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Did you get dyed chicks at Easter?

We lived in northern Iowa from the time I was in fifth grade until I was in eighth. Those were fun years. We lived in a neighborhood filled with kids. It was a new development of ranch-style homes with big lawns and a new elementary school. We had a terrific time hanging out and doing kid stuff.

At the edge of the development was wooded area in which we built forts, dug trenches, and climbed trees. Clever kids that we were, we called it “The Woods.” There was a tiny general store a few blocks away and back in those days produce and boxed goods were shipped to stores in wooden crates instead of plastic containers or cardboard boxes. We would ride our bikes to the store on delivery days and gather up the wooden crates to build tree houses and forts and cover trenches.

Iowa is the home of miserable winters, but the summers were great and we made the most of them. We played all over the neighborhood with our friends. By the time we left, I was no longer building forts and tramping in The Woods, but those are the parts I remember the most.

Iowa also was where I first became aware of spring. Spring was easy to appreciate in Iowa because it seemed to drop into my world in just a few days. One week we were buried in snow and in the next week it was just gone. The world was awash almost overnight in green grass, daffodils, and blooming trees. It was a new awareness for me, an awakening.

I remember well our first Iowa spring. The Ben Franklin Store downtown was giving away free baby chicks the week before Easter. Well, they weren’t really free. We had to save a certain number of little round cardboard caps from the milk bottles that were delivered to our back door a couple times a week. We could exchange so many milk bottle caps for free baby chickens. I am not sure of the number, but I expect it was about 10 or 20 bottle tops per chick.

I cannot fathom what my parents could possibly have been thinking when the promotion began sometime after the first of the year, but they agreed to let us save the bottle caps and get a couple baby chickens. And the best part of attaining those chickens was they were not just tiny balls of soft yellow fluff — no, they had been dyed different hues of red, blue, green, purple, orange. They were beautiful in warm spring-like Easter egg colors! We knew we would love them and they would love us back. Life was good.

Obviously we were not country kids.

I don’t remember going to the store and exchanging the milk bottle caps for the chickens, but I remember that we each got to bring home two. Our parents had gotten a couple of good-sized cardboard boxes and saved newspapers to line the bottom of the boxes for the droppings. Somehow they knew to buy chicken food. There was a little crock bowl for water. We were fascinated by the baby chickens and certainly in love with their cuteness and colors.

That lasted just about a week. Baby chickens grow quickly. Soon they were rangy, awkward, all white, and trying to escape their cardboard housing. The gorgeous soft baby chick fluff was gone, replaced by real feathers, and the chicks were no longer so cute. Plus they smelled bad — time for new boxes and newspapers. My dad was a college professor and had a local student in one of his classes who lived on a farm. The chickens went to a new home. That was OK with us as we were beginning to wonder if we would have to eat them.

I expect many baby boomers had similar experiences with dyed chickens and of course, no business would ever do such a promotion now. Nor should they — talk about politically incorrect!

However, for some reason I always think of those chickens at this time of year. I love spring and the renewal of life, the green and the daffodils, the feeling of Iowa and of my family. Those soft fluffy pastel babies are good memories. Happy spring to all of you!

-SUSAN MARSHALL

Last modified April 1, 2015

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