My great-grandparent’s journey to the land of opportunity begins with geese and ends with chickens. When pullets are 5 months old, they begin to lay – first small eggs, then, for the rest of their lives, they lay regular-sized eggs. It was these first small eggs that my great-grandmother called the magic eien – magic eggs. She believed that when pullets first began to lay, there was a special quality about their eggs – a life ingredient.
Great-Grandmother Gussie was born long ago on a large duchy in Germany. When she was very young she was assigned to be a goose girl, and every day she watched and guarded the geese. It was a very pleasant way of living. At Christmas the duke and duchess held an open house for their peasantry, and all went to the castle for the big holiday party. Great-Grandmother must have been a pretty little girl because the duchess singled her out to dance for the people. The fiddlers tuned up and Great-Grandmother did her little dance, but ran and hid behind her mother's skirts during the resulting applause.
When Great-Grandmother was about 16 she fell in love with one of the duke's stable boys. His name was Johan Guhse, and he was a favorite of the duke because he had a good touch with the fine horses in the stables. The young couple married and were happy except for one thing – they couldn't seem to have any babies.
The great wars came, and the duke was killed in battle. The duchy fell on hard times and the peasants often went hungry. Johan and Gussie could see no future for themselves, so one day Gussie dressed in her best and went to see the duchess. The duchess had become old and sad, but she remembered Gussie. Gussie still worked with the geese, but Johan was worried because there were no fine horses left in the castle barns. The old duchess questioned Gussie about what they wanted to do, and Gussie told her they wanted to go to the new land, America, and raise geese. The old duchess shook her head. She motioned Gussie closer and whispered in her ear. Then she dug down into the old bag that hung at her waist – very thin now and almost empty – giving Gussie enough money to buy the young couple's passage to America.
It was a long, hard sea journey in steerage, but they finally came to the new land, following others to the state of Wisconsin where they settled. The young couple worked for others until they had saved enough money to buy a small acreage. Did Gussie raise geese? No, she followed the duchess's advice and bought chickens. When the young pullets started laying, Gussie was so busy with her chickens and the gardening that she was almost four months pregnant before she realized the old duchess' secret had worked. They had four children before Great-Grandfather Guhse became blind. People said he had worked too long in the duke's stables, where the miasma of horse manure and urine had caused his eyes to fail, but today we realize that he probably had cataracts. He died in his 50s, but Great-Grandmother Guhse lived on until she was nearly 100. She always kept a few chickens, and she treasured the young pullet's first eggs – the magic eien – and gave them away to young women whenever she could. She always told them that there was life in the new pullet eggs. "Sehr gut! Very good," she said.
Do you suppose Great-Grandmother Guhse was right?
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