Jewel was the chicken who inspired Sugarplum to tell people about "mama's favorite chicken" - people who may have wished they didn't know that mama had a favorite chicken. This is one of those things you overhear and then set the wastebasket on fire so people's attention is drawn elsewhere.
But it was true.
We did not choose Jewel. She was a stowaway. We had ordered, among other breeds, a black australorp but when it came time to figure out which chick was which, we found it puzzling. I know it sounds chicken-racist, but some of them look very much alike.
So we ended up with a barred rock instead of a black australorp. We like to think Jewel chose to come live with us and perhaps disguised her features to avoid detection. By the time we figured it out, it was too late. The flock had all gotten to know each other. The missing australorp was happy in her new home. All was well.
A couple years ago I went through some extended family nonsense and had to spend most of my time away from home. When I'd pop in to recalibrate, I'd visit the chickens in their yard, where Jewel always came over and waited for me to pet her. There is something weirdly reassuring about a chicken's love when your world is going massively awry. Probably because most of them would just as soon eat you if you stayed still long enough. You expect love and support from your partner, children, dog or cat, but when you also get it from a chicken it feels like the universe has put a sticky note on your head that says something... universey.
Last year when we were on vacation, our chicken-sitters woke up in the middle of the night to a terrible sound of clucking and squawking. They ran to the coop and chased out a raccoon who had broken through the defenses of Fort McChicken. There were no casualties, but Jewel had taken a hit.
Here's how I think it went down: When the raccoon broke into the coop, all the chickens raised the alarm except Jewel, who bravely stood between the raccoon and the other hens. Chickens peck pretty hard and I bet the raccoon is still sporting some chicken scarring. She fended off the attack until reinforcement arrived.
The raccoon cut the wires to the alarm system and surveillance, so it's my word against nobody's.
Jewel survived, but we were not optimistic.
As we nursed her back to health, we noticed that three of the other chickens protected her somewhat fiercely. One chicken, Tulip, did not. Tulip was kind of a jerk. You will here note that Tulip did not get a eulogy when she was eaten by a fox.
In the months that followed, Jewel proved herself to be the kind of fighter that would fend off a raccoon attack and live to tell the tale. Her broken beak healed but carried the mark of bravery. Jewel was a very brave chicken.
Last night, tucked into her nesting box, Jewel passed away quietly in her sleep. I imagine her singing "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" to the other hens as she passed.
She will be missed.
And I don't care who knows it: She was mama's favorite chicken.