Another Day in the Country
Kansas bocce ball
© Another Day in the Country
We’ve been celebrating my birthday this week. My sister ordered banners and hung them on each side of my front door, proclaiming the event and my age-old achievement.
“You are the oldest citizen of Ramona,” she said with glee.
That’s a dubious honor.
Come to think of it, though, it is an honor! My forebears walked the same streets as I do, and I’m thankful for their good genetics.
Aunt Naomi, at my age, once said, “I used to think that being over 80 was very old and that I probably didn’t want to live past that age, but now that I’m here, I could stand a few more years.”
This was the woman who was present at my birth in Lodi, California. She’d just graduated from Ramona High School. It was her first trip on a train, her first trip alone, her first trip out of the state of Kansas, and it was all the way to California.
When Uncle Hank from the other side of my family turned my age, we had a big family reunion at the parish hall in Ramona. Everybody came. It was quite a hoo-ha as I recall. We all wore hats. It was the gathering of the Schubert family mob.
I can still see Jana, dressed like a floozy, and Tooltime Tim, looking like a mobster hit man with his shotgun, welcoming — checking out — guests as they arrived. It was great fun!
My celebration was much quieter, smaller. The cousins came for pizza and Kansas-style bocce ball Sunday night. It’s a pretty primitive way to play this quite sophisticated game.
In California, devotees gather at the city park in St. Helena, where there are several pristine, well-manicured bocce ball courts. They bring wine. There’s a pedestal for drinks and keeping score. It’s quite elegant, lovely.
In Ramona, in my back yard, I spray paint a rectangle court on the dry, cropped grass. It’s anything but level and it’s highly inaccurate. As I sprayed, Jess measured off the lines, walking toe to heel.
“You do realize that the west end of this court is four feet wider than the east end?” she called.
“Big whoop,” I mumbled. “It’s the lines that count.”
It’s the lines that say whether you’re in or out. It’s the lines that keep you honest when you throw the ball. Just like life, boundaries we draw to keep things civil are important. However and wherever you draw them, that’s the rule.
My hens are glad for lines. Neighborhood dogs that have haunted them for years are now pretty much penned up.
“Explain to me, the phrase, “pretty much,” my oldest hen, long ago dubbed The Queen, says to me. “You do remember that we lost Heloise a few weeks ago?”
She was our last Polish top knot and used to be the Duke’s favorite. They’re all gone, now.
“You don’t know that it was a dog,” I say to her, “It could have been a fox. I’ve seen them in town.”
The Queen ignores what I’ve said and goes running across the yard after a grasshopper. I’m extremely pleased about that.
These hens are not often out. I read an article the other day about how long of a memory chickens have, but I can’t remember the exact time — maybe a month? So the hens could be remembering what happened the day Heloise disappeared.
The three hens that still live in my backyard all look alike — except Elizabeth. She’s a little more golden. Go figure. She’s chicken royalty, after all. They are all Easter eggers, hens bred for laying blue eggs and not for show. And they are skittish.
I let them out when I’m watering — which means I can keep an eye on them, which is ridiculous. If some four-legged beast came calling, I probably couldn’t do a thing but yell.
I coaxed them out of the pen this morning with cucumbers that had gotten too big and seedy for my taste. They delicately pick at the seeds, savoring the sweet interior.
Suddenly, one of the ladies in waiting to the Queen took off for the open door of the fenced enclosure and ran inside the chicken house. She was in a hurry.
The other two hens looked up and watched her go and then ran to the door and looked inside.
“Are you going to lay an egg?” they wanted to know. “Are you OK?”
Then they came over and watched us hang balloons and lights in the trees. (Friends are coming for a Moroccan dinner, and we’re setting up in the back yard.)
The hens spooked when a tablecloth threatened to blow across the yard, but they never figured out that it was my birthday, on another day in the country.