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Booty Boy, who lived in one of the tenant houses on the farm, showed me a beautiful gold ring he had on his finger one day. I asked him where he got it. He said he had traded Mr. Evans several fresh eggs for round sticks of bubble gum. (Tetum Evans was owner of the country store on what is now Enon Church Road.)
The sticks were the size and length of a finger, and every fifth one had a gold ring on it. I told him I wanted a ring like that, and asked him where he got his eggs for trade. He said he got them at the Ellis’s house. For several months after, Booty Boy and I were part of the “brown egg heist gang” with his brothers Ellek, Nelson and Erba Lee.
On weekends, we would wander down toward the Ellis house, and if their car was gone, we knew they were gone, too. When we saw they were away, we went to the chicken pen. The hen house had tin wash tubs hanging on the backside and nesting boxes for laying inside. We would first get the eggs out of all the nests and put them in a sack. If a chicken was on the nest, we would pick her up and start squeezing her at her front chest, working the squeeze toward her rear. (This actually pushed the egg out, if it was close to coming out, anyway.) The chickens repeatedly voiced their dislike for this procedure. If we couldn’t squeeze it out, we would take down a tub from the back wall and put the chicken under the upside down tub, then wait for it to lay. (Looking back, as I’m 69 years old now, that had to be some sight. Three black boys and one white boy, sitting around a wash tub in a circle, waiting for a chicken to lay an egg so we could trade it for bubble gum that had a gold ring around it.)
Whenever we did this, Erba Lee was the “lookout man.” He went out next to the state road, and sat beside a tree so he could see if the Ellis’ car was coming down the road. He always let us know if they were coming so we could hang up the tub, if we were using one, and get out of the pen and out of sight.
We almost got caught once. We were sitting around the tub, with a chicken under it, when we heard the car door slam. We got up and ran, leaving the tub and the chicken on the ground. Luck was that they always parked the car on the other side of the house. When the car door slammed, it woke up Erba Lee, who was doing one of his favorite things - sleeping.
I thought a lot about this over the years, wondering if the Ellis’ thought their chickens had periods when they didn’t lay eggs. They had to be perplexed to see a tin wash tub on the ground beside the pen, especially to find a chicken under it. Maybe it could be rationalized that the wind blew the tub off its nail hanger, and just as it was about the hit the ground, a chicken walked under it and it was scared so bad, it laid an egg. (I have also wondered how many different kinds of chicken feed they may have bought in order to boost their egg laying.)
Jerry Dean is a resident of Granville County.