Lucy was the sole survivor of Nativity of Our Lord’s inaugural attempt at chicken incubation. The eggs came fertilized, donated by a nearby farmer, and sat in a simple box with a lightbulb in the 6th grade classroom. For 21 days the eggs were turned, but maybe not turned enough, and for sure not turned on the weekends. The idea behind the incubator was to keep up with the public schools, but Sister Clare, the science teacher for the upper grades, did not anticipate her obligation to teach the biology of life and death, and certainly did not anticipate questions such as: How did the eggs get fertilized? What about the chickens who never hatched: did they go to Heaven? So a tall doctor with black rimmed glasses who wore a short-sleeved shirt, and whose five children were enrolled in the school, was brought in to explain. After rambling on for a half hour about sex, and seeing that he was getting nowhere, the doctor unapologetically said, “The man sticks his pickle into the woman.” And when he pantomimed this, half of the students giggled, and the other half scrunched down into their seats in shame and horror. Sister Clare did not ask the doctor back for a follow-up lesson.
The survivor egg had been Maggie Snyder’s. At school most of her classmates mistook her silence and social uncertainty for arrogance which meant she had few friends. She was a true loner. On top of that, her three older brothers picked on her, so it seemed that God had delivered the Miracle Chicken specifically to Maggie. She named the chicken Lucy, after Lucile Ball whose sitcom, I Love Lucy, was watched by nearly everyone back then, along with The Honeymooners. Consequently, when the Brachs and Kovakas came by to play with Maggie’s brothers, they acknowledged Lucy and half-expected some kind of comedy act from the chicken. They were never disappointed because Lucy was a social chicken who chirped happily whenever given attention. When her legs were sturdy enough, Lucy was allowed outside of her cage and she followed the kids around, beaming like a dog.
When it started getting cold, there was a heated discussion about what to do with the chicken: if they gave Lucy to Mr. Benning, the farmer across the road, Lucy would be pecked to death, while living outdoors in a coup, alone, Lucy would certainly die of the cold and loneliness. The only solution was inside accommodations, so from October to May, Lucy resided more or less in a corner of Maggie’s bedroom. Mrs. Snyder was not thrilled about this arrangement but it was preferable to death.
During the winter, the neighborhood gang still came by to pet Lucy and squawk with her, but mostly Lucy hung out with Maggie in her bedroom; she pecked at her food and slept on the tile floor that Maggie covered with newspapers and wood shavings. Lucy had become the friend that Maggie never had, and who she could tell anything and everything to.
In the spring, Mr. Snyder built a sturdy metal fence with T-posts. Lucy was ecstatic to be outside once again in the sun and engage in her favorite activity: hunting for fresh slugs. Still, Maggie always brought her friend in at night.
One day the family decided to go to Green Lake to swim, and even though Maggie wanted to take Lucy with her (many swimmers brought their pets), Lucy was confined to her outdoor pen. When they got home, sunburned, and refreshed from the cold spring waters, Maggie found the pen empty. Just outside the pen was a freshly dug, suspicious-looking dog hole.
One of the Brach girls, tears streaming down her face, appeared later that day with a story about the Kovaka’s German Shepard bursting through the screen door, then canvassing the neighborhood on a mission of mischief. Then the Brach girl gave Maggie a mayonnaise jar stuffed with feathers. “That is all we found of Lucy,” she said, sniffing back tears.
Maggie came to school the next day and held the jar of feathers out to Sister Clare. At first the nun was flustered, but then she understood Maggie wanted a blessing from a religious authority. Maggie stood in front of the class with the feathers as Sister Clare led everyone through the Our Father, then a boy who was always clowning around did the Sign of the Cross three or four times. The class mimicked that too. For the next week Maggie accrued the status of a minor celebrity because whenever students saw her with the jar, they requested the chance to touch a feather for good luck.
One thing led to another and to her surprise, Maggie started speaking up in classes, and not just answering the teacher’s questions, but sharing her opinions. And then when the neighborhood gang came over to hang out with her brothers, they started talking to Maggie: the skilled egg turner with the perfect touch whose middle school science project had become the acclaimed Miracle Chicken.