April 20, 2015 – A terribly sad event happened last night. So tragic in fact, that I cannot write about it without wetting the pages of my journal with my tears. My dear, dear friend, Wilma passed away. I was with her when it happened. We were enjoying a bright afternoon, ranging in the side yard with the rest of the flock while Mom raked the lawn. We stood next to one another at the water station, looking out on the others. Wilma paid particular attention to her daughters, Waffles and Betty.
“They are my finest contribution,” she whispered thoughtfully.
She had uttered the affirmation to herself, but I heard her. In a moment of genuine affection, I replied, “You are also a kind and loving friend. I know you’d rather we all not think that, but your secret has been up for a long time.” When I turned to catch her expression, she was already gone.
I screamed for Mom. She dropped the rake and came running. She scooped poor Wilma up in her arms, and realizing that she had passed, wept gently over her peaceful body. By then, the other hens and roosters had started to gather around us. Charlotte swooned and Bo caught her. Peaches sobbed. Mom lowered herself to the ground and cradled Wilma in her arms. Sawyer approached, and softly nuzzled her head against Wilma’s mahogany feathers, letting a trembling sigh escape.
“She was a fine hen,” Mom said quietly; “The grand dame.”
“What do you think happened?” I asked. A profound sadness washed over my heart.
“Wilma was an old bird,” Mom replied. “I noticed her slowing down in recent weeks.”
“Yah,” Hattie said nodding, “I absentmindedly cut in front of her at the feeder last week and expected a swift peck to the back of the head. Instead, she smiled at me. SHE SMILED!”
Waffles and Betty gathered around their mother.
“I will miss you, Queen,” said Betty with a hitch in her voice. Wilma didn’t allow them to call her, mother. She thought it sounded too pedestrian. “I will live a good life and make you proud of me.” Then she wept for a full 30 seconds, before a spider caught her eye and she was off to hunt it down.
“Enough with the drippy sentiments,” snarled Waffles. “She’s gone. Pay your respects and move on. It’s all part of the cycle, people – more mealworms for the rest of us.”
Emaline leaned over and whispered to Tim. “Waffles was so much nicer when she wanted to be a standup comedienne.”
Addie was so incensed by Waffles’ remarks that I had to hold her back. This was no time to argue. We had a funeral to plan, worthy of our queen.
Mom took Wilma away and disappeared into the garage. Two hours later, she emerged, carrying a beautiful pine box. On the outside, Violet had painted in purple paint (worthy of a royal); HERE LIES THE QUEEN OF ALL HENS, HRM, WILMA. It was lovely.
Mom dug a grave under the weeping cherry tree. It is an appropriate spot since Wilma loved to hunt for bugs in the briar thickets and ground cover that blanket the hill behind it. We each got to say a few words of farewell. Each tribute was loving and heartfelt. You would have never known that Wilma was our brusque, pain-in-the-butt curmudgeon. Peaches, overcome with sorrow, placed her pet stick in the grave. “Now you won’t ever be alone,” she sniffed.
As Mom filled the hole, I played a song on my piccolo that reminded me of Wilma. It was a bright tune with just a touch of sass. The bantams wove a chain of new leaves and tulip petals and laid it on the ground. Mom set down a stone painted with the same words that were on the casket.
Slowly and silently, the crowd dispersed and headed back to the chicken yard where Sawyer and Charlotte and Addie had begun to prepare a mercy dinner. Mom walked to the shed. She put away the shovel and the rake and then walked back to Wilma’s grave. She wiped a tear from her eye and said a silent prayer before turning to leave. I stayed behind. I wasn’t ready to go. I spoke to Wilma the way I always had.
“Who is going to give me a kick in the behind when I need it?” I asked. “We were supposed to get into the wine business this summer. It was only a few days ago that you nearly killed me with your first experimental batch; remember?!” Then I laughed, thinking that if Wilma was still alive she would have pecked me in the head. “What do you think, I’m senile? Of course I remember!” she would have said. “I should have finished you off when I had the chance!”
I was shaking my head, so deep in reflection, that I nearly missed Waffles. She had returned to pay her respects to her mother in private. I stepped away, giving her time. The poor kid. She was totally shaken to the core. I offered her a comforting hug. Wilma wouldn’t have wanted us to wallow in grief over her, I reminded Waffles. She lived life as she wanted, and left on her own terms. It was a rich, beautiful existence. We loved her very much, and no matter what anyone says, I know in the very core of my being, that Wilma loved each one of us equally as deep.
Oh, Wilma! I miss you already.