As the designated egg gatherer in my family when eggs were still produced by free-range chickens, I often worried about reaching into a nest with a snake snuggling under the hen
(especially after experience bore me out) so I can especially identify with this egg story my uncle originally published in the April 30, 1987 issue of the Mayo Free Press in Florida in his One o’the Nine LOOKING BACK series. Some of my regular readers may remember my Ode to Chickens post of January 10, but you can read it here if you missed it. Just one more note: Despite the possibility of winding up in the family’s Sunday dinner, which didn’t usually happen if the hen was a good egg producer, chickens lives in those days were probably much happier than those confined to the horrid profit motivated egg factories of today. But retrieving all the eggs was a problem to the egg gatherers–like my uncles, and me in my day. But, there was learning going on–humor, too, depending on which side of the story you were on. Here’s my uncle’s memory:
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When I was a boy growing up on the farm in the early thirties, there was an innocence–or perhaps ignorance–that doesn’t seem to prevail with rural children today. We had a bunch of chickens that ran free and made nests and laid eggs in many unusual places. Like under the corn crib, which was only eighteen or twenty inches above the ground. Crawling under the crib to get the eggs was a chore that befell me and my brother two years younger than me. Mama made us alternate going under the crib and getting the eggs.
I was appointed to crawl under the first day and I can still remember the fear I had every time I had to crawl under that crib. The rats had carried corn shucks and fodder (corn leaves) under the crib and made beds under there. It was dark and close there and we never had flashlights to lighten our way. We had to crawl and feel our way around for the hen’s nest and get the eggs and crawl back out without breaking them. Crawling was really belly sliding. When I came to the cross sills I was always afraid of snakes being under there or getting caught under one of the sills and not being able to get out. I made the first crawl, then it was my younger brother’s turn.
It was a real challenge for Mama to get him to crawl under the dark crib. She had to threaten to whip him to get him to go, then when he did he got about one fourth the way to the hen’s nest and sulled like a possum. He wouldn’t go any further, neither would he come back out. Mama begged, threatened and everything else to get him to come back out. In spite of all her pleading and threats he wouldn’t budge. Finally, at her wit’s end, Mama told him she was going to put hot water through the crack on him. Of course she wouldn’t have done anything so cruel, but she did get some cold water and poured it through the cracks. When he saw and heard the water pouring, my brother crawled out from under the crib. Then guess who had to go under to get the eggs. That’s right!
The chickens also laid eggs in the horses’ feed troughs. One day my older brother and I were feeding the horses and gathering the eggs from the troughs when my brother asked me if I had ever sucked a raw egg. I said no, but I had heard that my grandpa used to suck the insides out of an egg and put the empty shell back into the nest for Grandma to find. My brother, who was older than I, claimed he had done this and that it was gooooooood! He then punched a small hole in one of the eggs with a nail and pretended to suck the egg. He proclaimed how good it was, then handed it to me. I sucked away at that hole and all that came out was raw egg. It was awful, but he had a good laugh. It seems I was always a sucker for practical jokes and pranks but somehow I was always spared from real harm.
Postscript from Wintersong: When I was a child, I spent a great deal of my time under the house. That sounds funny, I know, but most of the old farm houses in Florida–that I remember and lived in–were built several feet off the ground with a few large stones with sand packed at the base served as a foundation.In the photographs (which can be enlarged by clicking on them), you can see the dark space at the bottom where a small child might crawl under and remain unseen. Because the sand beneath the house remained largely protected from the elements, it was usually very white and free of debris. It was warm in winter and cool in summer. Imagine a giant sized sand box, a great place to play and hide from adults who may have one too many chores to pass off to you–until you grew too tall to fit! Being there unobserved sometimes resulted in your hearing adult conversations that would not have been quite as explicit had anyone known you were in hearing shot! and many times I would awake there after a long nap. Funny recalling it now, today I would be scared to death of the possibility of rattlesnakes seeking the same cool spot to hang out at the same time and place. Thankfully, at the time it never crossed my mind.