I’ve tried many times in my life to be a vegetarian. I’ve failed every time. One time, I did make it about 9 months, but I gave into the best cheeseburger I’ve ever eaten.

But I don’t like the way our food industry treats animals, so my husband and I started our own little backyard homestead, where we raise the biggest vegetable garden we can manage, chickens for eggs, and, yes, chickens for meat. That last part is hard on our hearts–always.

October 2, 2017 was the biggest day of chicken processing we’ve ever had. It takes a lot to get ready for it, and you have get ready for it mentally as well. For me, it’s a day when I start thinking a whole lot about death, what it means to be human, the ethics of eating meat, and my own mortality.

So when we woke up early that morning to the news about the tragedy in Las Vegas, I wondered if I would be able to hold up. For me, the worst part of the mass shooting is I have no hope that our country is ever going to do anything to try to stop this, so that hopelessness, which hurts so badly, kicks in and wears me out.

But there’s so much prep that goes into chicken processing I knew we had to proceed and that I would have to suck it up and be tough. I feel everything so deeply (not something that I like about myself because life is not fun this way for sure), but I can be tough when I have to be. I knew I would need to be tough. It would be much worse to put off processing the chickens.

It always starts the same. It’s easier at first. My husband, Ron, is careful, quick, and kind, and the chickens don’t know what’s going on. But, as their numbers start to dwindle, the chickens get suspicious. It gets harder to catch them. They fight against being caught–and rightly so. And, so my mind turns to heavy thoughts, and I start wanting to keep some chickens, even though I completely understand that the chickens we’re processing are a type of chicken that may not have a long normal chicken life.

But, still, it’s always the same. I start hinting around about saving some of the last ones, keeping some, the ones who have made it. People can say what they want, but I know the chickens know what’s going on, at least on some level, even though we try to hide it from them. My husband always makes me be practical. We don’t have the room. Meat birds don’t live very long lives anyway, usually.

But October 2 would be different.

While my husband worked on the next chicken, I had a few minutes for a break, so I went to my computer and checked Facebook. It was then I discovered Tom Petty had passed away. I just stared for a long time, and then the tears came. It was too much for one day, I thought. I loved Tom Petty. My husband did too. I went out to tell him.

“Tom Petty died today,” I said.

“What?!” he asked.

“I just read online that Tom Petty died today.”

There was a long silence as my husband continued his work. I knew he was sad, and I felt heartbroken, but we continued our work. I can’t even tell you how much I loved my husband in that moment. My heart was so broken, and I could tell he was really sad too. He got it. He got how important Tom Petty was, and my husband would become even more awesome to me that afternoon.

After a while, the conversation came up. We had just a couple of chickens left, and the last one was a little girl. She had eluded capture all day, and she was worried for sure. I hinted that we could really use another layer, and, that day, my husband agreed. I heard him ask our son, should we save this last one to be a layer? He’s eight, so, of course, he said yes. I was happy. And I really needed some happy that day.

Mary Jane
This is our Mary Jane hanging out with our sweet rooster, Rooster. She’s doing a pretty good job of fitting into the flock, even though she’s still kind of an outsider. I think Rooster loves her though.

Her name is Mary Jane, and she’s a beautiful, wild, mistrustful little hen. It’s been a little over two weeks, and just this week, she started coming for treats with the rest of the chickens. I love her already, and I am so thankful for Mary Jane and that little bit of happiness that came at the end of such a tough day.

Mary Jane doesn’t know it (But maybe she does. After all, who am I to say?), but she’s going to have the best little chicken life a chicken can have. She doesn’t let me pet her yet, but I’ll keep working on that.

Mary Jane’s last dance will, hopefully, be many years from now. Tom Petty’s music touched so many people’s lives in so many ways, and on the day he died, he touched our family so much that Mary Jane lived.

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7 thoughts on “On Tragedy, Tom Petty, and a Chicken Named Mary Jane

  1. Love this blog post! I had never heard of your blog before until this week. Someone (perhaps you? I don’t recall) posted it to Facebook’s “Tom Petty Nation” fan page yesterday. I too live in Maine (just outside of Wiscasset), love to write, work in academics (Bowdoin) and love Tom Petty. So naturally, as I peruse your blog, I am finding much to love. 🙂 So happy that your sweet Mary Jane is living the life of a loved, pampered, happy Maine chicken. Tom would be happy about that too… He is missed very much. I’m thinking of him today, what would have been his 67th birthday. Thank you for this wonderful post about that very very sad day. xo

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    1. Oh my goodness! I am so thankful for this post and that you found my blog. I am thinking of Tom Petty today as well and had this thought that all the radio stations should only be playing Tom Petty today. It is wonderful to make this connection. Bowdoin is such an amazing school. I am envious that you work there!

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      1. I am grateful for this new connection too! I’ll be following your blog regularly now, as I really enjoy your writing style. I don’t have chickens at this time, but your writing somehow makes me invested in yours. 🙂 My writing genre is non-fiction/memoir, so I enjoy reading real-life blogs (like yours) much more than reading any fiction. I’ve been thinking about starting a non-fiction writing group in the Wiscasset area next Spring, to help us writers of non-fiction to encourage and support one another. I don’t know where you live, but I would love for you to join! I’ll see you again here in your comments section soon. Mary K. xo
        PS… Watched the meteor shower last night. When the biggest and brightest star shot across the sky, I said to my friends with me, “I’m naming that star Thomas Earl Petty!” What a cool thing on his birthday. 🙂

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  2. The Native Americans would express thanks to the animals they killed for food and held their gift of life in reverence. I think your treating your chickens as kindly as you can and caring how they feel makes a difference. I am not yet up to that step, but maybe someday.

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    1. Oh, thank you so much for this note. I feel that same way, the thankfulness to the animals. My husband and I are also adamant that, when we die, we want a natural burial, so we can give back our bodies. It’s all I know to do. ❤

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