Chapter 1: The Break of Day
She woke each morning before the sun, before the men. I could hear her dressing in the dark, the mesh of the zipper’s teeth binding a crisp cotton dress to her slight frame. She walked silently down the hall into the room where my big sister and I slept in a ¾ bed high off the ground. “Time to get up girls,” she’d say and turn in retreat to her domain, the kitchen. Warmed with an always-simmering stove and knotty pine paneling, it was the beating heart of our farmhouse.
I have no recollection of the time from waking to walking toward the chicken coop with an empty metal bowl clutched in my hands. It was my job to collect the eggs needed for the day, not just enough to feed breakfast to the men, but also for baking once the heat of the day had passed. It was a long dark walk, not because of distance or the pre-dawn hour, but because I was afraid.
My five-year-old mind grasped what a futile effort it was for our hens to lay eggs only to have them taken away, day after day. I couldn’t blame them for pecking at my fumbling, thieving hands as I stretched on tiptoe to reach under their warm bodies, trying my best to ease their eggs out and into the metal bowl without causing an uproar in the hen house. There were times when a thief of another sort had beaten me to it. Instead of cradling a warm round egg in my hand, I’d grasp the pulsing coil of a chicken snake. On those mornings, I was lucky to make it back to the safety of Grandma’s kitchen with a single egg. Most lie broken in my wake, spilling their bright yellow centers as an offering to the sun slowly climbing above the horizon of that vast prairie.
“Girl child, you are too young to be filled up with all that fear,” my Grandma said one morning when I returned empty-handed. You’d think my ineptitude would convince her to send my sister or one of many cousins to the hen house, but I guess sending me back day after day was her way of teaching me to march a straight line toward my fear. It took 40 years and marching a not-so-straight line from Texas to Tennessee before I’d come face-to-face with every fear living in the pit of my stomach.
...to be continued