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Monday, 01 June 2015

Easter at Janet's

By Nancy Leitz

Janet was my next door neighbor when we lived in our little row house just outside of Philadelphia. We both had a houseful of kids. Who didn’t in 1957?

Between unreliable birth control methods and the weekly sermons at church, it was a foregone conclusion that every house was overrun with little kids. The pope spent every waking hour writing encyclicals instructing us about the evils of artificial birth control.

I don’t know who was minding the store at the Vatican at that time but it sure wasn’t Pope Pius XII. He was too busy watching ME! He got especially nervous when I left the kitchen and headed for the bedroom.

Lucky for me he didn’t know just how much hanky panky went on in that kitchen.

Janet’s husband, Russ, worked for Horn and Hardart, that wonderful restaurant with the Automat. Long since gone from the restaurant scene, the Automat was a block long row of little glass boxes with a sandwich or a piece of pie inside.

Everything worked with nickels. Four nickels put in the slot made the little door fly open and you reached in and got your tuna sandwich or for five nickels you got a chicken pot pie. The best piece of apple pie in the city was yours for three nickels.


As soon as you removed your selection, a mysterious hand would appear with another dish to replace the one you had chosen. That disembodied hand with the new ham and cheese sandwich on a little plate sometimes belonged to Russ. He was the jack of all trades in that place and knew most of the customers by name.

The day before Easter one year, a customer at H&H came in with a cardboard box full of little holes. He handed the box to Russ and told him to take it home to the kids for Easter. Russ walked it out to his car and put it on the back seat, never opening it.

When he got it home and gave it to Janet, she was surprised to see six little live chicks; two blue, two yellow and two purple. She thought that they were the cutest things and planned on putting the chicks in the kid’s Easter baskets the next morning. Luckily the fellow had included a bag of chicken feed.

Easter dawned and Janet got up earlier than the kids and placed two chicks in each basket with the jelly beans and coconut eggs. The kids came down the steps and went crazy when they saw the chicks. They were a giant hit!

My kids went over and petted them and made a big fuss. Needless to say, that Easter was a huge success.

What Janet had not counted on as the days and weeks went by was that the chicks would grow into adult chickens. Here she was in a row house in the city with three kids and six chickens who were 10 times more trouble than the kids.

They strutted around the house like they owned the place and were a sight to see as they got bigger and bigger and more and more purple, blue and yellow.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, the chickens began terrorizing the children. A big purple or blue chicken coming toward a three year old child could really be frightening.

They pecked at Janet’s legs as she RAN from room to room trying to cope. Now SHE was afraid of them too and begged Russ to banish them to the basement, which he did. They intimidated her so much that now she just stood at the head of the basement steps and threw chicken feed down to them.

Something had to be done. But what? First was a call to the SPCA asking them to take the chickens. They told her that she was the tenth person so far that day who wanted to get rid of colored chickens.

Next she tried the zoo and that gave the zoo people a hearty laugh. They told her they did not have room for a blue chicken but they might consider a purple aardvark if she had one of those. Janet wasn’t amused. Then, she got an idea and this is what she did.

She set her alarm clock for 3AM and went to bed. When the alarm rang, she quickly turned it off and dressed. Then she took the key to her basement door with her and left the house by the front door. She walked around to her basement door and opened it and left it wide open and went back into the house by the front door and went back to bed.

When she got up the next morning there was not a peep from the basement. The chickens were GONE! Those chickens ran out that door and raced down the driveway to freedom and they never looked back!

I have always thought that my neighbor was way ahead of her time. It was more than 30 years before what she did was commonly accepted. You see, to the best of my knowledge, Janet was the originator of the Free Range Chicken!

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Good for Janet! I wonder what took her so long.

I hope she got her husband to clean up that basement, too.

Free Range...ha ha!

Great story to start off my week!

Chicken stories are almost as good as dogs and cats for laughs.

Keep the neat stories coming, Nancy. Each seems to be a reminder of one of our own.

It's better to remember something like this story than to dread what the new day might bring on!

Oooh. I didn't see that coming. The origin of free range chickens. Tee Hee.

By the way, they poop a lot and it smells terrible. How did she cope with that before helping them run away?

What an hilarious post Nanc....one of your best. I thoroughly enjoyed it...and thought Janet was a genius. Free Range Chicken...priceless. ~Joy

You had me there Nancy,I didn't see that coming. Too funny.


Yes, Russ did clean up the basement,but he wasn't too happy about it.

He was just happy to be rid of the chickens and he never spoke to the guy who gave them to him either.....


How right you are. It's a lifesaver to me that I still have a good memory and can recall these stories that never fail to make me smile.

I'm happy that my stories help you recall some of your own fun memories.


Yes, the chickens did poop a lot but to tell you the truth, Janet's house wasn't the palace of Versailles to begin with.

With three kids under 4 and two still in diapers I think
the poop smell was the least of Janet's worries.

A big blue chicken attacking her baby or chasing her around the house overshadowed any odors the birds might have caused.


I thought Janet's solution was genius,too. She was at the end of her rope and also the end of her chicken feed
so releasing them to the streets of Philadelphia seemed to be the right answer...She was the pioneer of free range chickens.

As I said, those birds took off and they never looked back!

Laughed at this but really expected it to end with chicken stew. Funny to let your dinner go like that. Thanks for sharing.


Glad you had to wait till the very end to get to the part about the free range chickens....Happy I made you smile.


Funny that Janet didn't think of chicken stew at the time.

But,I think if Janet were going to wring any necks, it would have been the neck of the guy who gave Russ the chicks in the first place.

sorry it has taken me so long to get over here and read this great story. now we all know the origin of free range chicken. and I thought I knew everything about chickens. :-)

Hi Annie:

Your comment was worth waiting for.

You were my authority on the care and feeding of chickens.

Thanks for your advice.

well, it took me a week to remember to get here and read, Nancy, and I am sorry for that. Poor baby chickens; I hope they didn't meet untimely deaths after their free-range trek.

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