The pullet's a prize

My father was president of the National American Dominique Club, and I assume nobody has the faintest idea what that was all about. In early seafaring, a vessel whose master took along his wife and family was known as a "hen frigate," and a great many Maine people went the world around in this manner. Many Maine children were born on the high seas and in distant ports of call. Mothers taught school lessons to their own chicks on the fantail , and then collected teacher's wages from their home towns. Life aboard a hen frigate was somewhat different from that on an all-male ship, as a few niceties were provided for those needing them, and fare at the captain's table would have some delicacies not otherwise served from the galley. Fresh eggs, for instance.

Accordingly a few laying hens would be carried in cages, and if one of the biddies gave up at her appointed task she would promptly be stewed. It often happened that a ship would arrive at a far port with the hens' pen empty. Whereupon the mate would cast about and pick up a new supply of hens, and in this way the poultry of the wide world became established in Maine. Vessels returning from the China Seas would have Asiatic breeds, those from the Mediterranean would have birds from there. Mainers thus became poultry fanciers , and at one time we had many annual poultry shows with prize birds of dozens of breeds crowing and cackling to amuse the crowds who came to see them.

But there was one breed which was known as the American Dominique -- a smallish speckled hen that was not supposed to have a foreign origin. Some went so far as to call the Dominique "the only domestic bird." Then hen laid a medium sized brown egg, and kept at it rather well. The cock was really quite handsome. He didn't have the regular markings seen on a Barred Plymouth Rock (a bird said to derive from the Dominique) but was lacy. His tail had long sickle feathers that frequently trailed on the ground. My father fancied the Dominique , had a substantial flock of them, sold breeding birds, and exhibited in every poultry show he heard about. He had a trunk full of ribbons, and shelves lined with silver cups.

The year he exhibited at Madison Square Garden was a triumph. He crated up a "pen," which is a poultry show term for four females and a rooster exhibited together, and shipped it off by rail express to Manhattan.In due time the birds all came back, and he was notified of the results. He had taken first prize for American Dominique pen (his were the only Dominiques in the show) but this hollow victory was compensated for by a real success -- his rooster was judged "best bird in show." I remember how we children stood and looked at this paragon after he had been dumped back in the barnyard, and were all so proud to know something that had been to New York.

As I remember, the cash premium for best bird in show was five dollars, but a special premium of a twenty dollar hat had been offered by the Knox people. We could get perfectly good hats at that time at Raymond's for ninety-eight cents, so a twenty dollar hat was really something. It was. When it came it was a beaver, and our town had never seen anything so handsome. When Dad broke it out to go to Masons, he looked more like a million. It was like a Rolls -- if you have one you'll never need another. It was my father's last hat, although he was then a young man and was to reach his late eighties.

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