The call came at 6:13 AM. Having given up on sleep around 5 AM, afraid I'd snooze through the phone's ringing, I quickly grabbed my cell and thumbed it open. "Is this A?" a voice asked. "They're here!"
J was sitting up in bed, wide awake, as I put the phone back on my night table. "Is this it?" he asked excitedly.
"This is it!" I responded, dashing into the bathroom to wash up and put my lenses in. J whooped and, jumping out of bed, hurried to get his clothes on. Although it only took me mere minutes to get dressed and grab my shoes, I emerged from the bedroom to find J pacing impatiently in the middle of the kitchen, car keys in one hand, camera in the other.
"Shall we?" I asked with a nervous but eager smile as I headed towards the garage.
"Ummm..." he hesitated, lagging behind. "Aren't you going to put on some makeup or something? I am going to be taking a lot of photos, you know."
Welcome to D-Day, or Delivery Day, the day we'd been counting down towards for what seemed eons. You'd think we were racing to the local maternity ward for a long-anticipated birth but instead, we were heading to the post office to pick up the chicks we'd ordered from McMurray Hatchery just three weeks ago. We'd actually selected today — Monday — as the shipping date but, for reasons unknown to us, the hatchery had sent the chicks out on Friday, three days ago. We received the emailed notification of shipment on Saturday, almost 24 hours after the chicks had started their journey towards us. Dumbfounded and horrified that the chicks were spending the weekend trapped in their box in a post office with no hope of retrieval until the work week started, we'd contacted the hatchery to ask why the shipping date had changed and why we hadn't received a timely notification.
We never received a reply.
Knowing that there was a good chance that several chicks might have perished in transit, we anxiously pulled into the post office parking lot at approximately 6:40 AM. I hopped out and rang the service bell by the employee entrance while J parked in one of the employee spaces. A brunette postal clerk I'd seen dozens of times working the service counter answered the door.
"That didn't take long," she commented. "We didn't even get a chance to play with them!" Laughing, she led me through a labyrinth of packages, bins full of magazines, and rolling carts jammed with letters until we reached a utilitarian desk set in the middle of all the hubbub. There, on the far left of the desk, sat two white cardboard boxes perforated with holes. Loud peeps could be heard emanating from within.
"Awww, we didn't even get to play with them!" a blonde postal clerk sorting mail nearby joked.
The brunette clerk scanned the boxes with a handheld gadget, then passed me a clipboard, gesturing for me to sign. "Since these are a live delivery, we need your signature to guarantee that you received them," she explained. "From all the noise they're making, they seem to be doing just fine."
I looked at the boxes and had to agree. In addition to being vocal, the chicks were also occasionally visible, with tufts of down or a tiny beak sometimes making an appearance at one of the ventilation holes. Seeing and hearing the little birds' activity put my heart at ease. With all that commotion, most of the chicks had certainly survived.
The brunette clerk set my signed forms aside and handed me the top box. "Be sure to turn the heat way up in your car if it isn't already," she advised me, turning to pick up the other carton. "That'll keep them happy until you get them under their heat lamps."
As I reached to accept the second box, the blonde clerk spoke up. "Don't give her both of those boxes!" she called out. "Only one of them's hers."
Startled, the brunette looked down at the carton in her hand. "Yipes, you're right!" she exclaimed, reading the label. She nodded her head at me. "That one's yours. This one belongs to... someone on Main Street."
"Nope, that's not me," I replied, wondering how on earth 29 chicks could possibly be crammed into the box I carefully cradled. "That would've been bad."
The brunette laughed. "You don't know the half of it! Last year, this guy on a farm just outside of town ordered something like 100 chicks, all different types. They all came in at once, so he came and signed the forms and left with his chicks. A couple of hours later, another guy came by, looking for his chicks. Turns out we accidentally gave the first guy the second guy's chicks, too. When the postal worker who'd scanned his chicks showed up at his farm to get the chicks back, she found out the farmer had already released them to free range on his property... and he had something like 20 acres! She spent the rest of the afternoon with the farmer, trying to find the other guy's chicks."
"It wasn't either of us," added the blonde.
Free-ranging day-old chicks? I was surprised that the hawks, coyotes, and raccoons didn't beat the postal worker to those chicks.
"You're all set now," the brunette told me. "Can you find your way out from here?"
I assured her that I could, thanking her and letting her know that we were still awaiting a chick delivery from Meyer Hatchery sometime within the next few days. Within a minute, J and I were zipping back towards home, a box of cheeping peeps loudly conveying their displeasure at having been outside in the cold for 10 or so seconds.
Off came the lid, and inside, dozens of tiny little eyes blinked at the light that was suddenly streaming in. They were absolutely adorable! There were tan fuzzies, gold fuzzies, grey and black fuzzies, pale yellow fuzzies, all of them peeping with increased volume now that they could see outside their box. J and I stared in amazement at all the different colors of down.
"Let's get them settled first, then worry about taking notes on each chick later," I suggested.
"Be sure to check for pasty butt, though," J noted.
I reached in and picked up our first chick, a lovely bird whose down was a rich, all-over gold. "Buff Orpington Number One!" I declared, checking the birdie's beak to make sure it wasn't malformed, checking its toes to ascertain they were straight, and peeking at its vent to make sure it wasn't pasted over. "Everything looks good!" I gently set the chick into the brooder, dipping its beak into the waterer to let it know where to find a drink. Once it took a few gulps, it shook out its down, then headed off to explore its much roomier surroundings.
We spent the next hour unpacking the carton, checking each bird individually before placing it inside the brooder. A few surprises awaited us, starting with a tiny black bird with a very prominent white pompom on its head.
"A white-crested black Polish!!!" I cried out in delight. This was the very breed I'd added to our original order, only to cancel its addition a half hour later due to J's total absence of enthusiasm for this ornamental breed. And here was a little chick with bright black eyes peering eagerly at its surroundings.
"I guess that's our free rare chick," J muttered, watching as I cradled the little cutie in my palm. The tiny chick preened and snuggled down into my hand. Awwwwww.
More awwws followed when I came across our first Buff Silkie. The only bantam breed we'd ordered, the Silkies were tiny in comparison to the standard-sized chicks, despite the fact that they were all only three days old. The little Silkie had caramel-colored down, with fuzzy legs and a tiny poof hanging cowlick-style over its forehead. I think my eraser weighed more than it did.
The brooder began to bustle with busily exploring chicks as the shipping carton emptied. There were six Silver-Laced Wyandottes, their darkly speckled faces making them rather homely but their temperaments the most docile of all; Buff Orpingtons number 2 through 6, all the same shade of golden honey and all identical to each other; three chubby Columbian Wyandottes, their pale platinum faces and black backs making them look as though they sported tuxedos; fluffy-legged blonde White Cochins, with dark grey backs and heads resembling hoodies; five Ameraucanas, each with her own individual chipmunk stripes and each already bearing wing feathers; and three more honey-tinted Buff Silkies. Twenty-nine birds total were scurrying around the brooder, dipping their beaks in water, pecking at chick starter, pooping everywhere, and having a grand old time with all that space. Not a single bird had perished on its way to us.
And as we gazed down at the fluffballs waddling and tottering around their brooder, J and I exchanged a look that reflected our big chicks' confusion: Twenty-nine new chicks, with eight more already here and four more on the way. Forty-one chicks total. What the heck had we gotten ourselves into???