Mary and Calvin Banta
As many of you know I am privileged to descend from a long line of writers. Grandpa Banta was known as “Rufe Bolts” to readers of the Caddo Herald. His daughter, Della Banta Springer wrote for the Caddo and Atoka papers for many years. She and my mother also wrote for other newspapers and magazines from time to time. I like to read their stories and I am humbled by their dedication to the written word. I ran across this story today while I was working on some family history. Just thought I would share it with you. I don't think I've posted it before, but if I have you can just enjoy it again!
Lesson of Old Mother Hen
by Colleen Simmons (published in the Orbit in 1974)
“Is that you, KooLee?”
No matter how quietly I tiptoed to his rough hewn door and waited for the clackety clack of his typewriter to cease, he knew I was there. I carried my egg basket for our daily walk to the hen house.
When he opened the door and took my small hand in his gentle, rough one, I squinted up at him and marveled anew at his beautiful brown mustache. It curled up at the ends- the way his mouth did.
As we followed the path worn between the yellow blossomed bitter weed, words weren’t needed to bridge his 70 years and my seven.
The rickety lean-to we called our “hen house” was lined with hay filled boxes and kegs wired or nailed to the rough split logs. It was hard for Grandpa to get in or out. He leaned on his cane at the door and warned, “Be careful, KooLee. Watch for snakes now.”
“I will, Grandpa.”
Barefoot, I stood just inside the door and waited while my eyes adjusted to the dim light. A few hens squawked their complaints as they flew past me out the door.
I went form nest to nest and gathered the eggs. Some were still warm. I placed them carefully in the basket because they were precious.
The last nest was close to the ground in an old nail keg. I squatted down and looked in. “Hi Specky. How’er you doin’?”
A quarrel rumbled deep from the speckled hen’s throat as she ruffled her breast feathers and slightly spread her wings.
“Be careful, KooLee. She’s apt to peck you.”
Outside, I held the basket for him to see the fat eggs. “I feel sorry for her sittin’ there all the time hatchin’ them babies. I ain’t never seen her leave her nest. Reckon she’ll starve?”
“Naw. She leaves her nest when she knows it’s safe. She takes care of herself so she can care for her babies when they come peckin’ out of those eggs.”
On the way back to the house I thought about fluffy baby chickens and I’m sure Grandpa thought about platters of golden fried chicken.
Every day while he waited patiently by the door, I peeked in and said “Hi!” to the speckled hen as she sat in waiting. I’d bring along an ear or two of corn from the shed and shell it close to the keg. I put a watering pan near. Now she didn’t have to leave her nest to eat and drink.
“You’re spoilin’ her,” Grandpa told me one day.
“It’ll be worth it when I see them babies. With all them eggs we give her, there’ll be yellow ones and red ones and speckled ones.”
“You’ll just have to wait and see.”
A few days before the hatching date marked on the calendar I looked in on Specky and cried. “Grandpa, she’s dying!” I sat down and bawled into my skirt tail as he managed to get inside the small door and over to the keg.
“Now stop that snifflin’. She’ll be alright. She’s a little bald and bloody lookin’ from a fight with maybe a weasel or a ‘possum. Don’t you worry about her. I bet she pecked the puddin’ out of something!”
I couldn’t keep from giggling. “I bet she did too.”
“She’ll be good as new, just wait.”
And she was. Not many days later, she met us on the path with a multicolored, fluffy cluster behind her. We watched as she scratched for seeds and bugs and called her babies to dinner. She loved them.
Weeks passed and one day we heard the pitiful sound of “Cheep, cheep” coming from the tall weeds. We found the babies, but no mother hen.
“Something’s happened to her! She’d never leave them!”
“But she has, KooLee. Look over by the plum thicket. She’s hiding herself from them.”
“Why?” I couldn’t believe it. Despite his warning, I shooed them in her direction, only to see her peck their little heads, and send them crying away from her.
“I hate you, old hen!” I screamed at her. “I hate you!”
“Don’t say that. She loves them now more than ever, and that’s why she’s teaching them to take care of themselves. She knows she’s like your old Grandpa and won’t live forever. You’ll understand some day. Just wait and see.”
Years have passed and I’ve waited Grandpa…and I see.