The Little Red Hen: Why I love her, why I need her, and why you might need her, too


In the second grade we read Aesop’s Fables as a class. I did not like them. At all. The Scorpion and the Frog gave me nightmares. The fox running back and forth dropping pebbles into a vase to quench his thirst made me parched and tired and just a little bit paranoid about the possibilities of dehydration. But then came The Little Red Hen. Do you remember this story?

In my mind, I always believed that her name was Henrietta, and Henny Penny was her unhinged, batshit, mentally-deranged cousin. Henrietta was hungry because her farmer sucked. All the hungry animals lay sleeping, on the verge of coma in the barnyard because Farmer Ted was an idiot without a clue. One day, quite by accident, Henrietta found a tiny grain of wheat lying under the empty feed crib, and she was so excited, she did a little happy dance right then and there.

“We have food! We have food!” she cried…and all the animals in the barnyard inspected the small fleck of grain grasped in her beak with disdain, and went back to sleep.

“Who will help me plant the wheat?” she asked.

“Not I,” answered every lazy, good for nothing, farmer-spoiled neighbour in turn. So, Henrietta did it herself.

She used a sugar spoon that Farmer Jane had dropped one day off the edge of the porch when carrying a stack of dirty tea dishes into the kitchen, and she fluffed up a little spot near the fence where the sun shown down and the daisies and chickory swayed in the breeze. When she had dropped the seed into the hole and tamped down the earth on top of it, she ran back to the barnyard.

“The seed is planted! Who will help me carry water to feed the seed so it will grow?” she begged. Homer, the pack mule picked up his lazy head for just a moment and yawned a big, buck-toothed yawn, and drawled, “Noooooooot I,” and all the barnyard animals answered in kind one by one. So, Henrietta stood under the spigot by the water trough, mouth open, tongue reaching, and she waited for water to drip down from on high…one drip…two drip…three drip…four drip…five….

When her mouth could hold no more she ran back to the spot where she had planted her seed, and gave it all the cool water she had collected without saving any for herself. Seeing that her seed was nestled in and watered well, she hopped up on the fence, fluffed her wings out, curled up in a puff of feathers, and went to sleep waiting for her seed to grow. And she waited a very long time….

The wheat eventually grew tall and strong, with big, green, bearded heads that swayed in the hot, sunny breeze. When the wheat turned golden, she ran back to tell the others that very soon they would have good things to eat. Sadly, her barnmates seemed to have forgotten that Henrietta had even existed.

“The grain is now tall and beautiful, the colour of sunshine! Who will help me harvest the wheat,” she asked.

“Not I,” said the spotted brown dog, scratching at a flea.

“Not I,” said the cat, licking her business.

And all the other animals in the barnyard answered in kind one by one….

Henrietta went and found a bit of glass discarded from a broken bottle and carried it back to where her wheat danced gracefully under the bright blue sky. Thanking it for it’s gift, she used the glass to cut it down, plucked two seeds from it heads, and buried them right next to the feet of their mother before grasping the straws in her beak and carrying her harvest back to the barnyard.

“Look, I know that you all are tired and very hungry,” she said to the lazy animals, “So am I. But delicious food is so close! Who will help me thresh this wheat I have grown?”

You know the answer….So she did it herself.

“Who will help me grind the wheat into flour?”

Not a single volunteer. So she did it herself.

“Who will help me knead the dough?”

Nada. So…she did it herself. She even put a couple of her own eggs in there, too.

“Anyone wanna help me build a sun oven whilst this dough rises?”

Laughter broke out in the barnyard. This chick must be nuts….So. She. Did it. All. By. Her. Self. It took three damned days to finish, but that bitch got it done.

“I’m guessing you assholes don’t want to help me bake this bread, either, huh?”

Snoring. That was the response she got. Two dozen rat bastard lazy asses lying around her, snoring, seemingly awaiting death. So….SHE DID IT HER OWN DAMNED SELF.

Soon, the whole farm was filled with the smell of rich, yeasty fresh bread baking. Henrietta went to Babs the Cow, “Would you please give me some cream to make some butter,” she asked.

“I’m busy chewing my cud,” Babs answered.

So, Little Red Henrietta went back to her mud stove, built from the remains of an abandoned paper wasp’s nest and the damp edges of Parson Pig’s wallow, and lit by a fire created from the straws and chaff she had saved from threshing, and she sat on her haunches and waited for her bread to finish baking.

Her neighbours started to perk up as the luscious scent grew and hung thick in the air. As Henrietta cut into that fresh, steamy loaf of dense brown bread with her bottle shard, all the animals in the barnyard began to drool, and Farmer Ted and Farmer Jane stood over at the paddock fence, bewildered expressions on their scrawny raw vegan faces at the weird sight they both beheld (starvation, for your information, causes hallucinations in humans). Henrietta, eyes closed, took a slow purposeful bite of her wonderful, delicious creation and a smile spread in her heart as the warmth filled her. When she opened her eyes, the whole barnyard was staring down at her, puddles of drool dripped into the dusty earth at their feet. She stopped mid-chew, swallowed hard, and stared back at them.

…Now, here’s where me and Aesop diverge in the woods of Elfland….

In Aesop’s version, Henrietta tells the whole damned barnyard to go fuck themselves, and carries that warm crusty loaf off under one wing to enjoy the fruits of her labour by herself. My little mind has never gotten the point of that. So, here’s what really happened:

Henrietta swallowed, and looked up at the sea of pitiful hungry faces before her.

“Who will help me eat this bread?” she offered sweetly, and nudged the loaf across the board with her free wing.

Slice after slice came off that loaf until every belly was full and every heart was happy. And without saying another word aloud, Henrietta thought, “I can do anything I want. All. By. Myself.”

…The reason I love this story and always have is because Henrietta taught me, and still reminds me to this day, that I can do anything I want to do if I’m willing to put in the time and the effort to get it done. Having help is amazing. Having company is priceless. Support is always preferable to winging it alone. But it’s not necessary. And, in the end, good things are borne out of faithfulness to ourselves, even when we think that no one else believes in us.

So, here lies a new day of possibilities….Anything is possible!

This story is dedicated to my bratty brother, Eric. It’s his birthday today. I love that douchebag. đź’–

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