COLUMN: Marina Gambin remembers the mixed-up hen from Branch

Marina
Marina Gambin
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I grew up in the fishing community of Branch, where I was quite accustomed to a small number of farm animals.

Marina Gambin

Along with a horse, a cow and some sheep, our stable always housed about a dozen hens. Where there were hens, of course, there was the resident rooster. Our little barnyard always boasted a fine rooster with a superb voice.

As children, we became quite used to the early morning wake-up call of the rooster. He kept his sunrise serenade brief and he chose a perch well away from the bedroom window so that most times his crowing was barely audible. To tell the truth, nine times out of 10, we paid little attention to him.

Enter the mixed-up hen who changed our sleeping patterns for one whole summer. Some 45 years later, I can still picture that foolish fowl. She was plump and ruffled with speckled grey feathers. She came to our premises as a giveaway from an older resident of the community who could no longer tend to her flock.

On the first day that this childish chicken took up residence, she started her shenanigans. Choosing a roost very close to our house, at two o’clock in the morning, she commenced to put on her own concert.

It was not long before we realized that Henny Penny had a problem. She thought she was a rooster. Somewhere in her genes or in the recesses of her brain, her gender had become scrambled. While all her sisters slept snugly in the stable, she proceeded to drive us crazy.

At any hour of the day or night, this motley oddity could be heard doing a noisy imitation of the opposite sex. There was no cluck-clucking for this feathered female. She was only satisfied with sounding like a rooster. She would stick out her neck, puff out her chest, and let loose with her loudest “Uhrr, uhrr, uhrr, uhrr, uhrrrrrrrrr.” She held her head so proudly that I am sure she actually thought she was wearing a rooster’s comb.

To add to the complexity of the situation, the confused hen was sometimes seen giving the other hens a chase around the yard, while the real rooster watched in surprise. My family tolerated the unusual behaviour of the hen for one whole summer. Looking back, I wonder how she managed to cling to life that long.

My older sister, who was fond of getting her beauty sleep in the morning, frequently threatened Henny’s existence. More than once, my sleepy sibling raised the bedroom window to make a target out of the hapless hen. It was common to see a shoe, a book, a comb or a bottle fly toward the disturber, along with some choice words.

The hen, however, managed to survive all this fury, until the Labour Day weekend. We had visitors and we needed something extra for the dinner table. With a swoop of the axe, my father quickly beheaded her and a few of her comrades. They became a tasty part of our Sunday menu.

After the execution, life in the barnyard got back to normal. The rooster, I presume, returned to his regular practices. The remaining hens sauntered around looking less nervous and more contented. My family members all resumed their normal sleeping habits, and most of them can’t even remember the frustrated hen and her antics.

A lady who heard my tale of the loud-mouthed hen reminded me of a saying which was sometimes quoted by my late grandmother. “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are neither fit for God nor men.”

— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved community of Branch, St. Mary’s Bay. She now lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at marinagambin@persona.ca

Geographic location: Placentia

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  • George
    July 07, 2014 - 10:42

    I guess it was routine back in the day that whenever a chick was considered 'outside' the norm, the gravy pot was a likely next step. Whenever my mother suspected a drop in egg production from a particular hen, segregation was a preliminary to verify same before condemnation to the (Sunday) dinner table. Sunday was the day for a chicken or a bit of 'fresh' (meat).