The More Things Change

 

family6Grandma slipped silently out the back door.  The last I remembered, I’d been asleep on the train.  Not wanting to be left alone, I rolled to my belly and hung off the edge of her high bed, my pudgy feet peddling till I thudded solidly to the unfinished wood floor.  Following her out into the dewy grass of the early daylight, I saw her lurching one-sidedly under the burden of a heavy bucket of corn in one hand, a shovel in the other, totally unaware of being tailed.  As I padded silently behind, sandburs pierced my baby feet.  Dropping to my round bottom, I screamed at the insult.  The grass at home was soft and welcoming.  Startled by my banshee cries, Grandma turned.  “Oh my Lord.  I thought I shut the door behind me.  You could have gotten in the road!”

Dropping the bucket of corn, she rushed over to comfort me, seating me on the shovel blade to pick sandburs out of my feet.  By the time she’d finished, I pointed out a huge yellow road grader a few yards away on the side of the dirt road.  “You want to see that?  Okay.  We’ll Go over.  It’ll be a while before the workers get here.”  I stood on the shovel blade and bent to hold the handle as she pulled me over to have a closer look, lifting me as high as she could to get a closer look at the gigantic tires.   I am still fascinated by heavy machinery. 

After I had my fill of the road grader, we went back for her bucket of corn to feed her chickens.  I liked the chickens just fine, though they weren’t nearly as interesting as the road machine.  We had chickens at home.  The barn next to the chicken yard was a different matter.  Since the grass was worn away between the two, I toddled over to have a look.  A chain with a padlock ran through two holes in the big double doors, denying me entry.  I peeked through into the shade of the barn to see a child-sized table and chairs, rocking horse, tricycle, and a red wagon.  Grandma’s little black and white dog dropped to his belly and wiggled into the barn through deep, sandy hole worn under the doors.  I dropped to my belly tunneling right behind him.  Had Grandma moved just a little slower, I’d have earned my prize.  Instead, she pulled me by my bare feet back into the barn yard. 

I howled in protest as she explained those things belonged to the child of the landlord and were off limits to me.  I couldn’t wrap my thoughts around that, having no idea what a landlord was, but I knew what toys were, and meant to have them.

Back in the house, after that major disappointment, Grandma cooked breakfast, and I met my first true love, bacon.  I have not tasted anything that wonderful before or after.

That is my first conscious memory, though I must have been familiar with Grandma.  Mother dated it to around the time I was eighteen months old.  I am older now than Grandma was then, and  like her, carry a shovel as I putter in the yard, an excellent implement to have on hand for a little impromptu digging or snake-killing.  Some things never change.

sun hat

 

The Sad Saga of the Beakless, Tailless, Gizzard-bobbing, One-leg Hopping chicken

Repost of an earlier post.

Being a farm kid is not for sissies and cowards. The dark side of the chicken experience is slaughtering, plucking, cleaning, and preparing chickens for the pot.  I watched as Mother transformed into a slobbering beast as she towered over the caged chickens, snagging her victim by the leg with a twisted coat-hanger, ringing its neck and releasing it for its last run.  We crowded by, horribly thrilled by what we knew was coming.  It was scarier than ”The Night of the Living Dead”,  as the chicken, flapping its wings, running with its head hanging crazily to one side, chased us in ever larger circles until it finally greeted Saint Peter at the Pearly Gates.  It looked horribly cruel, but done properly, a quick snap of the wrist breaks the chicken’s neck instantly, giving a quick death. Of course, this is my assessment, not the unfortunate chicken. The chickens always looked extremely disturbed.

Afterward, my mother grabbed the dead chicken, plunged it into a pot of boiling water, plucked the feathers, slit its pimply white belly, removed its entrails, cut off its feet and head, and prepared it for dinner.  I was repulsed  when Mother found  unlaid eggs in the egg cavity and used them in cooking.  That just didn’t seem right.  I was happy to eat the chicken, but future eggs….disgusting.  It kind of seemed like genocide, or chickenocide, to coin a new term.

Mother looked out one day and saw one of her chickens eating corn, oblivious to the fact that her gizzard was hanging out, bobbing up and down merrily as she pecked corn with all her lady friends.  Apparently she had suffered injury from a varmint of some kind.  Clearly, she wouldn’t survive with this injury, so Mother and I set about catching her.  At least she could be salvaged for the table.  Well, she could still run just fine.  We chased her all over the yard with no luck.

Finally, Mother decided to put her out of her misery by shooting her.  She missed.  She fired again and shot the hen’s foot off.  I knew I could do better.  I shot her beak off, then hit her in the tail.  By this time, we both felt horrible and had to get her out of her misery.  Her injuries had slowed the poor beakless, tailless, gizzard-bobbing, one-leg hopping chicken down enough so we could catch her and wring her neck.

All chickens didn’t end life as happily.  The LaFay girls, Cheryl, Terry, and Cammie raised chickens to show at the fair for 4-H, with a plan to fill their freezer with the rest.  Late one Thursday evening while their widowed mother was at work, they realized tomorrow was the day for the big barbecue chicken competition.  Mama wouldn’t be in until way too late to be helping with slaughtering and dressing the chickens.  After all the time and effort they had put in on their project, they had no choice but to press forward without Mama’s help.  They’d helped Mama with the dirty business of putting up chickens lots of times.  They’d just have to do manage on their own.

Cheryl, the eldest, drew the short straw, winning the honor of wringing the chicken’s neck.  She’d seen Mama do it lots of times, but didn’t quite understand the theory of breaking the neck with a quick snap.  She held the chicken by the neck,  swung it around a few times in a wide arc,  giving it a fine ride, and released it to flee drunkenly with a sore neck.   The girls chased and recaptured the chicken a couple of times, giving it another ride or two before the tortured chicken managed to fly up in a tree, saving its life.

Acknowledging her sister’s failure, Terry stepped up to do her duty.  She pulled her chicken from the pen, taking it straight to the chopping block, just like she’d seen Mama do so many times.  Maybe she should have watched a little closer.  Instead of holding the chicken by the head  and chopping just below with the hatchet, Terry held it by the feet.  The panicked chicken raised its head, flopped around on the block, and lost a few feathers.  On the next attempt, Cammie tried to help by holding the chicken’s head, but wisely jumped when Terry chopped, leaving the poor chicken a close shave on its neck.

indian-dress-and-henBy now, all three girls were squalling.  Cheryl tied a string on the poor chicken’s neck, Cammie held its feet and they stretched the chicken across the block.  By now, Terry was crying so hard so really she couldn’t see.  She took aim, and chopped Henny Penny in half, ending her suffering.   Guilt-stricken, they buried the chicken.  Defeated, they finally called their Aunt Millie, who came over and helped them kill and dress their chickens for the competition, which they won.  All’s well that ends well.

How to Get Along With Obnoxious Poultry

 

Daddy was a nut about poultry.  He made regular patrols locally, and if he detected poultry, not in his collection, he couldn’t rest until he had one-upped whoever had put him in a “fowl mood. His enthusiasm didn’t last long enough to build a proper poultry yard, so the coyotes inevitably got whichever of the unfortunate creatures not roosting in the hen-house or trees.  He enthusiastically scouted out additions to his flock who served no function but grain-eating, making a lot of racket, and a free-range pooping.  Periodically, he would bring in a flock of guineas, boasting that they were excellent at letting him know if intruders were on the place.   Guinea fowl are typically smaller than chickens, eat just as much and lay small, thick-shelled speckled strong-tasting eggs. Their meat has a strong, somewhat unpleasant taste.  In addition to all this, at the first notice of a slight disturbance, they panic and go shrieking “pot-rack, pot-rack”, flying madly in all directions.  A slight disturbance is likely nothing more than a feather falling off a guinea hen standing nearby.  Having bragged about what excellent “watch dogs” they were, he’d tolerate the incessant racket and disturbance of the guineas better than the rest of us did.  I never felt bad when the coyotes snatched the last of the guineas.

Geese made an occasional appearance, remarkable for their noisy honking, arrogance, biting, and lifelong diarrhea.  Since we never ate nor plucked a goose, ours served absolutely no other purpose, other than giving up plenty of practice in guarding our backsides against their bites and teaching us the value of wiping our shoes.  Cool kids don’t show up at school with goose sh__ on their shoes. The coyotes liked geese, too.

Chickens were a given. They roosted in the chicken house at night to keep them safe from varmints, but they had the run of the place during the day.  They were pleasant to look at as they bobbed around the place, but weren’t interested in toilet training.  Most importantly, hens lay an egg a day a few months of the year.  They had a nice nesting box built high off the ground.  The prim and proper among them hopped up the little ladder, strolled along till they found their favorite nest, and deposited an egg. Afterward, they cackled out news of their accomplishment and hopped back down the ladder one hop at a time.  The renegades and slow learners stole away to hide a nest in the bushes.  Gathering eggs was a job for women and small children. Mother listened for these naughty girls and sent us scurrying to find their eggs.  It was very important not to take the “nest egg” or the hen would abandon the nest and steal away to hide her nest.  Hens weren’t too fussy about the nest egg being genuine and were perfectly satisfied with glass nest eggs, or an old white door knob, just so the handle pointed down.

We gathered eggs just before dark.  Should eggs be left in the nest after dark, chicken snakes were likely to steal them.  More than once I have reached in gather eggs and grabbed a scaly black snake instead of a warm fresh egg.  Once I was gratified to find a snake skeleton complete with a crushed glass egg resting inside.

In the spring, Mother would “set” her hens when she noticed hens acting “broody” or fussing around and feathering a nest.  Instead of gathering the broody hen’s eggs, she’d add a few eggs to the pile.  The hens never seemed bothered to see the increase.  They’d sit on the nest for about three weeks till the biddies hatched out.  She’d parade around proudly with her babies, fiercely protective.  Many a child, dog, or cat has lived to regret interfering with a mother hen’s babies.  They’d fly on an aggressor in a fury, flogging, spurring, and beating.  I learned early and well to respect Mother Hen.

My grandma loved her chickens and had personal relationships with them, naming each.  Her hens jumped on her shoulders when she went in the chicken yard.  She was not above pointing out to Mabel that Helen had laid a double-yoked egg, nor mentioning to them that if egg production didn’t pick up, a lazy chicken might get invited to Sunday dinner.  Grandma’s feelings for her hens got more personal as she got older, and she started retiring her hens instead of inviting them to Sunday dinner.  Grandpa raised peas to feed the chickens.  When he went into the chicken yard to toss them their peas, they fogged up to sit on his shoulders and on the top of his head.

Dogs loved eggs, too.  Should a dog be foolish enough to take up “egg-sucking” or “chicken-killing” his days on the farm were numbered.  When my grandpa’s dog got in and killed one of her precious layers, she tied the dead hen around his neck and made him wear it for several days, ridding him of his interest in chickens forever.

Once we had a Tom turkey, one of the most detestable creatures living.  He’d been given to Daddy by a deranged backwoodser who found him too evil for his tastes.  Naturally, Daddy grabbed him up and brought him straight home to us, leaving him to the care of his darling bride and tender children along with the rest of the rest of the barnyard creatures. Daddy enjoyed procuring creatures, not caring for them.  That’s what his family was for.  In theory, we only had to tolerate the turkey until Thanksgiving day, when Tom would be the centerpiece of our holiday table.  All we had to do was somehow survive until then.  At his previous home, he’d had a harem of turkey hens, till he got so mean he had to go. For a few days after his arrival, that devil had the run of our barnyard, terrorizing the other fowl.  Deprived of their gentling company, his testosterone exploded. They escaped into the tree branches, under the barn, into stalls, as soon as they’d hear him strutting and making his aggressive, scratchy mating sound, “Aruh! Aruh! Aruh!”  Turkeys don’t always say “Gobble, gobble, Gobble!  Denied the company of poultry, he was not picky about partners, jumping on anything that didn’t get out of his way.  He was no respecter of species and attempted to molest pigs. goats, and even horses.  I was so glad when Daddy put a stop to his antics.  That was one year we gave heartfelt thanks a few weeks early.

Give Us This Day

imageColonel Sanders called the Pope up one day and said, “You’ve got to help me out.  Chicken sales are way down.  I’ll pay you $10 million to change the Lord’s Prayer  to give us this day our Daily Chicken.”

The Pope said,”I can’t do that.  We can’t just change the Lord’s Prayer!”

The Colonel let it go but was back begging a few days later, “Your imminence, please help!  I’ll donate $50 million to the church!”

“Absolutely not!” Answered the Pope.  “The Lord’s Word is not for sale!”

A month or two later the Colonel was back.” Your imminence.  Please help!  All you have to do is change the Lord’s Prayer to give us our Daily Chicken.  It’s not that big of a deal.  Can’t you help me out for a $100 Million donation to the church?

“Well,” said the Pope.” That’s too great a donation for me to turn down without speaking to my advisors.  Let me speak to them and get back to you.”

When he spoke to the Cardinals, he said, “We’ve been offered a huge donation, but it’s not all good news.  It’s going to cost us the Wonder Bread Account.”

Buzzy’s Exotic Vacation

imageOn our recent trip, Buzzy had a great time visiting family.  Lest I mislead you, I never claimed he was a brave dog.  He ran from some house cats, but they were bob-tailed.  In his defense, He’d never seen a bob-tailed cat and was unsure how dangerous they might prove to be.  He walked into a swimming pool by accident, his first experience with one.  He was an excellent swimmer, but had no idea how to get out.  He seemed to enjoy his little swim.image

His introduction to Aunt Beulah’s chickens was hysterical.  He was waiting expectantly when she opened the door to the hen house.  When Bonnie and Clyde strutted out, he set a new land-speed record for American Eskimo Dogs, if there wasn’t one before.  I believe he would have passed up Greyhounds trying to escape those bobbling fowl, even though they showed no interest whatsoever in him.

We are back home now.  I’ll keep you posted of his future adventures.

Checking Bonnie and Clyde Out of the Chicken Library

imageI guess Spring is really here.  Aunt Betty called.  She just checked out eight hens and one rooster from the chicken library where she lives up in Kansas.  The rooster hangs out with his favorite hen, so Aunt Betty named them Bonnie and Clyde.  I guess it’s not really a chicken library, but that’s how it works for Aunt Betty.  She has a deal worked out with one of her neighbors to get chickens in the nice weather, returning them for the winter.  She has the pleasure of chickens and eggs without the misery of over-wintering them.  What a great neighbor!

Killer Tomatoes (Tales from the Toilet)

imageA well-worn path led down the hill to the toilet located far enough to cut the odor and avoid contamination of our well.  Mama was vigilant about sanitation and shoveled lime into the pit to aid decomposition and screened the open back to foil her chickens who considered the flies and maggots a tempting buffet.  Chickens are not known for their Continue reading

The Sad Saga of the Beakless, Tailless, Gizzard-bobbing, One-leg Hopping chicken

Repost of an earlier post.

Being a farm kid is not for sissies and cowards. The dark side of the chicken experience is slaughtering, plucking, cleaning, and preparing chickens for the pot.  I watched as Mother transformed into a slobbering beast as she towered over the caged chickens, snagging her victim by the leg with a twisted coat-hanger, ringing its neck and releasing it for its last run.  We crowded by, horribly thrilled by what we knew was coming.  It was scarier than ”The Night of the Living Dead”,  as the chicken flapping its wings, Continue reading

The World’s Best Birthday Party! (Part I of II)

Reposting an older story to introduce part II.  I loved playing with these kids.  Illustrations by Kathleen Swain.

Water play at the Party

Water play at the Party

Freedom at the Awful's

Freedom at the Awful’s

The Awfuls were awesome. Even though their name was Alston, the neighborhood mothers thought Awful was a better fit. We all envied them as they roamed the neighborhood with a freedom we only imagined. They weren’t mean; Continue reading