Angelic Treasure in the Henhouse
Angelic Treasure in the Henhouse
Among the brown eggs was one as white can be–with a message meant just for him.
Four-eyes. Blind Berry. The day I walked into my sixth-grade class with new glasses, those became my new nicknames. It was 1953, but it feels like it was yesterday.
“I’m never going back to school,” I told Mama when I got home after another day of teasing. “I can’t abide it.”
Mama sighed. She knew how much I hated my new glasses. But when I couldn’t see the board at school she took me to an optometrist. “This boy’s blind in one eye and can’t see out of the other,” he’d said when I completed my eye test. So it was four eyes for me.
“People just need time to get used to them,” Mama assured me. “Pretty soon those glasses will be old hat and things will go back to normal.”
But I couldn’t wait that long. The thought of one more school day was too much. It was like all my friends had disappeared overnight just because I had gotten glasses!
At supper I sat quietly throughout the meal. With seven of us kids at the table, Mama didn’t even notice. But afterward she glanced around at each of us in turn and we could tell she was looking for someone to put at the end of her finger. Nobody wanted to be picked.
Sure enough the fickle finger of fate turned directly on me. “Douglas,” Mama said, pointing, “you get yourself down to the henhouse and gather them eggs.”
My brothers snickered. Gathering eggs was girl’s work. First glasses, now this! But there was no disobeying Mama. I dragged myself to the door. “Make sure you take the basket,” Mama said. “I don’t want to catch you carrying those eggs in your pockets!”
I had filled my pockets with eggs in the past. How was I to know so many of them had thin shells and would break? I had no regrets. Even a pocketful of egg yolk was more dignified than a basket.
I lifted the basket off the shelf, hung it on my arm and stepped outside–where my brother Buddy Earl was waiting to witness my humiliation. “Hey, Little Red Riding Hood!” he said, walking with me toward the henhouse. “You want a nice ribbon to tie on the handle of your basket?”
“You want to go back in the house with a knot on your head and your hand over it?” I hissed, raising a fist.
Buddy Earl jumped up on the back porch and darted to the door, but not without one more parting shot. “Don’t let the big, bad wolf take your little egg basket away!”
I stomped off, following the old path past the garden, the basket swinging in rhythm with my steps. I would never admit it to my brothers, but I liked gathering eggs.
I had a quick swing on the barn gate, the rusty hinges squeaking, and then walked the last steps to the henhouse. I was careful where I stepped–I didn’t want to bring anything back to the house but eggs.
The sweet, elusive fragrance of musty hay and straw touched my nose as I pulled the door open and heard soft clucking sounds and the rustling of feathers and wings.
In the semidarkness I made my way to where the row of nests hung on the wall. I strolled along the row, scooping up the mocha-brown eggs, when something caught my eye. Something white.
There, in the last nest, shining like a beacon in the night, was a pure white egg among the brown. How can this be? I thought as I picked it up. All our chickens were Rhode Island Reds and Dominickers. They sure didn’t lay white eggs.
I held the egg up to get a better look. Yep, it was white as a bleached sheet. I could have spotted it even without my glasses. I held it out to the chickens.
“Okay, ladies , which one of you slipped this in on me? All right, don’t everybody step forward at once.”
No hens confessed. I couldn’t wait to show Mama. I gathered the remaining eggs and ran back to the house.
“Look at this!” I said, cornering Mama in the kitchen away from my brothers and sisters. “I bet you never seen this kind of egg in our henhouse before!”
“Land sakes, child,” said Mama, taking it from my hand. “I ain’t never in all my born days seen any egg as white as this one.” I watched proudly as she turned it over in her palm. “They say angels sometimes put messages in special white eggs for those who can find one.”
“As I found it, I reckon it’s mine,” I said. “I’m going to crack it open!”
I imagined an angel egg worked something like a fortune cookie. You cracked the shell and found a slip of paper inside. But Mama corrected me. “It don’t work that way,” she said. “You have to boil the egg and then leave it in the icebox overnight.”
That seemed like an awful lot of trouble to go to for an egg. There probably wasn’t even any message in it anyway. But it wouldn’t cost me one red cent to find out, Mama explained, and she promised to help me.
“I’ll take care of the boiling and putting it in the icebox,” she said. “Come morning you’ll have to do the peeling.”
I laid awake half the night thinking about that snow-white egg. No matter how many times I told myself not to believe an ordinary egg could be miraculous, I had to see for myself. At the first crow of our old rooster I was dressed and in the kitchen. My snow-white egg lay on the table before me.
“Are you going to peel it or just sit there all day whistling Dixie?” asked Mama.
Now that the time had come to peel the egg I was nervous. “What if there isn’t any message?” I said.
“Then you have a special egg you can eat,” she said. I picked up my spoon and gave the egg a light whack. A crack appeared and traveled all around the shell. I continued to tap it until it was covered in cracks. “Go gentle,” said Mama as I started peeling away the shell. “You ain’t peeling an apple.”
One by one the pieces of shell fell away to reveal the inside of the egg. First I saw only egg white. But then, little by little, I uncovered letters: y, l, v, d.... My hand shook so badly I could barely hold the egg. “It’s a message!” I whispered. “A message from an angel!”
“What does it say?” Mama asked.
I slowly rotated the egg. “You... are...loved.”
“You see,” Mama said. “Your angel wants you to know that just because you wear glasses doesn’t mean you’re not loved by those that poke fun at you. Remember–your guardian angel is always beside you.”
A few people still made fun of me that day at school, but somehow it wasn’t so bad. In a few weeks the boys who teased me found something else to laugh at.
As for my angel egg, as I called it, I kept it in the icebox until it shriveled up and fell apart. It wasn’t until years later, after Mama was gone, that I found a letter among her papers explaining how she herself made that magic egg to give me confidence.
So you see, my egg really did come from an angel. The angel I was lucky enough to call Mama.
* * *
Want to make your own angel message? Douglas Scott Clark agreed to share the secret!
Start with an uncooked egg still in shell. Dissolve an ounce of alum in a half pint of vinegar. With a small pointed brush use this solution to write a simple message on the egg shell. Try “Happy Easter!”
After the solution has dried thoroughly on the egg, and all tracings of the writing have disappeared, boil the egg for 15 minutes. After the egg has cooled, crack it open and gently peel. The message will show clearly on the white of the egg.
Remember, alum is not edible, so DO NOT EAT the egg!
Try Dolly Parton's very special recipe for Hickory-Grilled Ham for yourself.