When my kids were little, I remember all the old grannies saying I better enjoy them because they’d grow up fast. I didn’t believe it. Back in those days, it seemed I couldn’t get one weaned before I’d have another in the oven. My youngest, Lena, was born a mere 16 months after her brother, Landon. He never showed much interest in learning to walk. Why would he, when he could non-verbally communicate his desire to be carried to any number of doting aunts, grandmothers or his big sister, Lucia. I say "non-verbal" because he hardly spoke a word before he was three. He only had to point and grunt, and everyone would drop whatever they were doing to come do his bidding. For some odd reason, he was fascinated with all things marine. So instead of saying "mama" and "dada" like normal children, his first words were "shark" and "alligator." We lived 500 miles from the nearest ocean. Go figure.
Landon was a chubby little cherub with downy fuzz on his head. When he wasn’t eating or pointing and grunting, he had his right thumb stuck in his mouth, securely held in place with his left hand. If he cried, which was rare, it was for a good reason—unlike my girls who cried when they were having a bad hair day or if the stars were somehow misaligned. Even looking back through the nostalgic haze of memory, I can safely say, my son was my least demanding baby. He was easily amused, and his big sister, the center of his universe, made sure he was always happy.
One of my fondest memories occurred after my sister had bought a box of mail order Bantam chickens. She lived in a rural subdivision and had built a small chicken house in which to keep them. Lucia would spend hours in the chicken coop playing with the tiny chicks. When I would go check on her, she would have two or three in her lap and one on each shoulder.
I remember the first time I heard Jeff Foxworthy’s comment, "You might be a ‘redneck’ if your child’s first pet is a chicken." I suppose that was my first inkling of our true identity…. It no longer offends me.
One afternoon, when Lucia was out playing in the chicken house, Landon wandered out in the yard to find her. That was always his first order of business after waking from his nap. I was right behind him and opened the door to the wire enclosure. He stood silently, as usual, his right thumb firmly ensconced in his mouth, surveying the scene. The tame chicks, used to human interaction, scurried over to him. By that time, they were half grown and stood about six inches high. He looked down at them curiously while his big sister encouraged him to come in and play with her.
Without any warning, not so much as a peep, one of the little chickens flew up and landed on Landon’s fuzzy head. Shock and panic overtook him in an instant. His soggy thumb flew out of his mouth and he held both arms out straight to his sides. They trembled as his whole body went rigid from sheer terror. Miraculously, he found some words. "Chicken on the head!" he yelled several times before he started crying hysterically. Lucia, though highly amused, quickly came to his rescue and gently lifted the startled chicken off Landon’s head. He would have run out the door if he’d been able to move, but he was still petrified.
That story has followed my son for years. It seemed to have happened only a few months ago, but I know it was a lifetime ago. I remember Landon as a dimply little man-child, but now I have to look up to him towering over me. He’s grown into a strong, stout young man used to the rigors of country life. Now he would hardly flinch if an eagle landed on his head, much less a little chicken. I guess those grannies were right. My kids will be grown up soon, and when they are, I will always smile when I remember Landon’s tiny voice squawking, "Chicken on the head!"