Dad’s Adopted Chicken
In the summer of 2012, I met Dad’s adopted chicken. While at his home up north, my 84-year-old father struck up a love affair with a chicken he named Emily.
Dad’s adopted chicken actually lived across the street from our house in Ames, N.Y. Our neighbors raised a flock of specialty poultry and Emily became the last survivor. Perhaps not wanting to be alone in her old henhouse, Emily moved across the street and Dad adopted her.
Each morning during that summer visit, I watched Dad call out to his adopted chicken.
Emily. Emily. Time for breakfast. Come and get it.
The red comb on top of her peach tinted feathers first poked out from under a nearby bush. Then, out she strutted to greet her new friend and caretaker.
First, Dad removed the bag of cracked corn and seed from the back of his Jeep, where he kept it safe from any from any critters that might wander into the barn. Next, he filled fresh water in the white ceramic container. Emily patiently stood on the side lawn waiting for her breakfast.
Encouraging his adopted chicken to eat, my father stood next to Emily as she pecked away at the dried food piled on two old black plastic coffee can lids. Keeping watch nearby, my father waved away pesky chipmunks and aggressive birds from Emily’s food with a long chunk of raw wood.
Get away. Shoo!
My father repeated the feeding ritual in the late afternoon. Finally, at sunset, Dad’s adopted chicken retreated to roost on a side porch ledge. There, Emily guarded our house until sunrise.
Later that summer, my father called me. Dad started out by saying he was trying out my new cell phone number. But, I could hear sadness laced in his voice and suspected there was another purpose to the call.
I found Emily lifeless by the side of the barn yesterday.
He went on to tell me that he wanted to share since I had gotten to know Emily on my visit. Dad was not sure what happened. But, Emily was dead when he found her. After the discovery, Dad scooped up his adopted chicken, put her in a box, and buried her in the small private cemetery located at the far end of our property. There, Emily would be at peace with assorted departed family hamsters and some favorite barn cats from long ago.
Overcome by sorrow, I felt my throat tighten as I told him how sorry I felt. Was I grieving for a chicken that I had only observed for a few days? No, it was more than that.
The vision of my father tending to his adopted chicken touched me. Such a curious site. My sadness represented much more than the loss of Dad’s adopted chicken. I mourned my father’s lost opportunity to share his love. Authentic, paternal love still lived in his elderly heart.
After high school graduations, his four daughters scattered to attend college. With degrees in hand, we flew away far from home. Our pin feathers turned into strong wings and we started lives of our own. Mom and Dad became empty nesters.
Dad’s adopted chicken, Emily, gave him an opportunity to nurture and experience unconditional love again. Emily demonstrated her approval by showing up every morning. She exhibited her loyalty by watching over the house every night. They looked out for each other.
Now, Dad’s adopted chicken was gone. Sadly, Dad’s nest was empty once again.
(update: Dad died on January 8, 2020)
(This post was originally titled Emily and was posted on 8/30/12. Some revisions have been made and pictures were added.)