Editor's Column: The Little Red Hen, updated

We were going through some old books in the basement and came across a story called, “The Little Red Hen.” It was a book I read as a child and that my own children had read years later. Leafing through the slim volume, I was struck by how hopelessly out of date it was.

It’s a simple story. The Little Red Hen is the role model. She plants wheat, raises it, harvests it, takes it to the miller, works the flour into dough, and shoves the dough into the oven. Every step of the way she asks for help, only to be turned down repeatedly by the lazy duck, pig and cat. Not until the bread is removed from the oven and is ready to eat do the others agree to lend their assistance. By then it’s too late.

“No you won’t,” said the Little Red Hen. “You wouldn’t help me plant the seeds, cut the wheat, go to the miller, make the dough or bake the bread. Now, my three chicks and I will eat this bread ourselves!”

Everyone probably knows the story. Trouble is, it hasn’t been updated in more than 50 years. In the present day, the story continues like this:

Just as The Little Red Hen and her chicks were sitting down to eat the warm, tasty bread, they heard a knock at the door. Whoever could it be?

“Greetings, Little Red Hen,” said the man, dressed in a dour black suit. “I’m the Tax Man, and I’m afraid you haven’t paid the local, state and federal taxes on your efforts. Give me half the loaf of bread or we’ll take you away from your chicks and throw you in jail.”

Naturally, The Little Red Hen paid her taxes, thankful that the Tax Man only wanted half. There was still enough bread left to sustain the chicks, if not make them plump. Just as they were about to eat, there was another knock at the door. With some reluctance, The Little Red Hen opened the door again.

“Greetings, Little Red Hen,” said the stern-looking lady at the door. “I’m from the Commission on Equality, investigating a complaint filed by the duck, the pig and the cat. They say you’re discriminating against them by not sharing your bread.”

The Little Red Hen was perplexed. “That can’t be,” she said. “They all had their chances to help me but they refused to work. It’s not fair that they share the fruits of my labor.”

This ruffled the feathers of the visitor. “Did you ever ask why they wouldn’t work?,” she asked, scolding the Little Red Hen. “The duck had an ugly upbringing, the pig was never fed a balanced diet and the cat has been harassed all its life by your neighbor’s dog. And now you refuse to feed them! You set an extremely poor example for your chicks by not sharing with these needy animals. I’m afraid I have to take the rest of your bread, and don’t be surprised if your next visitor is from Chick Protective Services!”

Soon the duck, the pig and the cat were dining on the bread made by The Little Red Hen, and her chicks were being escorted out the door by CPS. Distraught, The Little Red Hen was told she had to go to court.

The judge was impatient as The Little Red Hen told her selfish story, but listened with sympathy to the duck, the pig and the cat. When they concluded with a plaintive, “And we’re still hungry!,” the judge couldn’t hold back his tears.

“Don’t worry,” he told the duck, the pig and the cat. “Pretty soon you’ll be feasting on roasted chicken.”

The end.

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