I was thrilled about the new house for several other reasons. On the grade school grounds was an asphalt covered playground with swings, teeter-totters, monkey bars, and a big metal sliding board. Behind the playground was a softball field. Softball didn't interest me, but that field meant plenty of room to run and do cartwheels, and for my best friend, Linda, and I to gallop about, pretending to be horses. lnd I had not been allowed to play in the front yard. The ld house had a large fenced-in back yard with a swing set, which was fine for me when I was just a little kid. But on ninth street, When we moved in there were only three houses on our side of the block. Next door to us were the Burkes, "Burky" and Mae, and next to them on the other side was a small frame rental house where the occupants changed from time to time. Burky had a mixed breed hound dog named Spot, who adopted me the day we moved in. Spot escorted me to school and was waiting on the corner when school let out. The dog and I played in the grassy area between the houses. Sometimes I'd stretch out on my back in the grass to watch clouds, my head resting on Spot's belly.
Behind our house was a cinder-covered alley that bisected the block all the way from the street in front of the high school to the street next to the grade school. Our back yard had a chicken wire fence running from a corner post near one side of the house all the way around the back yard. To get in and out of the yard there was a rickety white gate between the corner of the house and the corner of the equally rickety white garage.
From the back of the garage to the alley was Dad's garden, where he grew lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, cabbage, onions, and rhubarb. ( Mom baked a mean rhubarb pie.) I think there were
some potatoes too, or that might have been in the other garden he grew later on the vacant lot next to us, after getting the owner's permission--but that's another story.
The neighbors in the houses on the other side of the alley were all nice folks. One lady had a cherry tree in her back yard, and she let Linda and me climb it and pick as many cherries as we wanted before the birds got to them. In return we helped her pick cherries on the lower branches.
On the other side of the alley there were five instead of six houses. On the corner across from the grade school was a large metal building with double doors that opened onto a short driveway up from the street. Above the doors was a metal sign with red letters, "Clink's Hatchery." If you got close enough to the doors you could hear the sound of baby chicks peeping.
The Clinks didn't want kids messing around near the chicks, so Mrs. Clink would shoo kids away from the doors with her apron. However, the old couple took a shine to me, and one afternoon I was actually allowed to go into the building!
Mr. Clink unlocked the padlocked chain that secured the doors and swung them open. Inside it was dim and very warm. Dust motes swirled in a sunbeam from a high side window. The chicks were in shallow boxes covered with chicken wire, smaller than the kind around our yard. The boxes were stacked high on rows of metal shelves that ran along one wall. There were fewer shelves on the other side, stacked with deeper boxes covered with the same wire.
Also on that side were a couple of work tables and a few partially empty shelves holding bags. One bag was folded open and above it a scoop hung on a nail.
The peeping that had sounded softly from the outside of the closed doors was now much louder, and sounded like strange, frantic music. Mr. Clink went to one of the lower boxes, slid it out
and set it on the floor. He lifted a corner of the chicken wire and picked up a tiny chick.
He turned to me. "You want to hold this one?"
"Oh, yes, please, can I?" I held out my hands.
"Gentle now," said the old man, as he set the tiny bird into my cupped hands. "Close your hands a little bit so he don't fall out."
I held my breath and cupped the chick up against my chest.
"He's so soft," I breathed. "And so light." I peeked between my cupped hands, "And so small," I added. "How old is he?"
"About a week...no, five days." Mr. Clink pulled a red bandana out of the front of his coveralls, mopped his neck, then stuffed the bandana back in its place. "Better put him back now," he said, holding out his hands.
I took one more quick peek and held my hands above Mr. Clink's, not quite certain how to make the transfer.
"All right, now, just open your hands slowly."
I did and the chick sort of rolled forward into Mr. Clink's hands. The old gentleman gently lowered the chick into the box and hooked the wire back into place.
"OK, fellas", he said lifting up the box of peeping balls of fluff and sliding it back into its place on the shelf.
"Now, sweetie, you best not tell any 'o those other kids you got to hold one, or they'll all be askin' to and we can't have that, can we?"
"Sure," I said, "I mean no, sir, we can't." I held up my fingers in the Brownie pledge. "I won't tell any other kids, I promise. Is it OK if I tell my mom?"
"Why sure, you can tell your mama and your daddy too, if you want. I don't think they'll be wantin' to come over and hold one, do you?" He winked at me and grinned.
I shook my head and giggled. "No, they won't."
"Now, soon as you get home, mind you wash your hands real good, OK?"
"I will. Thank you so much, Mr. Clink. I really like your baby chicks."
Just then I heard my dad's familiar whistle, calling me home for supper. My dad really knew how to whistle--but that's another story.
"I gotta go now. Thanks again!"
I turned and ran out between the double doors and headed down the alley toward home. The cinders crunched as I trotted down the alley. I jogged up beside the garden, around the garage and through the rickety gate. Dad was still standing outside the back door, in case he needed to whistle again.
"Daddy, I got to hold a baby chick at Clink's!"
"Well, how about that!" Dad said and opened the door for us.
I ran into the kitchen. "Mom! Guess what? Mr. Clink let me hold one of his baby chicks!"
"Really? Well, wasn't that nice of him? Go in right now and wash your hands. And use soap!" she called after me as I ran through Mom and Dad's bedroom into the bathroom.
When I came back to the kitchen Mom was putting supper on the table.
"Mom, he's really got a whole lot of those chicks. Hundreds, maybe. What do you think he does with all those chicks?"
Mom sat down as Dad walked up to the table.
"Well, honey, I just don't know," she said.
"What don't you know, Mrs. Jones?" Dad said as he pulled his chair up to the table.
"I asked Mom what do the Clinks do with all those baby chickens? Do you know, Daddy?"
Mom and Dad exchanged a look and then he said, "Well, you know
what, I don't know either, kiddo."