Before the summer was out, living in our little unfinished house on the Fox Lake Road, we got chickens. Though we didn’t have a chicken house, nor fencing or even the money for fencing, we had often talked about raising chickens for eggs. My husband called one day to tell me he was on his way home, after working down-state. He was bringing a truckload of building materials, and two dozen chickens. They were Black Minorcas, and they were beautiful. They lived in a rickety, crooked chicken house that we clabbered together, surrounded by a bit of chicken wire fencing that was barely supported and offered little in the way of containment.
We got a goat. We named her Solly, and loved her dearly. She lived in an over-sized dog house. When she wasn’t following the girls around, we tried to keep her tethered. She was awfully good at escape. Many times, the girls and I took off together in the front of the old rattle-trap pickup truck, to retrieve Solly from where she had wandered. She’d ride home in the cab with us, grinning at her adventure.
Late in October, my husband and I separated for good. We’d had a terrible fight; he was scheduled to leave the island the next day for a job down-state. He suggested not going, so we could work things out. I told him I’d rather he left on schedule. Usually that would be the end of it…we’d both cool off, and things would go back to “normal.” I was getting very sick of what we’d learned to think of as normal.
When my daughters were very young, and their father was drunk or otherwise behaving badly, I’d cover for him, just as my mother had covered for my dad. “Daddy’s very tired,” I’d say, or “Daddy’s cranky…give him some space.” As their own tempers became an issue, it seemed ridiculous and unfair to justify his tantrums. “Daddy is behaving badly,” I’d say, to holes punched in walls or chairs thrown across the room, “Daddy is not controlling his temper.”
My daughters were now nine and twelve years old. What was I teaching them by continuing to live with behavior that was admittedly bad, and undoubtedly getting worse? We’d been repeating the same argument now for over thirteen years. I had tried every tactic I knew to get him to quit drinking. It was time to walk away. When Terry called, later in the week, to ask, humbly, if his behavior had pushed me to the point of no return, I gathered up all my strength to answer, “Yes.”
He came to the island to talk me out of it. He said, “Let’s get off of this island! I will quit drinking! I can’t do it here, but with a fresh start, I can do it.” I held my ground. Together, we told out daughters. They were devastated. This was going to be difficult for all of us.
There was a predator taking my chickens, one each day. I never saw it. I don’t know if it was raccoon, coyote or chicken hawk, but each day as they gathered around me for their feed, I counted them. A few minutes later, though I hadn’t left the yard, there would be one less chicken. At first I thought I was miscounting, but finally had to admit that I was unable to keep them safe.
One day, we pulled in the driveway to find Solly on her side, dead. Probably, I was told, she ate something that she shouldn’t have. The ground was too frozen to dig. I pulled a big canvas off its frame, and I wrapped her in the painted cloth, dragged her to the front of the property and put the bundle in a hollow left by an uprooted tree. We covered her, then, with rocks…”a cowboy burial,” I told the girls. Then, I got out the paints, and the girls covered the surrounding trees with their sorrow. “Here lies Solly, beloved goat,” and “Rest in Peace, you wanderer,” shared space with hearts and flowers and polka-dots to mark her resting place.
The weather was turning cold. The girls and I slept together in my one big bed, and dressed in front of the wood stove. Wood was in short supply. When the water – coming to us from a pipe on the ground from the neighbors house – froze, I had to cry “Uncle.” That’s when I gave my remaining chickens away, packed up what I could, and we moved into the Erin Motel.