I saw my next door neighbor Tom in the tire store. Waiting. Which is what one does when you're in a tire store.
When moved in a year ago March, I liked him immediately. I've seen him a few times since, but only long enough to say a couple of pleasantries in passing. Soft spoken but friendly, the conversations never last very long.
But as many of you know, the longest period of time recorded since the dawn of existence are the minutes spent waiting for your car in a tire store. And since the only open seat was right next to Tom, we got to talking.
I found out that Tom is an illustrator. He showed me some of his work and it's stunning. We talked about his drawings, his accounts, and his history with graphic art. We talked about stuff, like family and work and the weather. Tire store waiting room conversational topics.
I then asked him about his house, but specifically his backyard. Tom keeps chickens. I mean, he's got a big yard, and I love to hear the chickens in the morning but...chickens?
"Oh, you like them?" I said I did, that I loved their sounds in the morning.
"They belong to my wife," said Tom. "She's from Hungary. When the Soviets invaded in 1956, she was a child. She made it across the border, stayed in different parts of Europe, then was taken to live with an aunt of hers, someone she'd never met. The aunt lived with a family on a farm in Ohio. Alone for months, she knew no one and the only ones she could speak to were adults who didn't know what to do with this kid."
"During those months on the farm, she was sheltered and restricted. She was not allowed to be around the livestock or other animals, but could watch from the fence as they grazed and paraded around the land. One day, as she was leaning against the fence, a chicken came up to her and stood there. Just looked at her, standing as close to her as I am to you."
"She didn't know what to do. So she just spoke to the chicken. The chicken clucked, and walked away."
"The next morning, as she approached the fence, she saw six chickens standing at the fence. She sat down, interacted, and they wouldn't leave. They just sat and clucked there, making eye contact, hanging out with her. During the day, they would gather and cluck for her, waiting for her to show up. In a way, they became her pets."
"The chickens gave her comfort in those really difficult days. It was as if they came to the fence to let her know that everything was going to be OK. It was the only time in her childhood that she remembered feeling at ease, relaxed. The chickens helped take away the loneliness."
Now," Tom said, "she keeps them in the yard. She loves them. And she interacts with them, just as she used to when she was a child. They give her comfort. She gets a great deal of peace from them."
This morning I took my coffee out the yard, peered over the fence, and thanked the chickens for their loving presence they bring to Tom's wife.
They didn't even look my way.
I looked over the fence again and said, "Hey, I'm going to write a story about you today. You'll love it!"
"Well, have a nice day. And thanks for being friends with Tom's wife."
In unison, they all started clucking.