My older brother loved his birds. Most kids love animals of the soft cuddly sort, but not Billy; he loved pigeons, ducks and chickens - his fine feathered friends. His favorite was a rather old black and white speckled biddy. When Billy would gather the eggs, she would greet him at the door of the hen house and pick off whatever offerings came in on his boots. In winter it was snow and so his beloved was called "Snow Picker".
In due course of time Snow Picker succumbed to old age. With great concern he watched her grow more feeble with each passing day.
What to do? What to do?
One late afternoon when our parents were doing the milking, Billy went to check on his friend. To his great consternation he found her toppled over but she was still breathing. Frantically he did his best to encourage her to her feet but to no avail. As he gathered her up in his arms he suddenly knew what to do: take her to grandma of course! If anyone could fix Snow Picker, it would be her.
By this time my little sister and I had joined the efforts for revival. Quickly we wrapped the old bird in a tea towel and hurried across the field, over the creek and up the hill to Aunt Bella's house where grandma was residing.
With her over 80 years of experience, we were confident that help was imminent. With tears streaming down our faces we gently unwrapped our dear friend and laid her on the kitchen table. At this point her eyes were glazed and her beak partially open. We begged grandma to fix her, and fast. And sure enough, she did.
Quickly she disappeared in to her bedroom and returned with a shot of brandy. Using a teaspoon she enabled Snow Picker to partake of the spirits. In a matter of seconds Snow Picker was quickly and quietly ushered in to bird heaven. It was not the result we had hoped for but it was over! With heavy hearts this sad little troop made our way home. Billy wanted his picture taken with his beloved before we laid her to rest. Mother got her camera. Billy stood in front of the barn door, her drooping head propped over his hand. I don't know who looked worse - Billy or the hen. It was indeed a sad moment that we all shared.
Mother wrapped the deceased in a cloth and placed the remains in a cardboard box. Now off to the cemetery under the lilac tree in the front yard. Here she shoveled out a hole and gently placed the coffin in the ground.
As she covered the box, someone asked how we should mark the grave. Being gifted with great practicality and imagination, my little sister suggested we leave one of the dear departed legs sticking up. Billy was quite disgusted at the idea - Mother didn't think much of it either. She told us later she didn't know whether to laugh or to cry-- but being the good mom that she was, she did neither and kept quiet around her little band of mourners.
I'm not sure if prayers were uttered or words of endearment spoken but the funeral concluded on that note. And so ended another day in our lives down on the farm. Sad and disappointed as we were, we were thankful to grandma for giving Snow Picker a peaceful passing.
Here lies the body
Of Billy's best friend
Not a kitten or a dog
But an old speckled hen