Saturday, December 5, 2009

Store Bought Chicken

As I have said in earlier posts, the Wesley Family owned most every type of animal or critter at one time or another. I remember sea monkeys, ant farms, bees, horses, geese, .. you get the idea. One of the animal ventures that affected the whole family was the Rhode Island Red chicken experiment.

Around 1968 Dad decided that raising chickens would be a boon for the family; eggs for breakfast and chicken for supper. The decision was made and the plan was executed. A fence was erected, a chicken house built, and the chicken order was placed with Sears and Roebuck. As anyone familiar with the 60's and 70's knows, Al Gore had yet to invent the internet and all good things came from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

After weeks of anticipation the big day finally came. We drove to the Talladega Springs Post Office and picked up our chickens. There were 100 baby chicks in a crate. We couldn't see the chicks because the crate only had air holes, but we could definitely hear them peeping and smell them. Being only 5 at the time I didn't think about the logistics of the event but now I wonder how long those chickens stayed in that box.

The chickens made great pets. We named as many of them as we could and even invented games like "chicken football". This was a game of throwing a grasshopper in among the chickens and seeing which one could run away from the crowd long enough to eat the grasshopper. There were a number of tackles and changes of possession. The object was to pick the winner before the grasshopper was tossed.

The telling of the chicken saga can take a number of directions and I will leave some of those avenues to David, but since I started the story I get to tell the main event. Most people who grew up on a farm know something about animal husbandry. You only need one bull to a herd and in this case only one rooster to a flock. This was a new concept to us kids. We thought all chickens were created equal. The time came to butcher the extra roosters and freeze them for future Sunday dinners.

I don't know what the rooster harvesting options were or how Dad arrived at the one he chose but it turned out to be a real spectacle. I am sure the "guys at work" were consulted and possibly Bill Eaves in Columbiana. Bill was a gentleman farmer from way back. The roosters were held over a chopping block and Dad lopped their heads off with an axe. I remember David holding the first one and Dad taking what I believe now to be a half-hearted chop. The head came off, David dropped the rooster, and then the unexpected happened. The headless rooster ran around for what seemed a very long time, fell over, and then flopped vigorously for another short eternity. There was a good bit of chicken blood involved. When you hear the expression "Ran around like a chicken with his head cut off", don't kid yourself that you really understand.

The rooster harvesting ran its course and was soon forgotten as kids have short memories. Then a few weeks later we had fried chicken for supper. One of us went to the garbage can and found the butcher paper with the word "Chicken" written on it in black crayon. We ate very little. Mom tried to convince us that chicken was chicken and this was the same as what came from the grocery story. No sell. I had a hard time eating chicken for a good while. I had known those chickens by name. The emotional bond was there.

Mom later purchased some "store bought chicken" and let us see the package before she cooked it. It tasted fine. I'm sure someone had been friends with that chicken, but it wasn't me.

For a while after that, each time we had chicken the garbage can would be checked for the "store bought" package. Looking back, I am convinced that she kept the package and displayed it over and over, re-gifted chicken.

1 comment:

  1. You definitely got all of the essential details.

    I remember the care and detail that dad took in building the chicken house. I didn't think much of it then but looking back on it later it seems that it was far too well built for just a chicken house. The fact that it is still there three decades later proves my opinion.

    Our hens wouldn't hatch their eggs, or never got a chance to because we collected their efforts. To remedy that deficiency, dad bought an incubator and we hatched some new chicks. That led to further rounds of rooster slaughter.

    We kept two roosters. I suppose we kept two in case we lost one. We somehow made a poor choice of which roosters to keep because one was evil incarnate. He would sneak up behind me and jab me in the back of my legs with his spurs. I'd would have liked to have seen that one get the axe.