Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

My Grandpa retired this month. He was a chicken farmer. He came to the US in the 70's after a long and I'm told, successful stint of chicken farming in Taiwan. My Grandpa is in his early 80's and his retirement and the resultant closing of the chicken farm has left me pensive.

I grew up on my Grandpa's chicken farm. In fact, all of my siblings and cousins did. My Grandma would watch us while our parents were at work. When school started, we'd catch the bus at home and then take a different bus to the chicken farm when school ended. Every weekend, the entire family (my Grandparents, their children, spouses, and grandchildren) would get together and have dinner together. My world revolved around that place for a long time.

We played up and down the chicken farm. It was a pretty huge place. There were fields surrounding it, usually fallow, that we wandered. There were huge piles of sawdust the we climbed and rolled down. There were pallet jacks and we rode up and down the hallways. You had to be a little careful there too. There was a bunch of machinery to process the eggs, rat poison to deal with rodents, which I ingested as a child thinking it was candy (my mom had a minor freak out), and I'm told that coyotes prowled the fields after dark (again because of the rodents). You get the idea though, lots of memories.

These days, my good memories consisted of getting free eggs. They were not the best eggs, but they were pretty good, and they were free. The part of me that exists in the here and now laments that we don't get free eggs anymore. The part of me that exists in those memories laments that the farm is gone.

The good comes with the bad too. I think it's important to tell things how they are sometimes. My Grandpa's chicken farm was not the picturesque image of a farm. It would be what you could call an industrial-modeled farm. The chickens were housed in two giant chicken coups that stretched for a quarter-mile (ish). The chickens were kept in cages and probably never saw the light of day. When you opened the door to a coup, you were blasted by a wave of hot, smelly air that literally stopped you in your tracks. If you made it inside, you were greeted by the sound of thousands of chickens clucking in simultaneous cacophony. Several times, animal rights activists came and freed the chickens. I think they were eaten by coyotes after they got out.

The chickens produced so much manure, that neighbors worried about it contaminating the ground-water supply. We tried selling the manure off as plant fertilizer, but it never could match the amount of raw waste the chickens would make. Eventually, we erected huge roofs to go over the piles of manure so that when it rained, the water would not travel through the manure and on to the local groundwater. I imagine that thousands of years from now, after the ice caps melt and the sea level has risen, those piles of manure will be some of the last free holds of land and they'll be like the Galapagos Islands of Washington state.

Despite all of the short comings of the farm, I have only fond memories of it. I will definitely miss the old place. I spoke to my dad and he has a different feeling, mostly that of relief. He and his siblings were the ones that actually had to "deal with" the chicken farm with my Grandpa. Admittedly, if I had to be the one to sort out some of that crazy stuff, I would be relieved for it to be all over too. Like the title of the post says, you can't go home again.

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