Country Mouse City Mouse 7-12-10
I was blue once. Oh, not in your “I’m so blue missing you” way or as in “I’m so cold my lips are blue” or even the reference to my political leanings, but honest to goodness, all-over-my-entire-body blue. It happened when I was not quite 2 years old. The nice doctors had didn’t have my size or age before they injected blue dye into me for surgery … too much of a good thing or in this case, a lovely cerulean blue. My smurf-state lasted for 3 months. My mother recalls people walking a wide-berth around us in the grocery store for fear that “blue face” was some sort of contagion. Despite it being the ’60s and psychedelic was in, this, of course, was not normal. It was often a story that found its way into the medical community for many years after under the topic: “Doctors Are Not Painters” or “What Not to Do 101.”
Blue can be associated with chickens too. We have the americauna breed that lays beautiful blue eggs. There are breeds such as blue peacocks, blue andalusians, Iowa blues, blue Langshan, blue cochins and the infamous chicken cordon bleu.
I’m not sure how the word “bluing” came to be associated with whitening. Mr. and Mrs. Stewart were real people who, along with something to do with fireworks, the 1880s and the state of Minnesota, developed the bluing product. A savvy marketer thought the portrait of an old lady on the bottle would help sales and so came to be the stern face still gracing the bottles today that happened to be Mr. Stewart’s mother-in-law. She might be scowling because chicken people use her product on chickens or scowling because some people use her product incorrectly on chickens.
We approached our first chicken show with as much innocence and naivety that a first-time-chicken-shower can have. I’d done my research though. Online resources talked about bathing chickens, polishing up their combs and wattles with baby oil, making sure their feet were trimmed and clean (Still trying to understand the last one when they’re pooping all the time), and the whiter the white chicken the better. This called for the grumpy Mrs. Stewart Bluing! We own Mrs. White, a white Japanese chicken and Mrs. Day, a pajama-wearing white silkie. These little ladies were going to be so white and spiffy, they’d win a blue ribbon!
How best to apply bluing to a chicken was never discussed. Assuming that the more bluing you have, the whiter the chicken. And the best way to get the most whitening bang for your buck is to directly apply the bluing solution directly on the white feathers of your future blue ribbon winner! Right? Once I had put the bluing on Mrs. White, I discovered that the stuff just wasn’t washing off! No amount of scrubbing and panic helped remove the blue splotches now forming on the white feathers. Of course I had given directions to my daughter to do the same with Mrs. Day. It didn’t take long for us to realize that the only prize these chickens were going to win was a year’s reprieve from chicken shows. Their white feathers were now blue and these little blue haired ladies were going nowhere.
Arriving at the chicken show despite the blue fiasco, we were feeling pretty good. Our non-white ladies were primped, primed, and polished poultry. The intimidation factor quickly overruled. There were people running about with buffing mitts and entire cargo cases with brushes, hair dryers, solvents and spritzes. Was there bluing in all that poultry paraphernalia? Had they learned the hard way about the bluing? I was afraid to ask at risk becoming known as the blue girl needing the wide berth again.
Our white chickens are long past their own “smurf” phase and Mrs. Stewart sits on a shelf collecting dust. She still looks as if she’s mad at me. She’s justified, I suppose. I’m afraid of her now and won’t touch the stuff. We’ll continue to work for the blue ribbons but without the help of the old lady.