Those Almost-Photographic Plates

In a world still characterized by four-digit telephone numbers, 78 rpm records, and vacuum tubes that had to be carried to the hardware store for testing when the radio or television wouldn’t work, my first camera fit right in.

A Christmas gift, it was a simple Kodak Brownie — perhaps the Brownie Holiday, but more probably the slightly newer Model 127. Of course it required film, carefully loaded into the camera one precious roll at a time. There were knobs to turn, holes to match with tiny, mechanical teeth, and a certain amount of ruined film that went along with the learning process, since childish excitement often meant forgetting the first rule listed in the Brownie 127 instruction manual: “Take the camera into the shade.”  Continue reading

The Capitaines and the Chickens

Boudreaux’s been much on my mind of late.

In 2012, not long after I’d written a thing or two about chickens in art and literature, he emailed a suggestion: “Cher, you want the complete chicken experience, come to Cajun country for a real Mardi Gras. They dance for chickens over here.”

As proof, he sent along Pat Mire’s documentary, Dance for a Chicken. After watching the hour-long film with a certain degree of astonishment, I tucked the link into my bookmarks and resolved to make my own run to the Louisiana prairie to witness the celebrations.

A year later, and the year after that, I remembered Boudreaux’s email only after it was too late to make plans. Each year, I watched the film again and thought,”Next year.”

This year, I remembered, and made some inquiries. After a few phone calls, a conversation or two, and a text, I had the name and address of a Church Point family willing to host a visitor from Texas. I called a friend who lives in Louisiana’s bayou country and said, “Pack your bags. We’ve got chickens waiting.” Continue reading

A Coincidence of Chickens

I hadn’t penciled in much time during this past week for chickenology, but when artist and blogger Gary Myers posted this Portrait of Henri Groulx and a Rooster on his site, my schedule changed. 

Myers found the photograph at an ecletic, almost indescribable photography site called Luminous Lint.  Taken at a Parisian photo studio around 1920, the portrait is at once humorous, arresting and puzzling. As Gary says, “In these all so politically correct times, it’s kind of refreshing to see this French kid with his cigarette dangling.  That world-weary look on his face and the confidence of his stance as he sits with legs crossed say that he’s six years old and he’s seen it all.”

Entranced though I was by Henri Groulx and his rooster, the image brought to mind another chicken-loving child – Miss MaryFlannery O’Connor.  Born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, Flannery eventually gained fame as a writer. But at the age of five (or six, depending on the source you choose) she taught a chicken to walk backward and achieved a different sort of fame. Word spread, and it wasn’t long before the Pathé Newsreel Service was on her doorstep, eager to record the feat for the admiration of the world. Continue reading

Eye, Heart & Mind


Once upon a time, in a world fast receding but still visible in the rear-view mirror, digital cameras and telephones were two devices rather than one.  In even earlier decades, people who now seem dimmer than photographs poorly exposed or faded by time used cameras that weren’t digital at all. They required something called film that had to be loaded into the camera one precious roll at a time.  There were knobs to turn, holes to match with tiny, mechanical teeth and  viewfinders that required the presence of a human eye.  To say the least, using an old-fashioned camera  was very much a hands-on experience, demanding time and effort. Continue reading

A Pair of Olympic-Caliber Chickens

I’m rarely sentimental about towns I’ve never visited, but Benton Harbor, Michigan is an exception.

Benton Harbor was named after five-term Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, who earned the honor by helping Michigan achieve statehood. His grand-nephew, also named Thomas Hart Benton, is one of my favorite American painters and muralists. The younger and more artistic Benton was the son of Maecenus Benton, who served in Congress himself after a stint as prosecuting attorney for Newton County, Missouri.

It’s at this point in the Benton/Benton Harbor history that my sentimental twinges begin. Maecenus Benton lawyered in Newton County, Missouri, while I was born in Newton, Iowa.  My little Newton happened to be home to the Maytag Company, my father’s employer for decades.  In 2006, Maytag was sold to the Whirlpool Corporation, whose administrative headquarters still are located in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

In one more lovely, serendipitous complication, Benton Harbor is located along the eastern edge of Lake Michigan on the Paw Paw River. When I lived in Liberia, my whorled tabby cat was named Paw Paw because she loved to knead sofas, pillows, people and other animals with her paws, just as if she were kneading bread. Continue reading