By Lisa Smith Molinari
We have lived on base three times in my 20 years as a military spouse, in conditions that might best be described as somewhat like a chicken coop.
It’s not the appearance of the base that makes it like a coop. (Truth be told, the fences and sterile buildings make military bases more reminiscent of asylums.) Nobody throws feed corn at us. No one lays eggs as far as I know. But it is the pecking order that renders base living similar to an enormous cage full of clucking hens, strutting roosters and peeping chicks running wild.
Every time we move onto a base, I become cognizant of the unique social order. As a new arrival, I take some time to nest, but after my rooster flies the coop for work and the chicks go off to school, boredom and loneliness always set in.
I wander the range in search of a flock to huddle with, but none can be found. Sure, there are hens everywhere – and a few stay-at-home roosters, I wouldn’t want to be sexist. But I soon realize that I am at the bottom of the pecking order and have to scratch and claw my way to roost with the others.
Careful not to count my chickens before they’re hatched, I lay the foundation for my social acceptance into the flock. By the end of my first year, I become familiar with the gaggle, clucking away as we walk the chicks to school together, hatch plans for shopping trips, complain about our wattles and chicken fat, and cackle on our patios.
I’m securely perched at a comfortable elevation in the social pecking order, and life is good. As new chickens enter the coop, we chuckle from our high roost, fully aware of the work that they must do to find their places in our flock. Frankly, we get downright cocky.
Toward the end of every tour, my family learns that it must fly the coop and find a new flock. Thoughts of moving leave me a little wistful and reflective. I find myself pondering weighty ideas such as, “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and “Who came first, the chicken or the egg?”
This melancholy state brings about a need for the comfort and companionship of the other hens in my coop, but alas! I discover that, as an outbound hen, I’ve been pushed back to the bottom of the pecking order! I have to scratch for social scraps! How did this happen? Did I do something fowl?
My pea-sized brain realizes that I’ve become a lame duck in the chicken coop. I’m no longer a contender in the social order because I’m about to leave. The other hens won’t invest valuable time in further incubating our friendship.
It’s not personal, there’s no reason to get my feathers ruffled, the sky isn’t falling. It’s just the way things work.
As I prepare to take wing, I thank my fine friends for their companionship, offer each a peck on the cheek, bid them a final cock-a-doodle-doo, and fly, fly away.