This blog tells the story of how I became The Henhouse lady. As you will see, it has nothing to do with chickens but grew out of discriminatory comments. #chickens #crazy quilt #twitter #Henhouse lady #New Orleans
What’s up with the Chickens?
When you conjure up an image of the Hen House Lady, I bet you imagine a farm nestled between cornfields with a barnyard filled with poultry. The truth is stranger than fiction. I live in a pink house smack dab in the middle of a working-class neighborhood. The medium-sized Indiana city where I live suffers from a severe case of denial about the drug problem taking place between its city limits signs. So, what’s up with the Chickens?
The Henhouse lady lives in the Hood.
Crime in our little burg has increased 120 percent, but we still won’t hire police officers to replace the ones who are retiring. It’s not uncommon to see homeless people strolling the streets these days with bedrolls slung over their shoulder and signs suggesting they will work for food. My dream of keeping a few hens for eggs and amusement was squashed when I discovered there was a possibility toxic waste was dumped in the area during our city’s industrial heyday.
Two abandoned factories exist within a block of my house. The first used to produce stain glass windows for churches. The other printed Playboy magazines. However, these factories contaminated the soil before they moved to find a cheap workforce. These companies didn’t bother to clean up their mess before they moved out of town.
The story is about to begin.
You might ask how this urbanite became fascinated with chickens. Grab a cup of coffee and take a seat. I’m going to tell you the complicated story about how I became The Hen House Lady. One of my first rules of social media is I never talk about my job.
There are a couple of reasons. The first is the work I do requires me to sit at a desk for long periods waiting for a customer to come. This can be very lonely and tedious. The plus side of the equation is it gives me time to dream up story ideas and read books.
The second reason I don’t discuss my employment is that I still need my stinking job. I’m going to break my own rule today because it’s pertinent to the reason I became The Hen House Lady. I have changed the names of the characters to protect both the innocent and the guilty. For the purpose of this blog, I’ll call my former supervisor Lard Ass. My co-workers will be referred to as Gloria and Angel.
The concrete cage
Many years ago, when architects designed the building I work in, they made the decision to leave the concrete doorway and turn it into a Welcome Center. The door shaped square structure was used to anchor the second floor of the building. The Welcome Center evolved over time. Three female employees worked behind a make-shift desk placed in front of a sliding glass window.
Ugly, pink, dust collecting Venetian blinds hung over a glass door and a large piece of glass erected to function as the back wall. It was a great place to be sitting during tornado warnings. Over time, the make-shift Welcome Center became our cage. It was a dreary environment where we spent eight hours a day watching the world drift by. We hunkered down in the concrete structure and greeted people, functioned as the company’s switchboard, collected lost and found items, processed work requests, ordered supplies, and did numerous other clerical duties.
Who is Stan?
The first time I met Stan was the day he showed up for his interview. He made a few minutes of small talk before he asked for directions. Within a week of him being hired, I wish I would have given the balding, overweight, middle-aged misogynist the wrong directions. The man had several irritating habits the women who worked under him found it difficult to live with.
He was a compulsive liar, a master manipulator, and skilled in the practice of demeaning the help. The man could take credit for someone else’s ideas and labor faster than Superman could outrun a speeding locomotive. I know I sound like a whinny disgruntled employee, but the jerk was a real piece of work. He acquired the irritating habit of slamming open the door behind where we sat before he barged into the tiny workspace we occupied like clowns squeezed into a circus car.
The Venetian blinds would rattle, and we would jump at the unexpected noise invading our quiet space. He got a perverse satisfaction when he startled us. Our theory was he was a little man in search of power. The behavior gave him a sense of being in control.
Nobody home but us chickens.
One sunny afternoon business was slow. My coworker and I sat side by side in our cage pretending like we were invisible. An eerie quietness settled over the building. There wasn’t even foot traffic to hold our interest. Suddenly, the door behind us burst open and in walked Lard Ass. “How are the biddies doing in the hen house,” he said. He towered over us with his hands on his hips and a sadistic smile on his face. The sound of his shoes squeaking as he rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet filled the tight space. I don’t remember why he paid us the visit.
What I took away from the encounter was the uncomfortable feeling of being devalued. As soon as Stan slammed the door behind him as he made his exit, Angel turned to me and said, “You need to go to Human Resources about this.” I knew it would be a waste of time. I’d already paid them a visit. In the back of my mind, I suspected my complaint may have been the catalyst behind his comment.
A creative plan hatched in the mind of a disgruntled hen.
The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to coming up with a more creative plan to deal with the situation. By the time I made my escape at the end of my shift, my devious mind had come up with a way for us to make a powerful statement. It wouldn’t end the snide comments, but it would put Stan on notice we could play the game of public opinion too. I didn’t worry about him firing me. He needed my skill and expertise.
My mother taught me how to make crazy quilts when I was a kid. I moved on to more elaborate patterns as I got older, leaving embroidery stitches behind for the more challenging work of hand piecing and quilting. I decided to return to the skills I learned at my mother’s knee to make my stand against the tyrant. It took six weeks, but I made a chicken-themed crazy quilt, framed it, and had it hung on the wall of the Welcome Center.
My first Crazy Quilt statement piece.
I made tiny patches with cross-stitched words of rebellion sewn onto them. I added these in a random pattern onto the quilt. These patches were intended to make a powerful statement. One read, “Three cool chicks: alias the tough old birds.” Another read, ‘Will work for chicken feed.’ Still, another said, ‘A hen’s work is never done.’ You get the idea. I don’t believe Stan even noticed until the decision was made to remodel the Welcome Center and move the switchboard and the old ladies upstairs into the main office. We were told we couldn’t bring any of our ‘clutter’ with us into the new space. I took my chicken quilt home. A controversy erupted over us not being allowed to have personal items in our area.
Stan didn’t want to lose when it came to a battle of public opinion. He knew it wouldn’t be good for his career. I brought my chicken quilt back and had it hung on the wall next to the new counter desk which would be our cage for the next five years. Angel, Gloria, and I settled in for the long haul. Whenever people came to our office and asked about the quilt, I would tell the story about how someone referred to us as old biddies in the hen house in a disrespectful and derogatory manner, but we decided to claim it as a badge of honor. Hens are courageous, productive, and perceptive creatures.
Why Publius Claudius Pulcher should have listened to the chickens.
Stan ignored my storytelling capabilities until his curiosity got the better of him. One afternoon he asked me, “What’s up with the chickens.” A considerable amount of time passed since he made the rude hen house comment. I almost believed he didn’t remember saying it. I decided to let him off easy and told the Publius Claudius Pulcher story.
He was the commander of the Roman naval fleet during the First Punic War. Roman’s held the strong belief birds carried messages from the gods. They carried cages of chickens aboard their ships when they sailed off to fight a war. Priests interpreted the mood of the sensitive birds for signs of victory or defeat. If the chickens refused to take nourishment, it was an indication it wasn’t a good time to engage in battle. When he was told the chickens refused to eat, his response was, “Let them drink then.” He had the poultry tossed into the sea.
The Romans suffered a great loss in the Harbor of Drepanum that day. The moral of the story was hens needed to eat. It was time he gave us a big raise. He missed the point I was trying to make and laughed at my suggestion. We didn’t get a raise in salary, but we were thrown under the bus several times before Stan left the company. for greener pastures.
The Henhouse Series takes root in a writer’s mind.
At about the same time, I was a frustrated writer in search of a story. I’d been bouncing an idea around in my head for over a year, but I wasn’t sure how to make it work. I thought the plot might be so odd nobody would believe it. Some biker friends of ours started a bail bonds bounty hunting business. They chased bail jumpers to supplement their income. It was their safety net for when the car plants went down during slow economic times and a way to stash some retirement money in the bank.
A little inspiration found in New Orleans.
They thrilled us with tall tales about the adventures they went on, and the people they apprehended. I thought it would be interesting if I wrote a novel about three middle-aged women from diverse backgrounds who took up bounty hunting to make some fast cash to save their struggling flower shop. We went to New Orleans on vacation. Our adventures there gave me an ending to the novel. All I needed to do was create a world where it was possible for these women to take up bounty hunting.
.I came home, made up the fictional city of Tecumseh, threw my ladies into a flower shop with money trouble, and started writing my book. When I needed a name for this troubled flower shop, I couldn’t resist calling it The Hen House. I set out on this adventure eight years ago and spend every morning communing with my ladies from Tecumseh.
Why the Twitter chicken pictures.
Fast forward to the presidential campaign of 2015. I was new to Twitter. If a writer wants to sell their work, they needed to master at least one form of social media. I have a Facebook account, but I find the venue to be cliquey, limiting, and slow. Twitter fascinated me, but it took some time to figure out how the tweeting and following worked.
Once I caught on, this social media format captured my attention. The nastiness of politics moved onto the scene in 2015. Donald Trump started tweeting, and before I knew it, everyone was out to verbally attack everyone else. There was so much anger online. I could feel the heat through my computer screen. Also, I wanted to do something to send a positive vibe out into the universe.
A quest to stay positive in the political storm.
I found a couple of chicken pictures on the internet, created a few positive thoughts, and started tweeting. People sent me chicken pictures in return. I soon discovered I connected with some fantastic people in the crazy, fast-paced world of Twitter who were positive and supportive. Over time, I became The Hen House Lady. I was once called the Chicken Queen of the Barnyard Scene, and I claim the title with pride. Turn out, I owe a lot to Stan. He was the catalyst. which motivated me in a positive direction. My hens will be busy during the presidential campaign of 2019-2020.
This country is going to need a lot of humor during the upcoming election process. I hope my chickens can bring some sanity and laughter into the madness which is about to take place on this nation’s political stage.
The Henhouse lady is born.
That’s the story of how I became The Hen House Lady. It’s been an interesting adventure filled with some fascinating people I’ve met along the way. I’m still writing my novels. Several months ago, I started a blog. I called my husband rooster to give him anonymity. (It’s a nickname he’s adopted with pride since it suggests he’s still virile at his age. It’s easy to see the resemblance when the man and the bird are placed side by side.)
The two of us have started on a journey in search of the next adventure waiting for us down the highway. We’re having more fun than a hen sitting on a double-yolked egg. I’ve come a long way since the days of the concrete Welcome Center. I might just learn to fly which is a difficult thing to do if you are an old hen.
Who is Molly Shea?
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
Be sure to follow Molly on Twitter!