Arts and Entertainment

An island icon with pluck to spare

Nancy Rekow, “raising” chicks.   - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Nancy Rekow, “raising” chicks.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

What did mama hen say to her chicks?

“Life ain’t cheep.”

For Bainbridge writer Nancy Rekow, her late friend Minnie Rose Lovgreen personified both a clever, thrifty farm spirit and the community-mindedness that was Bainbridge.

“She had so much energy. And she was always a real go-getter. That’s how she survived,” Rekow said.

Rekow met Minnie Rose shortly after moving to the island. A young mother and the new owner of a 57-acre farm, Rekow felt sufficiently overwhelmed by her transplantation that she readily accepted the hand extended by Minnie Rose, a long-time islander and friend of the former owners of the Rekows’ property.

Besides raising their own four children, the Rekows kept goats, peacocks, ducks and beef cattle. And chickens.

“The truth was, I didn’t particularly want to have chickens. But we had the coop, so we had chickens,” Rekow said.

Despite Rekow’s ambivalence toward domestic fowl, it was the elder woman’s take on raising the creatures that became symbolic of all the qualities Rekow admired about her. Once, to show one of Rekow’s children an effective way to warm a chick, Minnie Rose took the tiny, soft creature and tucked it into the child’s sleeve.

“And I looked at that and thought, what this woman does, and what she knows – that was the beginning of my understanding,” Rekow said.

In 1975, just a few months before Minnie Rose’s death, Rekow lovingly captured and transcribed her wisdom into “Minnie Rose Lovgreen’s Recipe for Raising Chickens,” a practical guide she has just released in a third edition.

As a young wife new to Bainbridge by way of Canada and her home country, England, Minnie Rose picked up extra money by cooking, waiting tables, babysitting, stacking wood, and doing whatever other jobs she could find. Her husband, Leo, worked at a local dairy.

The two soon bought their own dairy farm, eventually ending up with 96 acres and “more cows and more cows.”

By the time Rekow met Minnie Rose, the Lovgreens had sold most of their spread and were down to just enough land to grow vegetables to spare, and keep a few farm animals. Rekow hired her as a babysitter, and Minnie Rose offered her farm bounty and a seemingly bottomless knowledge of animal husbandry.

As Rekow sat at Minnie Rose’s bedside over several days during her friend’s cancer treatment, Minnie Rose said, of chickens, “The main thing to do is to keep them happy.”

It was offered off the cuff, but for Rekow, it was the crux of the book, a simple message that extended to everything. Rekow knew that they weren’t just talking about chickens.

“The whole thing gave me such an awareness that everybody has a story,” Rekow said. “If you listen.”

Which came first?

“Minnie Rose Lovgreen’s Recipe for Raising Chickens,” written by Nancy Rekow and illustrated by Elizabeth Hutchison Zwick, is available locally at Bay Hay & Feed, Que Sarah, Eagle Harbor Book Co., Bainbridge Gardens, Dana’s Showhouse and Mesogeo Gardens. See www.nwtrilliumpress.com.

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