Henrietta was a funny bird. We never knew where she’d come from before she came to live with us. She must have wandered onto our porch one autumn evening and decided to stay. In the morning, my brother and I found her roosting on top of Papa’s old shoes by the front door as we were leaving for school.
“Ma, there’s a chicken on the porch!” Willie called through the screen door, careful to keep his distance from the hen, which was cooing contentedly.
My mother came to the door and looked out at the bird on my father’s shoes. “That’s funny; she must have traveled quite a way. No one in Yellow Springs raises chickens. Not right in town. Just leave her! She’ll probably be gone by the time you get home from school.”
“Can’t we keep her?” I begged.
“She’s not ours, Penny. It wouldn’t be right,” Mama said.
“Who wants a dumb chicken anyway?” Willie grumbled. “Pop’s gonna be mad when he sees what she’s done to his shoes.” Willie was older and always contrary. If I said the sky was blue, he would find a way to paint it gray.
“She hasn’t soiled Papa’s shoes at all,” I replied.
“How do you know? She’s hunkered down so, you can’t tell,” he said.
“Off to school now, there’s the bell!” Mama warned.
“Let’s call her Henrietta,” I told Willie as we walked.
“Humph,” Willie snorted. “She won’t be there when we get home.”
But Henrietta was there in the front yard when we returned, clucking and pecking about in the grass and gravel.
‘Scoot, bird!” Willie shouted and stomped his foot.
“Cluck!” said Henrietta, then she looked at me and cooed. She followed us onto the porch and sat on Papa’s shoes.
“Ma, Penny still wants to keep the chicken!” Willie yelled, letting the screen door slam behind him.
“Is that bird still here?” Mama said. “I suppose if she stays outdoors... After all, we didn’t kidnap her. It’s more like she chose us. She’s free to leave any time she wants. If she stays out in the open where her true owner can find her, I don’t see any reason to shoo her off.”
“Nice chickie,” I said and patted her on the head.
“Coo,” said Henrietta.
Henrietta was a wonderful pet. She never wandered off. If she wasn’t in the front yard, she’d be out back in the barn with Hank, my father’s carriage horse, or on the porch, nestled on top of Papa’s shoes. When we were inside the house, especially after dark, Henrietta would choose a window sill to roost on, so she could watch us. If we moved, so did she, changing windows, so as not to be left out.
“Can’t we let her inside?” I begged my mother one night when the weather started to get colder.
“That’s out of the question,” Papa said as he stoked the fire in the pot-belly stove.
“She can sleep with Hank,” Mama said. “The heat from his body will keep her warm.”
Sure enough, that’s where we would find her on snowy mornings, out in the barn, perched on Hank’s back. Hank didn’t seem to mind. I’ve heard that horses like company. So do chickens!
Henrietta did a lot of funny things, but the most curious thing she did was follow us to church. Our house was directly across the road from the First Presbyterian Church. Every Sunday, when the bell rang for Sunday School, Willie and I would cross the road, enter the church through the back door and join the other children in the basement. It wouldn’t be long before there would be a pecking at one of the high windows and the other kids would start to laugh and point at Henrietta, her beak pressed against the glass.
When the snow came, Henrietta stayed out in the barn with Hank. I would go out back and feed her in the morning and again when I came home from school. I could tell she missed us, because whenever the snow would thaw, she would come right back to the porch and the windows from where she could watch us. When Spring came, she waited for us in the yard while we were in school and followed us onto the porch when we came home.
But one day, when school let out, Henrietta was not in the yard. She wasn’t in the barn. She wasn’t on the porch on Papa’s shoes. She wasn’t roosting in any of the windows. I looked everywhere. Then I cried.
In the kitchen, I asked my mother, “Did anyone come to take Henrietta, today?” But she hadn’t seen any strangers in the yard.
“Did you see any strange dogs in the yard?” Willie teased, making me cry some more.
Every day after school, I would run home, in hopes of finding my lost Henrietta. But every day, the yard would be empty. Hank would be alone in the barn. The porch would be vacant. In the afternoons I wandered the streets of Yellow Springs, searching for her, calling her name, “Henrietta! Henrietta!” looking for chicken scratches along the paths, for a white feather blowing in the wind.. Every night I prayed for Henrietta’s safe return.
Weeks went by until one Sunday, just as we were leaving Sunday school through the back door of the church, I heard something that sounded like a cluck, followed by a peep, then another peep and a few more peep, peep, peeps. The sound was coming from around the side of the church where an old shed that was used to store gardening tools leaned up against the stone building. Willie and I went over to see what it was. By now church was letting out and the whole curious congregation joined us. The racket was coming from inside the shed.
“Henrietta?” I called.
Then out through a crack in the shed door came Henrietta, proud as could be, followed by a parade of six peeping chicks.
“I knew she wouldn’t leave me,’ I shouted to Willie, clapping my hands with joy.
“Well, aren’t they quite the little Presbyterians!” Papa exclaimed. And we all went home to Sunday dinner.
Illustrations by the Blog's Chief cartoonist, Walter Rhodes, aka Reed. Copies of the original pamphlet edition are available in the office of the Presbyterian Church. Tell Mary Kay they're in the bottom draw of the desk by the window.