By John Rolfe
My wife Victoria and I have taken on a boarder here in the New Olde Rolfe Ancestral Home, one that has brought our life together full circle.
Our boarder is a chicken.
Freda, a Rhode Island Red hen, is named after my late mother-in-law. The name was not inspired by any personal similarities. Freda (the hen) does not have a British accent nor does she drink tea or smoke Marlboro Light 100’s. Freda (the person) did not have red hair (or feathers for that matter), nor did she cluck or lay eggs, though her serving baked beans at Christmas dinner one year did not go over well with the family.
The moniker (for the chicken) was merely a tribute.
After Freda the person’s husband (his nickname, ironically, was “Mr. Egghead”) passed away, Victoria and I expected to take her with us when we moved from Long Island to our current home in the Hudson Valley. We reckoned we’d have living quarters for Freda so she could enjoy watching three of her grandchildren grow up.
Sadly, she passed away before we could hatch our plan in 2000.
Two years ago, with our nest all but empty, Victoria bought six chicks and named them after her mom, her grandmothers (Anna and Elsie), and her aunt (Peggy). The other two (Riley and Marsha Marshmallow) were christened based on their excitable temperament and color, respectively.
This past September, as I took ill with COVID-19, Freda’s comb began to droop. The other hens were attacking her, a sure sign that she, too, was ill. So we quarantined her in our basement. Her gracious accommodations include a bathroom with shower and Jacuzzi, a pull-out sofa bed, and a TV. Though she is ensconced in a cage with ample straw upon which to rest, she does have a view of the TV and she is served treats and snacks.
So there Freda has been for a month or so while we try to figure out what is ailing her and how to remedy it. Her appetite is spotty, she can be lethargic, and she has the runs. I know how she feels. Having battled COVID-19 and recovered, I identify with her plight.
Chicken care websites say Freda probably has a parasitic or bacterial infection of some kind, so we are treating her with recommended doses of cider vinegar, yogurt, nutritional yeast, banana and mashed pumpkin — not exactly Freda the person’s favorite foodstuffs, but I think of my mum-in-law whenever my wife and I minister to our stricken chicken.
“Good morning, Freda!” I say cheerfully as I uncover her cage. “And how are you today?” I happily chat with her while I serve her breakfast and freshen her water. She doesn’t say much, though, unlike the Freda who wasn’t shy about making her opinions clearly known.
“I should warn you,” Victoria said before I met Freda (the person) for the first time. “My mother usually doesn’t like my boyfriends.”
Fortunately, Freda and I got along fine and I’m happy to say that my relationship with her feathered counterpart is also amicable although Freda (the chicken) does look at me askance every so often.
“It seems we are caring for your mother after all,” I said as my wife bathed Freda (the chicken) in lavender-scented Epsom salts and wrapped her in a warm towel before they sat together on the sofa while she (Freda) comfortably dozed.
“She is stubborn like my mother was,” Victoria replied.
My jury is still out on reincarnation, but it is funny how things work out in this life.
John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website Celestialchuckle.com (https://celestialchuckle.com) with the meter running.