Chickens, when they first begin to get their feathers, are awkward, ugly, oily, vulnerable and more or less useless. They are something like middle-school girls.
If you have a pre-teen or know one, you understand that this is an age of vast confusion and nameless dissatisfaction. Being a middle-schooler is a bit like the view from the window of an airplane at 30,000 feet. All the particulars are lost in a vague wash of neutral color and cloud.
I must have learned something in sixth and seventh grades, but I am at a loss to say what it was. In sixth grade, we tried to get Mrs. Cochran started on the subject of Mexico so that she would forget about arithmetic or English. In seventh, we were all aghast that Mrs. Diggs hadn’t heard of the New Look and wore her skirts too short. Only piano lessons were exempt from criticism. Mrs. Pack was a cool deity and everything she had to say was Received Wisdom.
My poor mother sewed pretty clothes for me, only to have colorful little dresses hang in the closet in favor of whatever was dumpy, gray or brown. She cooked meals which were pushed about on the plate. She took me to hairdressers to try to do something about my looks. Photographs from that time show an unhappy girl with pink glasses and a permanent.
I mostly lived in a dogwood tree in the back yard, even after my father built me a playhouse so I could get out of the rain. I played Tarzan, picked blackberries, hid under the bed and sang to myself. I was not turning out to be the genteel little lady Mother had hoped for.
She signed me up for the Girl Scouts. She sprang for the full uniform, beret, belt, scarf, pin, probably in place of a winter coat for herself. She bought me a Girl Scout knife and put my name on the list for Camp Trefoil. I got my tree finder’s badge and put it in a cigar box with my treasures. Up in the dogwood tree, I whittled kite sticks, bows and arrows with my Girl Scout knife.
When we were moving Mother to the rest home a few years ago, I found the Girl Scout uniform hanging in a closet. The hem had been let out. I had grown taller during my brief tenure with the Troop, but the troop leader had quit and no replacement could be found. The uniform went unworn and unhemmed, but there it was in the closet after all those years.
I liked being a Girl Scout as well as I liked anything in those days, and I was sorry the troop disbanded for lack of a supervising adult. I’m sure it wasn’t much fun trying to interest a bunch of middle-school girls in anything besides finding fault.