In the interest of full disclosure, I hereby describe the breakfast I ate off my hand-painted Bedford stoneware plate from England Sunday morning. It was beautiful, like sunshine and sweet rain.
It featured an egg from a free-range chicken fried over-easy, with home-baked white bread, juice and tea. It's my favorite breakfast by all odds, brought as gift by our daughter and son-in-law who keep chickens in the side yard of their house in Chicago. I hesitate to eat an egg with a soft yolk unless it's free range. I've read too many warnings about less-than-fully cooked store eggs.
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I believe that 84 years ago, when our house was newly built and the Wielinski owners were figuring out how they would combine their farm background with their then-fashionable bungalow in the heart of town, they would have eaten exactly the same Sunday breakfast. With, I hope, the same delectation.
Although I never saw the Wielinskis' chickens or any evidence of them, a poet friend tells me that when she was a little girl across the street, her mother used to send her to buy fresh eggs from her neighbor. Intimidated by the towering egg lady, Jane Stavoe never lifted her eyes from the linoleum "as Mrs. Wielinski counted the pennies for change." To this day, my friend tells me, she has total recall of the original kitchen flooring in our house.
When the Wielinskis built, there were chickens all over town. Gertrude Adam told of neighbors across Euclid from her who brought their chickens with them from the farm and gave them free range in their basement. Our daughter Anne recalls passing chicken yards as she walked home from St. James grammar school in the '50s. There was a little farm on Arlington Heights Road just north of St. James.
There is some speculation that Arlington Heights rejects the idea of chickens now because residents are afraid they will slip back onto the list of hick towns surrounding the metropolis. Others contend that owning a few chickens to keep breakfasts as nutritious as they used to be is not hick. It's "hip."
Upscale stores on North Michigan Avenue in Chicago are selling chicken coops for over $2,000 for the North Shore crowd. "They're very fanciful as well as practical," I was told. Others think that letting a neighbor keep a few egg-producers in one yard will open the gate to an overwhelming poultry population in our town.
Oh well, it's still possible to go to Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry to experience the low-key thrill of seeing a soon-to-be bundle of fluff peck its way out of a resistant shell and take its first bow as an elegant little chick.