Settin’ hen mothered ducks

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2011

Years ago when I was an Andalusia Star-News reporter, I always tried to catch a few minutes of the annual Sacred Harp singing at the Covington County Courthouse. I spent an hour or so one year shooting pictures and interviewing some of the participants. The singing from the special songbooks fascinated me. I loved hearing the stories of the people who returned year after year for the event. Had it not been for those singings, I probably would have never learned some things about my mother’s childhood and her mother that she had never mentioned.

It all started when I bent her ear enthusiastically telling her about my time at the courthouse during a Sacred Harp singing. She finally got a word in edgewise to tell me that she went to many Sacred Harp singings in Shelby County as a child. She said in those days people traveled with horses and wagons and made a day of it.

As Mother related some of her memories of those times, the subject drifted to my grandmother. Mother said she raised chickens for the eggs, and to put her delicious fried chicken and other chicken dishes on the table.

One day she decided that she wanted some ducks. Obtaining duck eggs from a neighbor, she slipped them in a nest under one of her setting hens. When the eggs hatched, several fluffy, yellow ducks emerged. The hen was as attentive to them as she had always been to her brood of chicks. After they grew a little, they discovered a pond nearby and plunged in. The distraught mother hen ran back and forth, flapping her wings and calling to the ducklings. They paid her no heed since they were just doing what came naturally. The old mama hen just had to stand helplessly by and watch her adopted babies risk their lives diving and swimming in the pond.

Grandmother also had guineas. She kept them in an uncovered pen. Oftentimes they flew out of their pen and soared a long way over some tram cars which ran to a lime plant and into the woods. Mother and her siblings always got excited when Grandmother called them together to hunt guinea nests in those woods. She made sure each one took a stick along. She said the guineas wouldn’t go back to the same nest if human hands touched it, so they carefully used the sticks to push the eggs out of the nests. The sticks also came in handy to rustle around in the bushes or weeds in case a snake lurked there.

Besides raising chickens, ducks and guineas, Grandmother really enjoyed yard work and gardening. My mother said she didn’t like to take care of chickens and work in the garden. I learned something from our discussion, but not that.

Daddy always tended chickens and had a garden. I knew my mother would have been right in the middle doing her part if she had been interested.