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It almost seems impossible that my childhood happened forty years ago. It was wonderful to grow up with a family and in a home filled with love. That love has carried me through the years. The following stories paint a picture of family, laughter, a few tears and the lessons I've learned along the way. Perhaps you will find some of yourself in these stories. To my husband, Dennis my love and support for over half of my life.
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My sister and I have always been animal lovers. Growing up we had to have some type of pet. Of all the pets we had I suppose the chickens were the most unusual. We lived in a small community with streets and sidewalks. Dogs, cats, parakeets, and fish were pretty common among the neighbors but farm animals just didn’t seem to fit in. It seems a little cruel now but years ago, around Easter, the dime store in town would fill up a huge glass case with baby chickens and ducks. Every year at that time my sister, Jeannie and I would go to that dime store and take our place with a slew of other children around the chicken and duck table. Sometimes a lucky child actually got to buy one. The store clerk would come with a small cardboard box with tiny holes poked in the lid then reach her hand down to grab one of the frightened clucking birds. Jeannie and I wanted to take home one of those birds every year, but we were only allowed to visit them at the store.One particular spring when the dime store had just stocked the bird table my sister happened to be in town. She had been dropped off a little early in front of the music store for piano lessons. Noticing she had some extra time Jeannie decided to go into the dime store next door. Now my sister was always the good one. She minded, never talked back and was very dependable. But on this particular day something must have snapped. She went into the store, walked over to the bird table and bought two baby chicks. It was a very bold move on her part. This type of behavior would have been expected from me but not my sister. She nervously walked out of the dime store and into the music store carrying her mysterious box. When it came time for her lesson, she joined her teacher on the piano stool and sat the box beside her. Soft, pecking noises kept coming from the box with a slight movement. The teacher kept peeking at it from the corner of her eye. Finally while Jeannie was playing a song the teacher placed her hands on top of Jeannie’s and asked, “Is there something in that box I should know about?”The secret was over. Jeannie carefully opened the lid to reveal two baby chicks. Her teacher shook her head with an, “Oh dear” attached to it. When Mom picked her up that afternoon Jeannie broke the news of the pets which could not be returned—all sales final. I of course was overjoyed. I finally had a chicken. It was decided that this small fuzzy pair would stay in our bedroom. Daddy got the old ten gallon fish aquarium out. (This was from the days of our pet fish stage.) We took a TV tray into our bedroom for a table and placed our new roommates between our beds. Old newspapers were added to the bottom of the tank for easy cleanup. We named them Salt and Pepper because they came as a set. Salt and Pepper seemed perfectly satisfied. It was fun feeding them and watching them run back and forth to peck at the food. I would lie in bed at night and listen to their little feet shuffle on the newspaper. They were so soft and I loved holding them against my cheek. But naturally the new wore off and eventually having chickens didn’t seem so very different than any other pet. When Salt and Pepper started staring at us with their heads sticking over the top of the fish tank, Mom and Dad decided that it was time to upgrade their home. They had simply outgrown the tank. Dad went to the hardware store and bought chicken wire. He fixed a little area out by the garage and the chickens seemed happy to be outside. They had turned out to be beautiful. They were solid white and very healthy looking. Over time however their care became more time consuming than anyone wanted to fool with. We all agreed that they should join their own kind. Our cousins lived out in the mountains and they had other chickens. Jeannie and I agreed to give them Salt and Pepper as long as they promised us that they would die only of old age. The deal was set and the chickens went to the farm.It really turned out to be for the best. It was only a few weeks later that the big 1977 flood hit our community. Our chickens would have surely drowned because the little chicken wire fence washed away. Ever so often we would get Mom to call her cousin to see how Salt and Pepper were. The answer was always, “just fine.”To this day they still say that Salt and Pepper truly died of old age. Jeannie and I like to take them at their word.
Looking back it seemed that Mom and Dad could make any situation turn out right. They could have gotten flustered over the chicken purchase but they didn’t. They made the best of the situation like they always did. With time and age comes worries, sickness, and the unexpected just waiting around the corner…all sales final. I don’t know how Mom and Dad did it but I suppose something they did during the process of my growing up years must have sunk in to this brain of mine and took root somehow. I know this because on occasion when one of those unexpected parts of life jumps out and takes me by surprise, I sometimes hear my voice speaking but it’s my Mom or Dad’s words that are coming out of my mouth to make the situation turn out for the best.
Until I was about nine years old there was an old store within walking distance from my house. It was down the road next to the bridge in Loyall, Kentucky where I grew up. We called it the Rag Store. It was kind of like a perpetual yard sale. There was no particular order about the place except that it was full of piles. There were piles of curtains, piles of clothes, piles of toys, and so on. I loved going there. Everything was cheaper than dirt and it was the perfect place to go for a little girl with a big imagination and not a whole lot of money. On one shopping occasion I went to a pile that had silky type ladies clothes. As I was digging I came upon an old ballerina costume. It was made of yellow satin with green rickrack and a yellow net tutu that was somewhat crinkled, torn away and slightly hanging down on one side. As I held up the outfit I imagined myself dancing around on my tip toes and looking so graceful on a stage as the crowd applauded me. Some of the little girls I knew took ballet lessons. I too wanted to take those lessons but for some reason I never got to. I suspect it had something to do with my incredible ability to trip and fall while walking down a perfectly straight hallway. Clumsy was my middle name. On several occasions when I fell down or crashed into something it would mean a trip to the emergency room with a broken bone or at the very least lots of blood and several bruises. I suppose my poor mother just couldn’t bear the thoughts of turning me loose with an activity knowing I may meet up with some mishap while standing on my tiptoes or twirling in circles or whatever you have to do while learning to be a ballerina. I dug in my little plastic change purse and found ten cents, which was what was written on the small white tag stuck to the costume. I went up to the old wooden counter and proudly paid for my new outfit. My Mom, my sister Jeannie, and my Grandmother didn’t particularly notice what I had bought as we walked home. They were busy talking and enjoying the nice warm day.
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