A late friend of mine used to describe how the past affects each of us in terms of a mosaic. 

We humans – all of us -- are complicated masterpieces, made up of many disparate pieces that have been shaped together into one human mess, an accumulation of our many journeys around the sun. 

A complex network, our brain has certain triggers – good or bad – which are able to transport our subconscious selves back to a time and place we can barely remember consciously. 

I remember walking into someone’s house a few years ago and being instantly blown away by how much it smelled like my grandmother’s old farmhouse. 

Up until that point, had I even been aware that my grandma’s house had a particular smell? Not really. But the smell – (was it equal parts lead paint, hardwood floors, and 70s era carpet?) – took me back. It was a nostalgic experience, however unexpected. 

Nine years ago, when I met my husband, I had another experience that took me back, although this time it wasn’t quite as positive. It involved chickens. Yes, that’s right: chickens. 

To back up a bit … I freely admit I have had an irrational fear of all things poultry since I was around six years old, when a certain babysitter (whose name I can’t remember or it would have come up during therapy) let me watch Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. 

It’s hard to say, exactly, what it was about that particular movie that scared the bejeebers out of me to the point that I became forever afraid of anything with feathers. I’ve seen many animal-centered horror movies since, i.e. Cujo, that have not left me terrified; however, when I saw those others, perhaps I was a bit older?  I had more of a grip on the fact that a movie is just a movie? Something like that. 

But that movie scared me. Really scared me.  

I remember a day not long after I watched Tippi Hedren’s blood spill on her green suit that I was out in a cornfield with my grandpa, and he sent me back to the house, either to fetch something or tell my grandmother something. We weren’t half a mile from home, and it was just a quick jaunt down a field road to get there -- a trip I’d taken many times before. 

But this time – post-Hitchcock, mind you -- I became acutely aware of the red-winged blackbirds that scolded me as I walked by their perches on the cornstalks. Had they been there before, or had that horrible movie come to life and I was about to be pecked to death and left for dead? I couldn’t be sure. 

I was still in the middle of the corn with no exit in sight, when I quickly did an about-face and ran like a jackrabbit back to where Grandpa was working. 

“What are you doing?” he asked, knowing I couldn’t have possibly completed my mission that quickly. 

“I think I’ll just stay here and wait for you,” I said, to which Grandpa just raised his eyebrows and went back to work. (My grandpa was way cool like that. He knew when not to ask too many questions.) 

Fast forward to the next summer when my cousin invited me to her farm to spend the night. I typically loved spending time there for a variety of reasons, a highlight being that Aunt Doris was the only woman I knew who allowed her daughter and company to play with an Easy-Bake oven unattended. We also played pool in the basement and ate fresh rhubarb dipped in sugar until our guts ached. 

It was a whole lot of fun, until one Saturday morning at breakfast when I was told there was a big crew coming to help butcher chickens that day, and my cousin and I would be helping pluck the wet feathers after the birds had been beheaded and dunked in boiling water.

Can this be happening? I thought to myself, as I panicked and tried everything I could to get out of the apparent task at hand. I faked an illness, remembered a forgotten commitment, even cried … but to no avail. Aunt Doris was onto me. 

In the end, I plugged my nose, farmgirled up and did what I’m sure was a pathetic job of helping with the chore. To this day, I can still conjure the smell of those boiling feathers in my sleep. Yuck. 

Back to my husband: when I first realized he and his family had several thousand laying hens, I wasn’t too worried. What could they have to do with me, right? 

Until the day I followed him into the coop, inadvertently left the door open and one escaped. 

At the time, I thought my husband, a much more seasoned chicken wrangler than myself, would just go catch it …Wrong.

“You let it out. You can go get it,” he said, in what may have been the first of many tests we would put each other through.

When I told him I couldn’t do it, he was amazed.  

“You ride wild horses and milk cows. How can you be afraid of a chicken?” he asked, almost incredulous. 

My heart sank with disappointment when I realized he was serious, and I would certainly be judged by how I completed the task before me. 

I had to quickly shift into some sort of survivalist “mind over matter” mode, as I tried to talk myself into not being paralyzed by the job ahead.  

“I can do this,” I said to myself, not completely convinced. 

But I did. I stalked that hen slowly, all over the farm, for what seemed like hours. There were so many times I was close enough to grab her and, frankly, chickened out. 

I went back to tell my husband I couldn’t do it, to which he answered, “Too bad.” 

And since failure didn’t seem like an option, I continued to stalk my prey, until she hid in some weeds and I was able to grab her by the legs and return her to the roost. 

It was likely the one true example of me facing my fear and getting through it successfully, so much so that I can now go into the barn and help catch or load chickens without even being scared (well, maybe just a little, because slipping and hitting my head on the floor and having my eyes pecked out by 5,000 hens still ranks as my idea of the worst way to die). 

I’ll never keep birds as pets, or like a friend of mine, let a kid bring one into the house to snuggle with on the couch while she watches TV, but I no longer totally freak out if I see a murder of crows in a tree in my yard.  

By now, I’m sure any farm kids reading this are thinking I am the biggest wimp to ever set foot on a farm. 

But I’m not. Just a big ole’ chicken.