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Monday, June 18, 2012

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

Oh, Charles Dickens.  You gave us an orphan named Pip, an orphan named Oliver, and an incredibly helpful literary ying-and-yang.

This Father's Day weekend was marked by a high and a low.  The peak-and-valley nature of the past 48 hours was put in even starker relief because so much of the weekend was calm and peaceful.  It was the perfect weather here in Maine -- bright blue skies, gentle sun, and about 70-degree temperatures.  We had nothing on our agenda, and so we could enjoy the first schedule-free weekend we have had in a long time.  There was no school week to prepare for, no one was battling a cold, and my son seems to have come out on the other side of his teething journey...for now. 

Against this backdrop of tranquility, the weekend's best was able to stand up all the more proudly, and its worst took on especially macabre undertones.

Unfortunately, we started off on the wrong foot.  And that foot stepped out to trip us on Thursday night.

That evening, my husband came home from work and decided to let our chickens out of the coop to "free range" in the back-yard.  They'd done this a handful of times before.  It literally consists of them milling around in front of their coop, pecking at the ground.  They stay relatively huddled together, in what looks like an unorganized conga line.  Minus the sombreros. 

My husband had never had an issue with this practice before.  Sometimes he'd done it in the morning and come in for breakfast while they explored; sometimes he'd done it in the evening and come in for dinner while they craned their necks to watch The Nightly News with Brian Williams through the neighbor's window.  Before Thursday, the only trick had been to get them back in the coop; once they tasted the freedom of grass and fresh air, they weren't always cooperative about being picked up and returned to their roost.  I might have pictures of my husband chasing them in circles around my daughter's swing set.  I just might.

But Thursday night was tragically different.  As we were eating dinner, we heard a chorus of crows cackling in the yard.  Normally, we only hear the murderous tones of crows in the morning, so this struck us as odd.  We did not go immediately rushing outside, though.  We thought the crows were just being annoying. 

And, we are dumb.

Because 5 minutes after we heard the crow hysteria, we went outside.  And didn't see anything in our yard.  Not a single chicken.

The expression on my husband's face was the same expression Obama wore when he was in the Situation Room and heard that one of the Apache helicopters went down during the raid on Osama's Pakistani compound:  barely-controlled panic with visions of a second term flying out the window.  I just stared at the blank space where once stood six chickens and unhelpfully asked "where'd the chickens go?"  My husband silently bounded down the porch steps and I unhelpfully returned to the house to turn on the Disney Channel. 

Soon thereafter, the door opened and my husband called out "we've lost the chickens."

You know how people facing into disaster say their life flashes before their eyes?  Well, I'm now one of those people.  Except my life didn't do the flashing -- our chickens' lives did.  Them in the small box in the dining room.  Them in the slightly larger box in the hallway.  Them in the large television box in the sunroom.  Them in the coop.  Them in the yard.

It was an unattractive, smelly flash, but it was a flash nonetheless.  I couldn't belief that our (ie. my husband's) seven weeks of work, and all the time we (ie. my husband) had spent getting them to the point that they could be outside on their own had ended in this.  Stolen from our (ie. my husband's) loving arms before we (ie. my husband) had really gotten to know them.

I went outside to help with the search and rescue efforts.  Fortunately, we found one of the chickens perched on a stump near the coop.  Our confidence slightly boosted, we continued searching.  Actually, my husband searched.  I kept my eyes open and just kept shouting "I don't see them yet.  I don't see them yet."  I also held a long stick, in case one of them returned so gleefully that they decided to be one half of a running embrace type deal.  The stick was to help shoo them towards my husband, who'd have been the much happier recipient of a chicken hug.

He found four of the other chickens hiding out in the underbrush near the coop.  So we were up to five chickens.  We just needed to find the sixth.

My husband spent the rest of the night -- taking periodic breaks to nap and ask himself what he was doing looking for a chicken at 3AM -- looking for that bird.  No luck.

The next morning, we told our concerned daughter that her grandmother was hosting the chicken for some fun in the sun in Puerto Rico.  We held out hope the vacation would be short-lived, and that we'd return from work to find the chicken pacing the coop and bearing souvenir mini bottles of rum.  Again, no such luck.

So the weekend began with the sad realization that the crows had either gone off with the missing chicken, or had heralded the arrival of some bigger bird of prey who'd swooped down, grabbed that one, and scared the others into hiding.

We've learned the hard way.  Not only should you not count your chickens before they are hatched, you should not count your chickens before they have hatched an egg. 

Also, losing a chicken to a hawk is a sad thing.  Even if you never really liked the chicken.

Fortunately, when God takes a chicken, he gives you a spark plug.

Nine months ago my husband bought a 1964 Jeep Truck.  I don't have a picture of our particular truck, but it looks almost exactly like this, minus the do-hickey attached to the front grill:

I would make you a list of all the things I love about that truck, but you can't have a list if there's nothing on it.  It's one of Newton's principles.

The truck has been sitting in our driveway since my husband bought it. The paint is rusted, the wheels are tired, and it doesn't have seats.  It hasn't been on the road in more than a decade

My husband -- who knows nothing about cars -- has decided to make this his project (because he doesn't have enough already).  The problem with projects like this truck, according to my husband, is that "they're hard to start, because you don't know where to begin

His new motto is baby steps, and baby step #1 has been to just get the darn thing to turn on.  He's talked to every auto mechanic south of Bangor, and visited every car repair website on the Internet.  It's all really very fun for everyone

On Saturday, though, while he was in mourning for his chicken, he tackled whatever parts of the car you tackle when you try to figure out how to turn it on.  My daughter and I were playing over by her swing set when we heard something start to roar.  At first, we thought it was a lion bringing back our chicken.  Then we realized we don't live in Africa, and no lion could make it from Puerto Rico to Maine in 24 hours.  We turned around, looked in the direction of the driveway, and saw my husband throwing some kind of wrench above his head and dancing the salsa.

The roar was coming from the front hood of the truck.  Because my husband had figured out how to turn the damned thing on.

We ran to him and joined in his dancing.  Passing cars started honking and our neighbors started blaring those vuvuzelas that everyone loved so much from the World Cup in South Africa.  It was a great moment.

Then I told my husband to turn the thing off since our son was trying to take his afternoon nap.

The point of this story is that you never know when hope will vanquish grief.  You never know what will lift your spirit when your spirit is sad.  You never know how your worst times will transform into your best times.

Sometimes, to put a chicken behind you, all you need to do is roar. 

Or get your old beat-up truck to do so.

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