“A duck was about to cross the road when a chicken told him, ‘Don’t do it, man, you’ll never hear the end of it.’”— Anonymous old joke
The unmistakable sound of baby chicks filled the farm supply store I walked through last week, prompting my pause to take a peep. While they were cute huddled under a heat lamp for their choir practice, newly hatched hens were not on my shopping list.
Capturing the cacophony of cheeps in a short video, I shot it across the state through cyberspace to a friend on whom I was wagering would know my thoughts. Being located smack dab in the middle of poultry producing country, the cheeping of baby chicks to folks around Center, Texas, means hard work and a paycheck. To me, it’s also a reminder of the long-gone type of business in which my father invested most of his life and the only pet chicken I ever encountered.
Without disappointment, my friend’s anticipated response was quick, and our text conversation on pastel-colored baby chicks sold at variety stores was underway. But just as that chicken was halfway across the road, the conversation took a turn when she asked, “Do you remember the turtles with painted backs at Perry’s?
My response was “none” to chicks purchased, but it was “yes” to remembering painted turtles amid the variety of five-and-dime store merchandise at cheap prices that included many things. Even baby chickens and turtles as novelty pets.
Before there was an internet for ordering from Amazon, and before there was a Walmart in nearly every town with at least one traffic light, there were variety stores. Names in East Texas included Duke & Ayres, Ben Franklin, and Perry Brothers. Mount Pleasant had all three located within a block of each other including the Perry Brother’s store where my father was the manager. It was located on North Jefferson street where the southern end of Glynn’s Western Wear store is situated today.
Another iteration of the variety store late arriving in Mount Pleasant about the time Perry’s, Duke & Ayres, and Ben Franklin were fading away was TG&Y. Although I don’t recall ever entering a TG&Y store at Mount Pleasant or anywhere else, their somewhat irreverent nickname back then utilizing letters in the store’s name, “turtles, girdles, and yo-yos,” assumes they carried at least some of the same merchandise as Perry Brothers did: namely turtles. True to my friend’s recollections, those I remember at Perry’s featured shells colorfully hand-painted with flowers or with “Mt. Pleasant” lettered on them. Equally colorful were the aforementioned baby chicks in pastel colors mimicking fluffy Easter eggs whose familiar peeping was a sign that Easter and springtime were just around the corner.
As closing time arrived one Saturday night before an Easter Sunday many years ago, the Easter chick bin still held one lone baby chicken peeping a solo song. The logical thing to do, Dad decided, was to take the lonely leftover to his father in nearby Pittsburg.
My retired grandfather spent most of his time outside tending a variety of fruit trees and gathering eggs courtesy of a dozen or so chickens he always had roaming his big backyard. The unsold Easter chick easily blended into his brood while standing out with its coat of many colors. By Labor Day, the little one had shed its colorful baby feathers and blossomed into a white laying hen, and the Easter leftover had become my grandfather’s pet.
You might never guess the name my grandfather attached to the chicken, but if you guessed “Easter” then you would be right. For whatever the lifespan of a chicken might have been, Easter followed him everywhere he went around the back yard. That included most afternoons when he sat in his lawn chair in the shade of a massive pecan tree near the house to sort through the afternoon mail where the chicken also know as Easter could usually be found perched comfortably on his leg.
As far as I know, that was one chicken that never crossed the road. But she didn’t have to. Hatched into the world as a variety store novelty item, she lived her life in East Texas as the pet of an old retired railroad worker.
Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.
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