How the Hen House Turns: Prelude

How the Hen House Turns
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Years ago, while driving down to the State Fair in our grand old Chevy station wagon loaded with daughters and assorted three to eight-year-olds, no seat belts, and sharp fins the height of a child’s eyes, one of our daughter’s friends got car sick. We stopped the car, cleaned up the mess as best we could, and proceeded to the fair, not realizing it was a warning sign of things to come.

It must have been the next summer of 1971, five years before Don built the Hen House, when we drove my dad, Mom and Auntie Flo to Albuquerque for a short break at the State Fair. Pa was building a garage for us and welcomed a day off, even though fairs were not his favorite sport. He and I enjoyed the animals, and I became entranced with chickens, hence the Hen House.

At age 71, Pa noted that he was getting three hours of work per quart of ice tea. He said he would much prefer to be digging us a basement. He loved the idea that our house was set on volcanic tuff. It chipped easily and would support itself, unlike the sticky, heavy clay he had dug out in California in the 1950s.

During our drive to the State Fair, my Aunt Florence Tennyson was sitting between two of our daughters, when the youngest one turned to her and said, “Anny Fo, yor sitting on da gwowest paht of da baaf.”

“What, sweetheart?” said Auntie Flo.

Yur satting on da gwowest paht of da baaf !”

“What did she say, Carolyn?” Auntie Flo asked me.

Everyone was puzzled for a moment. Then we remembered the smelly trip to the State Fair the year before, after a bout of car sickness. At that fair, our oldest daughter fell in love with a miniature goat, and she chose Streak the skunk as consolation. Younger daughter’s bunnies soon occupied the back of the new garage.

The Christmas after Pa built the garage he and Mom surprised us by calling tearfully to say how much they missed us. Ten minutes later they drove into the driveway—a wonderful surprise that brought tears to our eyes. A week later a few flakes of snow began to fall, and Pa got antsy to start driving home to California. Ironically, they ran into the storm when they chose to go south.

He had learned to hate snow the winter we spent at Lake Tahoe circa 1949. While he was trying to finish building a house, we kids were skiing off the roof of houses in 16 feet of the white stuff. Pa dug a tunnel so we could get into the house.

In 1972, the summer following the Christmas surprise, Mom had a stroke that left her right side crippled. My dear cousin Bob gave her a Playboy puzzle to work. It amused us all and eased her frustration. She died of her second stroke, and we adopted Poncho, our “Santa Fe” shepherd, who relieved our grief, as did building the Hen House, which soon followed with all its stories shared here. I am sure that Mom (Ma Jessie Almond) would approve of anything that meant investing in life.

Now, the saga continues as we face our elder years, but the memories that have defined our lives are like precious gems shining with love. We are grateful for every moment.

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