Goldie, the Christmas Chicken

A Virginia man encounters a wounded chicken that proves to be one tough bird.

Posted in , Oct 10, 2012

An artist's rendering of Goldie, the Christmas chicken

There are two things I really love in life. One of them is music. As a boy my happiest moments were playing bluegrass on my Gene Autry guitar.

So fresh snow covering the ground wasn’t going to keep me from the Christmas Cantata at church. Stepping out into the night afterward with my wife, Carol Jean, I barely felt the cold I was so full of music.

Carol Jean got behind the wheel. The snow crunched under the tires as we pulled out. Tough travels to church were nothing new for me. Growing up my siblings and I had to cross a big Virginia mountain to get to church—two hours on foot. It was hard going, but then, everything was back then.

We didn’t have a bit of flatland to grow crops on, just small areas between the woods where we could grow vegetables here and burley tobacco there—a “patch farm” they called it. I liked to think the hard times made me tougher—I was now 78 and still going strong.

As the headlights swung toward the highway, I saw something in the road. “I’d better check it out,” I said. Carol Jean pulled over.

Up close I could make out reddish gold feathers sprawled in the slushy snow. Feathers with a big black grease streak running down the center. It was a chicken! I said there were two things I really love in life. Music was one. Chickens were the other.

“Poor thing,” I said, kneeling down beside the soggy heap. “Must have got hit by a car.” I hated to leave her by the road where a car might hit her again. I picked her up to take her away. To my surprise, she moved. It seemed impossible.

Cradling her in my hands, I took her back to the car. “What am I going to do with Goldie?” I said. The name just popped out. It suited her.

“Take her home, of course,” said Carol Jean.

Goldie didn’t struggle, just sat on my lap, squawking and clucking the way chickens do. Even though I still kept chickens the sound brought me back to my childhood in the mountains.

I always helped Mom with the chickens when I was a boy, when I wasn’t hitching the mule to the plow or chopping firewood for the stove or hunting squirrels and possums with my hound dogs. We had to be tough to survive back then. Goldie had to be tough to survive now.

By the time we got home it was close to midnight. I found a little bird cage and mixed up some laying mash and scratch feed. I stretched out Goldie’s wings—they were in good shape. But when I tried to stand her up, one leg crumpled beneath her. Nothing was broken that I could see, but she’d injured her left hip.

If there’s one thing a chicken needs to survive, it’s two good legs to scratch and peck, run and jump, or perch on a roost to sleep at night. She probably won’t make it, I thought. Surviving that kind of road accident was nearly impossible.

Almost as if she heard my thoughts, Goldie started gobbling up her feed. This little chicken was tougher than I thought. Maybe she could survive. Christmas was the season of impossible things, when the impossible becomes possible. Isn’t that what Jesus’s birth had taught us?

I drove around the area to see if anyone had lost a chicken. No one had. I guessed Goldie was here to stay. I moved her to a bigger bird cage and set her on a table in the basement. We had a full house for the holidays—all six of our kids and their families.

For a week nobody ever walked by Goldie’s cage without stopping to say hello. “You’re getting used to all this attention, aren’t you?” I said to her one evening as I cut up a little apple to feed her from my hand. “I might even call you spoiled.”

Goldie fluffed up her feathers, looking pleased with herself. She looked healthier every day. But Christmas passed, and then New Year’s Day, and she still couldn’t stand up. “She won’t survive if she can’t walk,” I told Carol Jean one day in early January.

I went down to the basement. Goldie cocked her head expectantly. I lifted her out of the cage and set her on the floor, supporting her weight in my hands. Little by little I let more weight rest on her leg. Goldie fell over. “I know you don’t like it,” I said, “but you have to tough it out to get better.”

Every day I tried out her leg again until one day she actually stood by herself. Come early February she even limped a couple steps. From then on, we practiced walking every day. I put Goldie on the floor and cheered her on. If she slowed down or tried to sit, I gave her a gentle nudge with a broom.

I couldn’t help but remember my old days on the farm when Mom would wake us up early for church. Some days I just didn’t think I could face that mountain. But I did it. And so would Goldie.

One night in bed I wondered if I was pushing too hard. Goldie had greatly improved since that December night I found her, but maybe she’d reached her limit. Maybe I’m too tough on the old bird, I thought. It was surprising she’d survived this long.

The following day when I went down to the basement I saw something i n Goldie’s cage. A perfect brown egg! It sure seemed like a sign—a promise of even better things to come. Goldie was still a Christmas miracle, a reminder that all things were possible.

In no time she was walking the length of the basement and back again.

“Are you going to move Goldie into the hen house now?” Carol Jean wanted to know.

“I’ve been thinking about it,” I admitted. “But chickens like to pick fights with a stranger. Goldie’s much smaller than the other hens, and she’s still weak from her accident. She wouldn’t stand a chance.” But life in a cage was no life for a chicken.

Suddenly I remembered a man I knew years before who raised a lot of roosters. He used to exercise them in his yard until they were really strong. Could I whip Goldie into shape too? It couldn’t hurt to try!

I cut out a piece of carpet and put Goldie on it. She dug into the pile, where she could get a good grip with her feet. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go!”

I nudged Goldie to the right. Then back to the left. Then forward. Then back. She bobbed in all directions, never leaving the carpet. By the time we were finished Goldie’s mouth was hanging open and she was breathing hard, like an athlete.

We “worked out” every day. As the weeks went by, I could see Goldie getting stronger, more nimble. I would never have believed that soggy ball of feathers by the highway would turn out to be this tough boxer bird! Now, anything seemed possible for my Christmas chicken. Even the hen house.

On the first of April, I waited until dark when I knew the other chickens would be asleep. I carried her to the hen house and put her on a roost. I planned to wake up before dawn. I didn’t want to miss a minute.

One by one, the chickens woke up and noticed the stranger. Goldie hopped down to the ground. Another chicken followed. Then another. Everyone wanted to get a look at the newcomer. C’mon, Goldie, I thought. Here’s where that training pays off.

One of the bigger chickens strutted up to Goldie, itching for a fight. Goldie stretched her neck up until she looked about six inches taller than she really was. She gave a great squawk. The other hen jumped back. No one bothered her after that.

Today, Goldie has become queen of the hen house. She’s a tough old bird, just like me. And the best Christmas gift I ever got, proof that with God anything’s possible.

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