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Mad as a WetHen Or the Creosote Cure

I put a coffee can over Matilda’s head so she wouldn’t peck me and reached under her warm body for the eggs.  There were quite a few, as Matilda had been hiding her eggs in the woodshed.    I could hear her pecking the inside of the coffee can as I cleaned her nest of eggs, bound for the breakfast table and other good things.  It was Matilda’s time for sitting on her eggs, which is called setting, but Dad told us not to let her do it.  After three days of liberating her eggs and watching her sit on the empty nest all day long, I sprayed her with the garden hose to discourage her from setting and encourage her to get busy laying eggs again.  Matilda was a mad wet hen and let me know it with her squawking and running around the yard, flapping her useless wings to get the water off.  After a couple days of being rousted from her nest in the woodshed, she went back to laying an egg a day in the chicken house, which was 3 feet deep in the manure of many generations of the chickens who came before her, so deep that you had to bend over to get to the nests against the back wall.  Some day we would have to clean it with a wheelbarrow and pitchfork.  

We had 21 Mallard ducks at Cove and one that lived in the house.  Ce-Ce was called that, because I’d heard some peeping from an egg that hadn’t hatched by the time the hen left the nest, thus a caesarean birth, which Dad performed in a straw filled shoe box on top of our unlit oil stove.  Her pooping on the floor led me to make a little cardboard pan that she towed behind her to collect the droppings.  The idea came from Mom, who had said, “Too bad Ce-Ce didn’t have a little trailer that she could pull along behind her.”

When Mom called the cats for their milk, Ce-Ce came running into the kitchen to skid on the linoleum floor and spill her pan.  The manure trailer didn’t work out.  She tried to beat the cats to the milk dish where she commenced to violently shake her head as she strained the milk for bits of cat food, just the way she would in the wild, except that she drenched the cats with the milk and they seemed to enjoy it, as they lapped away from the dish with their eyes closed.
The neighbors up the hill had a handy-man and we called him “Old Bill,” because I don’t think we ever knew his last name. He lived in a small frame shack and made his own dill pickles, much hotter than Mom’s. 

“Why are you sniffling,” Bill asked me and when I told him that I had a cold, he marched me to the barn where he had been dipping fence posts in Creosote to keep them from rotting in the wet ground.  “Here have a drink of this,” he said, as he handed me a cup full of Creosote.  I gagged on the black stuff, but managed to get some of the vile liquid down my throat and can’t remember whether it cured my cold or not.

Bill was a retired fisherman, and when he milked the cow, us kids would go to the barn to watch him feed the cats.  He would squeeze two teats with both hands, making a hiss-hiss sound as the milk flowed into the frothy bucket, all stainless steel, shiny in the sun.  He had four cats that lined up behind the cow, wary of being too close to the cow’s hooves.  “Old Bill” could squirt a cat four feet away.  Their milk soaked faces reflected great pleasure as they wiped them with their paws?  

Sean@vashonloop.com