Starting Over

“Sometimes we learn a little from our goofs,” said Pearl. “Sometimes we learn a lot from them. I should know. I have had more goofs than any chicken here.”

“Thank you for helping me to cheer up. So what do you think we should do with the story about you and Blanche and The Bottle Cap Lady?”

“I think we should start over again with the pictures. The ones you made. The ones I made. The ones we made together.”

She went over to her stash of drawings and pulled out a few.

“Remember when I told you these are my heart and my life?”

She spread her drawings carefully in front of me.

“If a story is good like a life is good, then you should be able to tell all of the important parts just in pictures.”

She looked up at me, and gave me a little hop up into the air for no special reason other than because she is Pearl.

“Pictures that show action, that is. Love is action. You told me that yourself.”

She rearranged her pictures so they were in the proper order to show me the story they told about her life.

“Then you can add some words. The words all depend on who gets the gift of your story.”

“The gift of my story?” I repeated back to her. “I never thought about a story as a gift.”

“Well, maybe you should. Blanche gave me gifts I never realized were gifts at the time. It is something to think about.”

Pearl seemed a little surprised at her own insights (or perhaps at my lack of them).

“Pearl, what is the most important thing about your story?”

“Blanche was my best friend ever,” she said. “Blanche tried to teach me about giving, but I did not begin to really understand until after Blanche left us that Easter Sunday. I wanted to be a light in the Bottle Cap Lady’s life, just like Blanche had been for me, so I gave a Christmas gift to her. It meant not getting my own gift because I was not in my own home and asleep when Santa Claus came. But I got an even better gift than I could have imagined.”

I was silent and just smiled at her.

“That’s it. That’s all. That is what you should tell people with the words,” she said and waited for me to say something. “That is my heart. That is my life.”

“And such a sweet and beautiful heart and life you have, Pearl.”

She gave me another a little hop up into the air for no special reason.

“Don’t you want to say something about how Gracie had said ‘silliness never saved a chicken’s life’ but you saved everyone from the opossum by being silly and scaring it off?”

“Not really. But you can if you want.”

“Don’t you want to say something about how The Bottle Cap Lady drank all of those soda pops and ate all of those candy bars?”

“Not really. But you can if you want.”

“Or how she lost her job at The Chicken Place because she kept falling asleep at work? And why she kept falling asleep at work?”

“Not really. But you can if you want.”

“Or how she roamed around the neighborhood saying strange things or doing strange things even in the middle of the night? Or how she stole eggs right from under you?”

“Not really. I don’t want to tell any of those things. But you can if you want.”

“Why is that, Pearl?”

“You know already. You told me yourself. Love fills emptiness. Love covers imperfection.

“I loved The Bottle Cap Lady when nobody else loved her. Even when she could not love me back and had nothing to give me, I still loved her. That is what Christmas is about. That is what Easter is all about too.

“Light and life and love are all about giving, just like Blanche said. People need to know that part most of all. Tell them whatever will help them understand that part.”

She gave me another a little hop up into the air, but this time for the very special reason that she had just shared some of her light with me.

“You are such a pearl, my little Pearl.”

Pearl and I put our heads together and made a personal inspiration video that uses the illustrations for “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens” along with a song that seems to fit. You can get to it through our “My Life With Gracie” Facebook page or directly on our Vimeo page. You do not need a Facebook account or Vimeo account.

We are going to try to be more conscientious and always have something special pinned to the top of our “My Life With Gracie” Facebook page just for all of our fans!

How Gracie Got Her Name

It was late winter, not quite spring yet. Not wintery cold, but not springy warm. Just in-between. Gracie had hurt her foot, she had spent most of the day before sitting at the food bowl. I had only realized she was not well when I got home and saw her in almost the same place she had been when I had left for the day. I thought she was just being cute by sitting down in such easy reach of breakfast since they always stand to eat. I regretted being in too much of a hurry to really check on her.

But that in-between day, and for as many days as needed, I was going to stay home with her. She spent hours in my lap, snuggled up inside my soft warm cottony jacket. We would talk and look out over the garden. We would be silent together. Those are not easy days to write about because I was afraid I might lose her as we had lost Blanche.

I did not ask how her foot injury had happened. She may have landed poorly when practicing some new ballet choreography. (She would not have wanted me to think she was less than perfect as a dancer.) She may have jumped down from the roosting perch while it was still too dark for her to see clearly because she was eager to meet the new day. (She would not have wanted me to blame myself for being slow in getting up and going any earlier than I had.)

Sometimes it takes a mishap, an unexpected change in the routine, or an almost tragic event to cause us to appreciate what we have. In that uncertain time, Gracie and I stopped everything and focused on what really mattered.

“Do you know when I first had an idea you wanted to be a ballerina?”

“Was it when I stood on your shoes en pointe for the first time?”

“I remember that day so well. That was when you let everyone, not just me, know your dream was to be a ballerina. You must have been practicing that for days and days, and I imagine it took a great deal of courage to let everyone know your greatest heart’s desire.

“But I knew you loved to dance before then. Maybe before you even knew it yourself or knew the words ‘ballet’ and ‘ballerina.’ It was the day when I named you ‘Gracie,’ another day I will always remember.”

“Will you tell me about it?”

“It was one morning when I saw you coming down the chicken ladder when you were still so young with hardly any comb or wattles. You pointed your toes so perfectly as you moved down the ladder. You spread out all of your fluff feathers like they were the finest tutu ever. You stretched out your neck and head, ready for whatever joys and triumphs…or sorrows…the day held for you. And if there were sorrows, you knew you could dance through them as effortlessly as you had glided down the chicken ladder.”

Gracie turned her head to look at their first original coop in the side yard. “I miss those days so much,” she said. “Things were different then.”

“But we are still the same, you and I. And you still come down the chicken ladder that way after you’ve laid an egg.”

“I do my best,” she said, looking up into my eyes.

“That was before I ever brought out my old record player so you girls would have music to use for practicing ballet. I went to every thrift store in this neighborhood and the next looking for old classical record albums. But you danced even before we had those records, and then afterwards, you and Bessie worked out a remarkable Chinese Dance from The Nutcracker Suite.”

“We made you play that song so many times, we thought it was going to wear out.”

“And if it had I would have found another and another still. But that moment when I saw you coming down the chicken ladder was special. It was when I knew you could hear The Music Of The Morning. It was music I could not hear with my ears. But you, Gracie, you could hear it with your heart, and your heart let out that music through the way you moved. And as I watched you moving so gracefully, I could hear the music with my heart too. And that is why I named you Gracie.”

“Will you still call me ‘Gracie’ even if I am not able to dance gracefully again, even if I am not able to dance at all ever again?”

“Gracie, don’t even think such a thing.”

“But it could happen that way. I may not heal properly.”

“You will always be ‘Gracie’ to me. That is your name. I will always be able to hear the music of your dance in my heart, even if you are never able to dance again.”

“I know. I just needed to hear you say it.” She paused as if relieved of a burden. “Can I tell you something?”

“Of course, Gracie.”

“All I have ever wanted was to matter to someone. You gave me a name, a beautiful name, and every day you have let me know I matter. That is all I have ever wanted. What more could anyone ever want?”

I readjusted my jacket over her body and snuggled her closer to my chest. She looked out into the garden nodding her head gently from side to side, side to side, up, down, up, up, down. As I watched her, I could hear The Music Of The Garden, music only the two of us could hear. And so we sat together, mattering to each other, even if to no one else.

All I ever wanted was to matter to someone. What more could anyone ever want? – Gracie

Happy 2nd Anniversary, “My Life With Gracie!”

Today, August 1, marks the 2nd Anniversary of “My Life With Gracie,” and so I thought it might be good to do a little reflection. (I have even switched back to our original online theme.) Below is our very first post ever. It started with an illustration. (Because who would want to read a story if it didn’t have an illustration?) It had exactly 121 words. (Because who would want to read much more than than that?) It ended with an illustration. (Because who would want to read all of the way to the end otherwise?)

I was as unsure and uncertain as you see Gracie in the illustration. She was drawn as just one little newly hatched chick in a huge world, and I had no idea we would find friends all over this huge world.

It’s funny how things can change in two years. We have now just published a pair novels (see yesterday’s post), each with 40,000 words, one with illustrations and one without. Imagine that! 40,000 words and not an illustration in sight except for on the cover!

More importantly, we have met so many wonderful readers these past two years who have shared our joys and our sorrows with us. Our readers have shaped “My Life With Gracie” in more ways than I will probably ever know, and so I have a huge amount of gratitude in my heart as a result.

This original post also reminds me of how short life can be for chickens and for people. And I still have a few more books to write before I will feel as if I’ve really said all that needs to be said.

Blanche and Pearl have been at the center of the book pair “The Bottle Cap Lady” and “How To Explain Christmas To Chickens.” I do like the idea of having a pair of books, one illustrated and the other not, and so I am likely to continue the pattern unless I find one version is extremely more popular than the other.

I think the next novel will be about Emily and Amelia and how Amelia was the first chicken ever to fly to the moon and back. (And she was. Emily painted a sign and we posted it in the front yard so everyone would know. Amelia would have never been able to make the trip there and back if it hadn’t been for Emily.)

The third and perhaps final novel will be about Gracie and Bessie and the ballet titled “The Rose Garden Princess.” As I have told Gracie many times, it will be the best book ever and it will be for just the two of us. It is likely to be our last novel because I can’t make up stories. I can’t imagine things that haven’t happened. It’s like now that Blanche has left us, I can’t write an imaginary story that begins “One day Blanche and Pearl…” I just can’t make up stories. So I write what I know and love, but sometimes I do let my imagination get the best of me when filling in the small details.

Although I jokingly write about how the world is clamoring for another great chicken novel, I know we are a very small exceptionality in a huge world. It’s likely most of our huge world is looking for something other than stories about an old man and his backyard chickens, even phenomenally talented chickens who dance ballet and dream the biggest of dreams. But the world is also filled with grace if only you look for it.

An Introduction

People say to be a good writer you should write about what you know and love. For me, that has to be my chickens, and most particularly my Gracie.

She and my other chickens have taught me more about life and about myself than I will ever have time to write. Still I want to put some of it down and share what I can while I still remember most of it.

No story is complete without pictures, and so I will draw those as well. The style is rather simple with a childlike innocence, but hopefully the message will not be.

My Life With Gracie taught me how life itself is filled with grace if you only look for it.

My Life With Gracie...An Introduction