Good Manners

March 31, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Country Living, Springtime, Vermont. New England

Cleaning the chicken house sounds sort of disgusting. And, okay, it is. But it is also deeply satisfying when you have a flock of friendly chickens who clamor for bits of your croissant on a spring morning when you are outside having coffee, and thinking sweet thoughts about your life, to have a fresh smelling little chicken house to walk in and collect your morning eggs. The smell of new hay and pine shavings mingled with warm just laid eggs and fluffy birds is an ancient pleasure.

So there I was digging out the mess from this blasted long winter. We shovel everything out onto tarps and shake it all over the woods on the little knoll behind our house. Those woods are so well fertilized that spring flowers pop up everywhere. Then we powerwash all of the windows and the egg boxes until everything smells clean and new. Next we load in the first layer of piney pellets, followed by a foot or more of pine shavings. The egg boxes are filled with nests of hay and straw, and the coop outside gets a wonderfully soft layer of fresh straw to soak up the mud that April will surely bring.

It is a day’s work after winter and then there are touch ups throughout spring, summer and fall. You are filthy fifteen minutes in, but at the end of the day when the girls wander around clucking at your feet and fluttering up and arranging the boxes just to their liking, the worth of it is clear. So on a recent Saturday with the promise of sun coming and the imagined coffee outside sure to be just around the corner, the chicken house cleaning was scheduled.

We began with dark heavy coffee and old jeans. We found the tarps and the rakes and the shovels and carried them round the back. We put on our gloves and had one more coffee for luck. By ten we had been planning and rhapsodizing long enough about how nice it would be to get the work done and so we figured we’d better get started. And then at 11… the ladies started coming.

The first lady introduced herself and said she didn’t know we kept chickens. She said she’d known this house since she was a girl and could she just wander in and have a look around on her own. She was quite friendly, but by now we were muddy and our shoes were covered in chicken poop. We don’t go in the house once we’ve started until we are quite finished and can strip off our grimy clothes at the door and head straight for the shower. So, thinking her a little bit odd, we nonetheless allowed that sure she should go in and have a look. Muttering we filled the wheelbarrow and aimed once more for the tarp.

Then… the next ones came. There were three of them. They mentioned that “Lois” had told them how lovely our house was and could they use the kitchen door, or should they go around front. The dogs were barking up a storm, and I thought about the dirty coffee cups on the counter, and the piles of laundry I’d left in the kitchen knowing that the kids would keep the laundry going all day, anything to be exempted from the chicken house overhaul happening outside. By now it was drizzling a little bit, and had gotten cold making a mockery of the spring forecast that had lured us out. My nose was running, but as I had on chicken poop covered gloves I just occasionally swiped at it with my sleeve. I was a vision. So I stood looking at these women, dressed smartly in brightly colored rain gear and compared myself. My jeans were growing stiff with a very particular cocktail of wet mud, chicken poop, and bits of straw. My face looked like a little kid with a cold whose drunken parents had ignored her for the day. And then I figured, oh what the hell, if these people were rude enough to come into my yard, amid my barking dogs, and ask to walk around my HOUSE, because someone who had not been up here since she was a child had told them it was pretty, then fine. Sure, they could go in. I said, “Make yourself at home. There’s fresh coffee and if you want you can change a load of laundry while you’re in there” They seemed to giggle a little nervously, but by God they walked in.

John and I stood with our mouths agape. Vermonters do drop by, it’s true. We used to think it was charming. And it probably still beats the sometimes snarling, often cold anonymity of city life we agreed, but still….what nerve! Just then the rain picked up and I slipped on a patch of mud and sort of rolled onto the poopy blue tarp. I was struggling to get up, slipping and sliding, and coughing from the mucky mess, when I saw the next car pull into our driveway. Who was it this time? What in the hell was going on? I looked practically like a homeless person here. Can’t a person have a little privacy for God’s sake?

And then I saw her….the lady who runs the historical society. What did she want. I was cold and muddy and miserable, and BY GOD I had just about had it up to here with these intrusions. Only then a teensy little lightbulb went off. I vaguely remembered……errr….something. What was it? There was some conversation with the historical society on the phone a couple of months back. Oh, yes it was about the spring house tour. Maybe they wanted to talk about that. And, oh God….now I also sort of remembered feeling quite flattered to have been asked. But it was a long ways off. It wasn’t until after Easter. And…
Oh. My. God. I looked down at myself. I remembered telling those ladies they could change the laundry. I remembered the piles of our underwear and towels on the kitchen floor. I remembered the dirty dishes in the sink. I looked at my poor clueless husband to whom I had likely never said a word. I looked up the hill at their car. I looked back over my shoulder at the chicken house and considered hiding. Or running deep into the woods. But instead I thought of my Gram who’d always said that good manners would get you through almost anything. And then I did the only real thing there ever was to do. I walked up the hill, took off my poopy gloves, offered my cold chapped hand and said, “Hello, won’t you please come in”

This was a house tour people will be talking about for years…..


  • library lady

    Only you! I love it–did the ladies do any of your laundry? I haven’t been on a house tour for years, but as I recall, all of the houses we toured were expecting us. It may save you from ever being asked to show your house again, but I doubt it. Next year time it so that the chicken house can be on the tour too!

  • beesknees

    LOL….Fabulous. Maybe it will make the paper

  • Molls

    This was priceless.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t they usually serve little teacakes? I need more here. Did you change? Did more people come? Did you tell them you forgot? Did your husband ever come in? Where were the kids? Please…more.

  • Rebecca

    Oh. my. God.

    I have participated in half a gazillion of those house tours in my life (though never as the hostess, I must confess). Suffice to say I’d have paid double for the kind of show you put on. Too funny!

  • Motherhood for Dummies

    ha ha oh fun fun! Sounds entertaining

  • Law Student Hot Mama

    I swear I JUST had that same experience. Except I had told my realtor to come over and I had given him a key . . . but I forgot that he was coming. Until I was lounging in underwear and a skanky tank top as a result of cleaning up baby barf . .. and then I heard the knock on the door. But I couldn’t respond! Because the baby was asleep! So I had to root quietly around in my husband’s things while I heard them LET THEMSELVES IN and I came out covered in barf wearing skankiness! *sigh*

  • Kellan

    I was a nervous wreck listening to this chicken coup story! I do love what your Gram’s said about good manners – so cute!

    Nice to see you – have a good evening – Kellan

  • maddie

    I think you should do it again next year. Make it an annual event. Some years you can answer the door in your bathrobes. Other years you could carry a bottle of scotch and offer them a swig.
    Themed house tours….I loved this story….

  • Jennifer

    No. Way.

    Bwaaa ha ha!

    That is simply priceless. All of it, from you just letting random (so you think) ladies in your house to the fact that you were on tour. And you lived to tell about it… I am cracking. up. here. Hee.

  • drew

    I am pretty happy you told this

  • betsey

    I think you shold preempt them and write a letter to the editor of the local paper reviewing the spring house tour!

  • Mighty Morphin' Mama

    Oh. My. Goodness! You must have been freaking out! I can’t believe you let those women in your house before you remembered. wow.

  • ILX

    ILX says: You are such an idiot…ILX recalls an incident with other uninvited house visitors,including a genuine Countess of the Royal House of Belgium, wanting a glimpse of a swimming pool and I guess that was before good manner reigned…

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