Six small urchins wended their way down a grassy hillside in an odd little procession.
Nine-year-old, freckle-faced Donny led the troupe. He had two brown towels safety-pinned on his shoulders to resemble a monk’s robe, and he held out a crudely made stick cross in front of him as he marched.
“Stay in line,” ordered Donny. “This here’s a funeral procession and I’m the preacher.”
“And I’m the funeral organizer guy,” his cousin Polly declared carrying a small cardboard box. She was wearing a black shawl borrowed from her grandma’s dresser. While digging for the shawl, she bribed her younger siblings and cousins to join the funeral procession.
“Y’all are the mourners,” Polly called back over her shoulder. “You gotta have folks who cry in a funeral procession.”
Cousins Barbie and Ellen carried shovels and waved white hankies, pretending to cry. Their heads were draped in colorful shawls also from grandma’s dresser. “Polly, you said if we cried good enough you’d play school with us,” Barbie reminded.
“Yea, Polly. Aren’t we good criers?” six-year-old Ellen wailed loudly for emphasis.
Lena and Mikey, only four-years-old, struggled to keep up. But, taking their cue from Barbie and Ellen, they yowled into blue bandanas with much pomp and circumstance.
City kids, Donny and his sisters, Barbie and Lena often spent the summer on the farm with their cousins. This year, as Donny helped his cousin, Polly tote water and feed to the chickens, he became fascinated by them. One day he spotted a hen isolated in a crate.
“What’s wrong with that chicken, Polly?” Donny pointed to the crate.
“Mom says she’s gotten too old and sickly to lay eggs,” Polly explained. “She was my Mom’s best layer. So, Mom separated her. She’ll die there.”
“She doesn’t look sick,” Donny quipped. “I bet I can get her well. I’m gonna be her doctor.”
Polly rolled her eyes and said, “Good luck.”
Self-proclaimed veterinarian, Doctor Donny went to work. First, he named his patient Henrietta Hen.
“Everybody knows your patients have to have names,” he stated.
Then, for several days he brought her grain he had soaked in milk, and when she didn’t eat anymore, he used an eyedropper to give her water. Sometimes he just sat watching her.
“You’re a good doctor, Donny,” Polly told him as they sat near Henrietta’s crate. “You never forget Henrietta. But what’ll you do when she does die? You know doctors can’t cure everybody.”
Donny shrugged. He didn’t have an answer for Polly.
One morning, Polly rushed into the kitchen while her cousins were eating breakfast. “Henrietta Hen is dead,” she cried. “My dad said she died during the night. He said we should bury her.”
Donny’s eyes filled with tears, but he rubbed them out with his fist. It seems he had thought about losing his patient because, after a few moments, he pronounced himself Pastor Donny and promptly ordered a funeral.
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