(And no, I don’t mean the Kids in the Hall Chicken Lady. I mean the one who lived on my road.)
The Chicken Lady lived in a small, rather run-down red brick house. The curtains were always drawn and gangly cedars obscured a proper view of the building from the road. I would see her outside, almost always wearing the same thing: a too-big mesh John Deere ball cap perched high atop her head; a calf-length sleep shirt; a pair of black rubber boots.
Usually her big hens were out poking and pecking at the ground around her feet. I guess that’s why we started calling her the Chicken Lady.
In the summer, she would tend to her lawn with a ride-on mower…but no tidy rows were to be found here, not at the Chicken Lady’s house. Rather, she would steer the tractor in seemingly random loops and whorls, creating a system of bizarre paths to nowhere in the otherwise tall grass.
She had a big black dog.
She drove a burgundy minivan. When she ventured off her property, she wore blue jeans and an oversized black and white plaid flannel shirt.
If I saw her outside, I would raise a hand in greeting. She’d always wave back. We never exchanged words.
Until today, that’s all I knew about her.
Yesterday, my email inbox alerted me to a new opportunity to collect some free goodies via our local FreeCycle community: BOOKS. Not only that, the ad promised “SCIENCE BOOKS”. Sounded groovy to me, so I sent an email. The reply I got was: “my friend died and these are her books; here’s where you can come get them”. How odd: the “friend” who died used to live on my own road.
And then it clicked.
About a week ago, I drove past the Chicken Lady’s house on my way home from school. Parked in front was an ambulance and a small army of police cruisers. I assumed (correctly, it turned out) that she had passed away. The book collection I was going to raid used to be hers.
Turns out her name was Christine. She was a horticulturist, and “an intellectual”. She loved nature. She had an extensive collection of pressed wildflowers, which sadly had already been thrown out.
She spent a lot of time outdoors, exploring her little 5 acre property. She would mow her lawn in a deliberate pattern so as to avoid unique wild flowers and small trees growing on her lawn.
She read. A lot. She had books on Canadian history, european languages, human sexuality, Star Trek, poetry, quantum theory, wildflowers, pregnancy and childbirth. There were books about mushrooms, prominent women in history, gardening, Tom Jones, human mutations, religious icons, supernatural phenomena. Piles of almanacs. Piles of dictionaries in many languages. Piles of encyclopedias.
She suffered from social anxiety, so rarely left her home. She had no family worth speaking of. She was an alcoholic; her drinking was her demise.
I was glad to learn about Christine from her friend (her only friend, it sounded like), who was now performing the sad and unpleasant task of cleaning the house and removing its contents. I carefully collected my prizes: books on weeds, pests/diseases of ornamental plants, mushrooms, birds, insects, native trees, wildflowers…and Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I think Christine would have been pleased to know that some of her beloved books were going someplace they’d be appreciated.
I feel sad about the loss of our road’s quiet eccentric… and now I really wish that I’d had a chance to get to know her a bit. I think she would have been a pretty interesting person.