How The Hen House Turns: Early Years Make A Difference

How the Hen House Turns
Early Years Make a Difference
By CAROLYN A. (CARY) NEEPER, Ph.D.

Offhand, I can think of six living beings whose lives were shaped—even defined—by their early years.

Before Lucy goose came to the Hen House “for safe keeping,” she was raised by 4-H girls in Wyoming. As a result, she hissed at husband Don but was friendly to all my female friends. She felt quite comfortable standing around with them as they gathered at the chicken pen to visit the latest occupants.

She also enjoyed choosing music for the recorder players sitting in a circle on Joy Drake’s patio. (She didn’t like Joy’s big ponds, however, for she had never bathed with her feet not securely braced on the bottom of her Tupperware “bath tubs.” (Lucy, not Joy))

Don did win her over with honeydew melon rinds, but it took some persistence. All other men she hissed at.

The magnificently plumed gamecock Peeper was raised as an only chick by a devoted mother who broke up grasshoppers for him to eat safely, without choking. In his maturity, therefore, he was careful to court the hens by offering them grasshopper bits or delicious dandelion leaves.

During Peeper’s early chick days, daughter Shawne cuddled him and dressed him in doll cloths for Pet Parades, so he was happy to associate with humans. Like Gwendolyn, who I raised in the house one cold spring, he was happily imprinted and actually sought out human company.

When we were in graduate school in Madison, Wis., we adopted a dog that had been abused as a pup. She gradually responded to gentle caring, but she never acted like a confident, happy creature. There was always an edge of questioning in her manner, as if she never quite recovered her self esteem.

I say this, thinking of my own experience. When we were very young, both my brother and I had serious health issues. As a result, our parents were doting, very loving, not overprotective, but probably over-indulging. You might guess it had its down side, but it certainly gave us a resource of confidence to draw on when we needed it.

In contrast, I think of my dad’s friend Henry Thompson, raised in Germany on scraps thrown to him from the table, leftovers from what the adults ate. Throughout his life he ate too much too hurriedly, as if someone was about to snatch his dinner plate away before he could eat enough to survive.

We creatures, all of us, are not too different. What we experience in early childhood certainly imprints us with some idea of what is normal, how the world is supposed to be—at least what is OK. That’s why I worry about so much violence portrayed in the media.

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