A chicken’s unexpected answer to an age-old question.
For my family, 2020’s guest-less seders are thankfully a blur. But memories of one feathered, clucking visitor from 2019’s seder kept us uplifted through that lonely Passover of 2020.
The last time we celebrated the holiday in “regular” mode, an unexpected, not officially invited and, for some, unwanted caller joined the group.
My mom and dad, Ceil and Jerry Liebman, are welcoming of everyone — yearly hosting a crowd of nearly 50 for both seders — with half the guests staying on each night for an extended family slumber party.
But we discovered that their acceptance is apparently for humans only when my then 17-year-old niece, Emma Zdrojewski, showed up at the first seder with a chicken! And not the kind to serve at the table.
On the way to my parents’ Southfield home that night, Emma saw the lone white bird running from yard to yard through the neighborhood.
With considerable knowledge of all-things animal, reptile and beyond, and caregiver at that time to two cats, two hedgehogs, a dog and a gecko, Emma said, “I knew she was lost, so I called to her.” Then, right out of the classic, old joke, she said, “At that point, the chicken actually crossed the road and came to me!”
Emma said she needed to keep it with her so it would be safe from cars and animals, and since her next stop was Grandma and Grandpa’s house, Marshmallow, as she quickly named her, came along.
Because she knew the chicken would not be happily greeted by my parents, Emma discreetly relegated her to the garage that led into the kitchen, where she was to stay during our happily long, entertaining, very late-ending seder.
Quickly the rumor of the chicken circulated and the dozen or so kids and many of the adults took turns leaving the seder table to visit Marshmallow and feed her water and bites of matzah. Even after those in the know heeded the strict warning, “Don’t tell Grandma!” the secret leaked out and Marshmallow was banished to the front porch, guarded by Emma until it was time to go home.
In the meantime, to no avail, Emma’s dad knocked on neighbors’ doors in search of the chicken’s owners. When he and Emma asked a group of neighbors taking a walk if they knew of anyone who owned a chicken, they surprisingly said they did and directed them to a nearby house.
A Morning Egg
But when they arrived, no one was there so they took Marshmallow to Emma’s dad’s West Bloomfield home, where she slept in her own private suite in a giant dog crate, with supervised walking-around-the-room privileges.
The next morning, Marshmallow was fed a breakfast of cornmeal mixed with water and worms Emma dug up outside for her — at the suggestion of Emma’s dad, who raised chickens as a kid. “But then, she kept backing herself into corners and kicking her feet out and clucking almost as if she were annoyed,” Emma said. “I left her alone for a bit, and when I came back: there was an egg in the cage!”
That afternoon, our large family-group reassembled around the giant cluster of tables in my parents’ family room. Just before lunch was served, Emma presented her grandma with a small, decorative box, which, when opened, revealed the egg, a thank you present from Marshmallow for the hospitality she was shown. Even with the new-found connection between my mom and the chicken, Marshmallow was not invited back that evening. But the gifted egg was later hard-boiled and given a coveted spot on that night’s seder plate.
On the third day of Passover, Marshmallow’s owners were reached, and Emma and her dad took her to her “family.” They had been out of town and Marshmallow and her flock were being cared for by chicken-sitters when she got loose.
But before returning home, Marshmallow produced a gift for Emma and her dad, too. A second egg. “It was like we were running a bed and breakfast,” Emma said. “We gave Marshmallow a place to sleep, and she left us something to scramble in butter. Our breakfast that day was delicious.”