Back in summer 2005, when we moved in, Brian was the first to appreciate the virtues of Mr. G. Though a confirmed resident of the "Show-Me State", a skeptic, Mr. G is not from Missouri, but he does remind Brian of the best traits of his two grandfathers. Mr. G doesn't believe in evolution - or dinosaur bones, or people landing on the moon - which you'd might think would be a problem when he lives next door to an evolutionary biologist.
But Brian knows better, knows that good skepticism is actually close akin to what he does at work all day himself. So a mutual respect developed, and the girls and I were soon in on it too, partly because I respect anyone who spends his days outside enjoying the scenery, doing his own yardwork: grass, leaves, and snow all three. I respect him because his teenage grandson lived with him a couple of summers. And I like Mrs. G because she's just sweet, nice as can be to the girls and out walking with a broom for support whenever she can. Mr. G is the neighbor who loans his tools when he sees Brian might need one, without being asked. We talk about gardening together, potatoes and tomatoes, and about raking leaves without leaf blowers.
This fall, Mr. G got shingles. We couldn't tell at first, because when we talked to him he kept on seeming cheerfully skeptical. Eventually, though, we noticed he was hardly out at all - his driveway remaining snow-covered for a day or two instead of his customary hour.
So before tonight, I hadn't even asked Mr. G if he would come to our hearing. I thought - we all thought, though silently - that this would be too much to ask, and that if he wasn't well, the zoning board would have to take his silence for support.
Anyway, we ended up with a lot of supporters: Amy and Adam and children (a courageous act, taking 3 children to a town zoning hearing); the family who chicken-sat for us over the holidays; a dad who lives across the street; Shelly, chicken-keeper herself from across the river, a brand-new friend who came just because I asked. A local (zoned agricultural) cattle farmer came, and gave me his card afterward, offering to take in our manure to his zone-certified composting operation if we had an issue. Our lawyer came, as a friend and civilian, just to listen to the action in case of future need, and I hope she won't be offended if she is paid in the style of old-fashioned community service people, with a couple of eggs from our best laying hens.
But no question, the star of the evening was Mr. G, who charmed the Zoning Board with his jokes about his own hearing loss, and then explained how his bedroom window is 30 yards from the coop, and he can't see them through the trees, and how no other neighbors have a right to an objection because they can't see the coop at all. He said he's lived here 45 years, and he thinks these chickens aren't causing anybody any harm, and he thinks we should get to keep them.
The vote was 2-1 in favor of our variance. Chickens are still not broadly allowed in O'Hara township; a variance would technically be required for any coop. I don't think we could have gotten a 3-0 vote, ever - zoning member 3 was determined to keep O'Hara R-2 safe from livestock, period. He wasn't nasty about it, but he was determined, no question. And I in no way imagine that the other two votes were categorical approval, either - they were fine with *our* coop, with exactly 4 chickens in it, in this particular location. They warned us that they knew more requests would be coming, and that we needed to maintain a model coop to make this work. The summary comment was "Now if anyone comes to us next with a pet cow, the answer is going to be 'No'."
As it turned out, what we needed was exactly what we got: 2 out of 3 votes, from 3 gentlemen of a certain age, with the weight of township history and esteem behind them. And tonight, thanks to one highly respectable gentleman, Mr. G, we have 2 happy daughters and 4 legal chickens roosting peacefully in their backyard coop.