It was a high day when the incubator arrived.
John had been out in the back yard watching pet wallabies at play and trying to entice them to feed on the breadcrumbs he’d sneaked out of the kitchen. His Dad had caught him scooping the inside of the bread on another occasion and severely reprimanded him. It was unhealthy and not fair to the rest of the house when they discovered on cutting a slice from the new loaf someone had emptied contents under the crust and carefully replaced the crust to look like it had not been used. This time John knew better having memories of the smack he’d received on that previous occasion. Now he’d cut a slice for breakfast and carefully placed a portion in his pocket for the daily visit to his pets.
The wallabies were friendly and hopped over to greet him as he approached their spacious portion of the large back yard. They were used to being hand fed choice tender grass from the outside of their walled in area. You know what they say, grass is greener on the other side of the fence and it seems to apply to the animal kingdom too. They were in possession of a bountiful supply of grass in their area but curious as to what they were missing out on from the other side of their fenced in area. However, on both occasions they’d taken a sniff and looked reproachfully at John. This was not their chosen diet so losing interest they hopped over to the far side of their protected area to dine. John shrugged, this time he got the message, wallabies don’t like breadcrumbs!
So, John looked around for another form of entertainment and stood trying to decide what he’d do next.
He wished he were old enough to go to school. In the early morning he’d watch from the veranda sitting on his tricycle as children in his street headed for their respective schools and wished he were among them. School was a mysterious thing and he speculated what they did there. In the afternoon he could hear them returning home in animated discussion, pausing now and then to inspect the side of the road after rain for gold specks.
He’d asked his mother why they did that and was informed the roads were paved with mullock from the old mines around town from goldrush times, and those specks were what men had spent their lives rushing around the world to find trying to get rich. This town had been one of those places of interest during gold rush times and now that wealth was buried in mines flooded in one of the most destructive floods in the history of the town. John had tried his luck after a rain shower and returned inside to announce in triumph he’d found gold. He was informed after inspection this was an imitation the locals called fool’s gold. It had no value but looked like gold to the uninitiated.
John decided he’d spend some time under the macadamia tree. There was always a wealth of nuts fallen under the tree. Using stone upon stone he’d crack those nut shells and feast until he couldn’t eat more. If it were not the macadamia trees he could always visit the mango tree where fallen fruit rejected by his Mom because of bruising could be relied upon for some remaining good flesh to enjoy. But it was not the season for mangos and he headed up the hill toward the house. It was then he heard a truck in his driveway and rushed around the side of the house to see what was happening.
The truck backed slowly down the hill to the back of the house. His father was walking at the back of the truck giving signals to the driver who was leaning out the side of the cab as he navigated a narrow path to the back yard. The truck finally came to rest with a cough as the diesel motor shut down. John raced to the truck and pulled on his father’s pants.
“Why’s the truck here Dad?”
“The man’s delivering the new incubator!”
“What’s an incubator?”
Dad looked at his son and smiled.
“Johnny, you know we have all those chickens ranging around our big yard and they have a house where they lay eggs. Well I thought that we would collect some of these eggs and hatch chicks to sell.”
“But hens sit on their eggs and hatch chickies Dad.”
Dad thought that over as he helped the truck driver remove the incubator and install it in its new room. They connected the light warmers and Dad began putting collected eggs into their separate places. Dad had many hobbies, and this was the current flavour of the month.
John watched it all closely. He was still trying to get his mind around why Dad would take the eggs and put them into this big box when the mother hens liked to sit on their eggs and make them into chickens. But as the answer was obviously not forthcoming he decided to return to his back-yard inspection.
He paused to stroke their black cat and it got up and stretched. As John walked around the yard the cat followed rubbing itself on his leg as he went in a demonstration of affection. John loved his cat and the feeling was reciprocated. They moved to inspect the repair job his Dad had done on the wire mesh cage under the water tank where Joe the cockatoo ranged around his various tree perches destroying them methodically with his powerful beak. Joe flew across to the mesh wire and fastened himself to the mesh putting his head down and feathers up looking for a scratch. John approached carefully and put his little finger through the mesh to scratch the bird’s head. He was ready to extract his finger quickly as the bird had bit him once leaving a nasty gash on his finger. He was more careful to scratch gently this time.
Of a night time after work Dad would spend time manipulating heat from the incubator and looking hopefully for signs of that first breakthrough when chickens would emerge. This was an experiment to see if he could add this to his many business interests. Mass producing chickens and raising them to sell. As time went by John lost interest in the incubator.
Then one evening Dad rushed up the stairs and took John by the hand. “The chicks are hatching, come and watch them come out!”
John followed his father downstairs to the incubator room and was lifted up to look through the glass roof. As they watched, one egg after another cracked and the chicks slowly pecked their way out until they emerged.
“They look horrible. I like the ones that the mother hen makes better!”
“That’s because you see them when mother hen allows you to see them with their feathers growing. Tomorrow they will look better.”
But John detected in his Dad’s voice a note of disappointment. This was Dad’s high day, he’d produced chicks and needed a pat on the back for all the effort he’d put into this process. John’s reaction had been a disappointment.
But the chicks did develop normally, and John became more enamoured with the enterprise as he watched the miracle of birth over and over in that incubator in coming years until it was decided they’d move to a farm. Dad’s businesses in town were sold and the incubator disposed of.
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