If geography is destiny, as the old saying goes, then I count myself lucky to have grown up across the street from a feed and seed store, an accident of chance that’s shaped me in ways I’m only beginning to grasp.
My childhood was in the 1970s, a decade defined by an unpopular war abroad, economic troubles at home and talk of scandal and impeachment in Washington.
Though the headlines were bleak, the corner feed and seed suggested a comforting continuity. It’s where farmers found what they needed for planting and mending, for keeping horses and chickens and cows, for answering the errands and emergencies involved in growing things. The feed and seed customers had worries, but they seemed connected to some constancy that had somehow eluded the news cycle.
I suppose what I was watching, as I glanced at the goings-on at the feed and seed from my bedroom window, was the flow of the farm season, which moved according to a pattern that had nothing to do with Watergate, Vietnam or the Arab oil embargo. It was, for me, an anchor.
I moved away more than three decades ago, and now return to the old neighborhood mostly for funerals. Last month, while driving back to my hometown on such a mission of condolence, I listened to the car radio, which was grim company. In many ways, it seemed like the soundtrack of my boyhood, touched by the familiar themes of fighting abroad, discord at home, questions about what the president knew, and when did he know it.
I stopped by a corner church and stayed for awhile with the bereaved, intent on getting back quickly after I’d paid my respects. But leaving town, I saw the feed and seed where it’s always been and decided to stop in.
In magnetic letters on an outdoor sign, the store’s proprietor had announced that chicks and ducks were for sale, an invitation I found irresistible. Visiting the brooder at the feed and seed, which reliably roils with chicks and ducks every spring, is for me a ritual as renewing as a trip to Lourdes.
Within a metal box as big as a china cabinet, chicks and ducklings scratched about on separate levels. They were illuminated by heating lamps, which made them glow with little halos, like medieval saints in stained-glass windows.
The pullets were $3.25 apiece and included some called Gold Sex Link. It sounded illicit. I Googled the reference, which misled me to a few corners of the internet best not mentioned, before learning that Gold Sex Link pullets are a cross breed “utilizing the Rhode Island white female and the Rhode Island red male.”
I bought no chicks or ducks, though I did buy some bird seed to stock my feeders back home. With such small gestures of hope, I guess, we learn to take whatever the morning news throws at us.