a rooster, but the city only allows six hens and no roosters. 
Rudy was one of three Rhode Island Reds which had subtle differences in their markings on their richly brown feathers. Rudy had the three broadest and most perfect stripes down her back.
The Brahmas all had patches of colorful downy feathers. They were seldom still long enough for Nate to study their patterns and discover who was who. The Emperor and The Empress were the exception because they were the calmest, looked the most regal, and were usually content simply sitting together like they were holding court while the others played.
There was only one Plymouth Barred Rock named Mayflower. She never gathered with others like herself or told anyone, “You are like me!” Instead, she treated everyone as if they were already best friends. This seemed fitting because she had been promised to Nate’s best friend who was also friends with everyone. 
When he finished all seven drawings, he realized how late it was. He had not even stopped for dinner since there was no one to remind him to eat. That often happened when he was trying to solve a mystery like understanding the Chicken Language.
Nate thought back to his conversation with The Uncle about finding a purpose in life. He knew he could not give up the garden or the chickens. It would be like giving up a part of himself. 
Maybe his chickens, especially Gracie, should be his purpose in life. “I promise,” he said aloud to himself just as he had to The Uncle.
Then he leaned over the edge of the brooder box and found Gracie. “I’m going to discover the secret of what all of your peeping and cheeping means,” he whispered. “And then we have to get you to Paris, little one!”
Gracie looked up into his eyes, peeped softly and then nodded off to sleep, holding in her heart the dreams and promises they shared. 
Until Next Time…
For next time, remember Gracie’s promise to Nate is that she will remember when she finally gets to dance on the grandest stage in all of Paris, that her first stage was his shoe. Also remember that Nate’s promise to Gracie is he will discover the secrets of the Chicken Language and then he will find a way to get her to Paris.
Perhaps, like me, you can’t wait to see if those interlocking promises will be kept no matter what obstacles appear.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this read through our current project. I appreciate any and all feedback because I want to make the best story possible for our readers and for my chickens!
Thanks so much for reading!
John, Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia
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J.R. Spiers (with help from Gracie)

The GraciePress Newsletter brings you the latest news, stories, illustrations, special offers, and free gifts from Gracie, Bessie, Blanche, Pearl, Emily, and Amelia. They are the inspiration behind all of the books published under The GraciePress imprint.

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