Every family has its share of idiosyncrasies, skeletons in the closet and enigmatic behavior. These vary tremendously from one family to the next, but I am firmly convinced that mine has a veritable catacomb in its closet, in addition to a wealth of oddities that would cause a family with less than three children to gape in horror. To us, however, these were normal events, the worst of them being slightly unusual to us – no big real, really. Just another day on the farm.
As anyone who has come from a family of many children can well attest to, children are seriously taxing to a parent’s sanity and there is a point that the parent will just stop trying to maintain some level of mental stability and just give up. This is also closely tied with the appearance of great wisps of white hair and accelerated senility.
Getting the lot of us moving in the mornings was no small task. Our mother’s belief that a good day started with a good breakfast led her to raise us all with such a mean. Unfortunately, however, we had little control over what we ate. Throughout the bulk of my childhood I was subjected to eating eggs as part of my morning meal. My mother, somewhere in her studies and travels had reached the conclusion that every child needed at least one egg a day to maintain proper development. I suppose I can buy this, but actually owning the chickens from whence the eggs came made their consumption all the more difficult. Watching a smelly bird stare at you stupidly and then plop out an egg – which I was expected to eat – was hard to bear. A typical breakfast would go something like this:
“Mom, I don’t want an egg this morning!”
“You WILL eat an egg. It’s good for you. Get the pan; you’re making them.”
“Well, can I make an omelet and put some cheese on it?”
“We’re out of cheese.”
“Then can I at least put some salt in them…oh gross!” I stepped on a green pea, one of many littering the floor. We weren’t slobs, but our 150lb Saint Bernard was, and despite the fact that she had a snout bigger than my upper body she somehow had the dexterity to take a plate full of table scraps and push off all the peas, which, when cold, felt awfully strange between my toes. Bernie was a nice dog – perfectly harmless – but some of us wondered why she was ever allowed into the house. Apart from the food, she also tracked in dirt, leaves, twigs, whole branches, and muck clinging to her snarled hair, preventing out house from ever being clean.
“Why do I have to eat an egg?”
“Because they’re good for you.”
“Mommy, my little sister wined, “we’re out of Cheerios”
“Well eat something else.”
“But that’s what I wanted to eat” Elizabeth persisted.
“Hey, my teacher says that eggs are really just aborted chicken fetuses!” proclaimed my older sister Leah.
“Oh hush. See honey, we send them off to school and this is what they learn.” my mother mourned to my dad, who had just entered the kitchen.
“That stupid bird just messed in the hall again.” He griped at me. He was referring to my handicapped, flightless pigeon that he himself had rescued for me just a few months prior.
“I’ll clean it up when I finish breakfast.” I served myself the overcooked eggs. I much preferred them chewy to runny. Runny eggs made me think too much of mucus bubbling in a pan. As I sat down a big drooling nose appeared above the edge of the table, only to get swatted back down by my mother. The trouble with large dogs is that could actually see what it was they wanted to eat on the table, which made actually stealing it much easier. Bernie withdrew to continue nudging peas about the floor, creating an ever-changing obstacle course around which we had to navigate. Later my mother would clean them up, or the cat would bat them under the stove, but for now we walked around them or ended up with them between our toes. My mother was smart, she being the only one who wore slippers in the morning. The idea had yet to dawn on any of her four children, however.
My mother rummaged in the fridge for something, rustling some plastic, causing our guinea pig two rooms away to assume that the contents of the plastic was in fact something for him. He began squealing uncontrollably and running in circles in his cage. The shavings went everywhere when he did this, which might explain why 10 years later we are still trying to vacuum cedar bits out of my carpet.
“Leah, I want you to take care of the animals this morning.” My mother instructed my older sister, who was tending to the ducklings in our bathtub. “Benjamin, you can take care of the chickens.” She dashed into the den yelling at Bernie to stop drinking our goldfish, another one of her nasty habits. Within a year we had given up restocking the aquarium. The moronic dog didn’t even know she was slurping up fish. She also occasionally consumed our pet chickens, even my person favorite, a gimp bantam smaller than a crow. Her remorse convinced us all she was sorry. Yeah right.
Complaining about my assigned task was useless, so I skipped directly to insisting that I need somebody’s help with carrying all the water and whatnot out to them. I was assigned my little sister for this task. Caring for the chickens in our household entailed much more than tossing some feed on the ground and giving them fresh water. Instead, one carried out vegetable leftovers, water, apples or carrots, a watering can of water, and a bottle of water. The carrots and water bottle were not for the chickens, but for our squirrel, which had appeared lost so was adopted in account of looking cute. He didn’t mind, and actually enjoyed the treats.
When my mother said take care of the animals, she was referring to our herd of goats, rabbits, pony, wild turkeys, and a horse that was afraid to walk with a person on his back. My father acquired the goats years ago with the intention of raising them for meat, but as did everything else, they were soon pets: of limits. Then they proliferated… at their peak we had fifteen: about six mothers and the rest kids. They were cute for a few months but inevitably grew larger. I rather disliked those goats anyway; they ate the seat on my beloved four-wheeler.
The rabbits were meat rabbits that were illegally released into the wild near us. Of the score rescued, we only ended up wit five, which I believed to be five too many. Like the good scientists my parents were, they bred a couple of them, only to have the whole littler die when the mother was too afraid of them to nurse her own young (nature in her infinite wisdom, I suppose). Those rabbits were white, boring, and smelled bad. Later we acquired a beautiful brown male, but he was so oversexed that all he did was hump people, successfully turning them off to playing with him.
After feeding my sector of the zoo, I would have to return inside to care for a few more pets, but they were the easy ones. Apart from the squirrel, guinea pig and of course the dog and cat, my favorite pet was my vole, Fuzzy Wuzzy. A really interesting little rodent, he rooted around his aquarium of dirt happily all day popping up to eat some grain, berries (right from my hand) and return to his borrowing. Unfortunately, Fuzzy Wuzzy left us not too many months later, when I knocked his aquarium over while vacuuming and he went for a jaunt around the basement. Due to the fact I never smelled his remains, I assume the cat ate him.
Elizabeth came back to the house in quite a fury from helping me with the chickens. Apparently, she had forgotten about the eggs in her pocket, hugged the dog, and made a fine mess all over her clothes. She wasn’t the fist person to do this; I was the one that actually went sledding with goo oozing from my pockets. My poor mother acquired the chickens with the intention of collecting eggs, but we were always doing our part (though accidentally so) to make sure they never got to her. Somehow she salvaged enough to torture us every morning with a new batch.
My father avoided breakfast altogether, claiming that the last thing he wanted to do when he got up in the morning was eat. His interests rested solely in coffee. I believe strongly that his skipping breakfast had something to do with the eggs being served. I would have tried this, but I wasn’t old enough to belay an order from Fuehrer. Eventually my father would get out the door to go to work, but this was not after he completely dressed himself, came into the kitchen where my mother would correct his clothing choice and send him back to dress again. His color blindness caused all sorts of problems and he had to be the only man in our county that wore a pink jacket. We didn’t have the heart to tell him its color after he’d worn it out a few times. The embarrassment would really do him in. We didn’t break down and tell him for nearly eight years, and even then the shock was hard for him to bear.
As trying as breakfasts were, dinners were far more challenging. Between arguments about proper grammatical structure of sentences and political debates the ability to eat one’s food in peace was often compromised. It is no small wonder that the six of us still get along. Maybe it was the 200 or so pets that through the years kept our tempers at bay. Or perhaps it was the eggs.
Copyright © 2001, Ben Shaw
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