For a number of years now my wife hasn’t eaten red meat. For me that means most of the meals prepared at home are ground turkey and chicken related dishes. Now, she will prepare a separate dish consisting of some of beef, but that means making two separate dishes, and that is a lot of work. The ground turkey comes as taco’s, enchiladas, spaghetti, chili’s and so on, but chicken is always chicken. And until several years ago I had an aversion to chicken. I would basically just nibble at it and eat the other stuff served with it. All this comes from an experience that transpired in my 16th year.
As a child in Missouri chicken was a once in-awhile thing. We were a struggling family with a low income, at the time as a child I did not know how hard we had it because there were always the poor people much worse off than us. We always had a house with a solid roof over our heads, and a stove to heat it, no matter how ineffective it was. Just across town were the squatters who lived in tar paper shack down by the dumps and some even lived in tents. They were the truly poor. But back to chicken, I was always regulated to a drum-stick with the other children. Of course that was what we wanted in the first place. The adults got the breast and thighs and such. And as a child I was satisfied with the drum-stick.
But as I said my stomach turned against chicken in my 16th year. The last place my father rented was in the country and owned by a family he had worked for as a young man, we called it the Hancock place. It was a two story wood farm house on five ace-rs. Included with the house was a outhouse, a crumbling barn and garage and several other out buildings. But the best building of all was a neat chicken house in very good shape. As I said we were walking a thin line next to poverty. And the idea of raising some of our own food was a attractive idea to my parents. So the upshot of the idea was , they purchased 100 day old chicks. And as my father worked in town as a mechanic all day long and my mother was busy tending to my ten, four and two year old sisters, guess who got the job of tending to these 100 baby chicks? You guessed it, I watered and fed the damn things before going to school and after coming home. Now the work was not strenuous or taxing, just a imposition on my dignity.
Along about the fourth week into the venture my fathers youngest brother who had moved his family to California suffered a heart attack. The frantic call from California did not expect him to survive, you need to understand this was in 1955 and medicine had not advanced to the state of today. I was awakened in the middle of the night by my step-mother coming upstairs to my bedroom to get all my clean under-shirts for my dad to take with him. The family had decided to drive to Cal. together. Not our small family, but my uncle Luther had purchased a new 1955 Chevrolet just a few months earlier. Those making the trip was Uncle Luther, his wife, grandma and his two daughters aged 16 and 9. Also going in this car was my father and his two sisters, for a total of six adults and two kids. All in this 1955 Chevrolet on old route 66. Needless to say it was not a comfortable trip.
Now by now you are probably wondering what this has to do with me and my dislike for chicken. Well hang on, it ties in, as matter of fact its results of this trip caused the incident that turned my against chicken for close to fifty years. By the time the extended family reached California a few days later my Uncle was on the mend and out of the woods and lived until 2004. Since the crisis had passed my aunt took the brothers and sisters all over the place to the beach, Knott’s Berry Farm ( just the ghost town and berry fields in those days). showed the Orange groves and how big things were, and how much more there was to offer than small town Missouri. Upon the return home it was decided that after school was out we would relocate to California. So preparations began, we started selling all the possessions we could live with out and packing what we would take in the old Ford car we would be travailing in. In other words just the clothes and bedding we could stuff in it.
Now back to the chickens. Oh yes the chickens, all 100 of them. In town there was a feed store, the same place we bought the chicks that also had a freezer room where he rented lockers to people to store stuff in. He also bought beef, pork and poultry which he resold. My father struck a deal with him for a large portion of our chickens as they were nearing the nine week stage, which is right for fryers. Of course this meant the birds had to be slaughtered, cleaned and plucked. Once again due to the duties of my parents, guess who got plucked into plucking these damn smelly fowls?
You got it! I got it! Oh yes, this is a nasty job. We would take five at a time and chop off their heads and let them flop until they stopped. Then they were slit open and the insides removed, hearts and giblets and such tossed into a pan, and intestines and lungs thrown into a fire to burn up as there were too many to simply throw out for scavengers. After this fun task was completed then they were dipped into scalding water over a fire and then began the tedious process of plucking the feathers from the carcass. The stench of the burning innards and the hot-wet feathers was awful. Plus your hands cramped and were constantly splashed with the boiling water. It was a truly memorable experience. And this went on for most of a week, we had 100 of these nasty birds to do. Plus when the feathers dried we burnt them also. the stench went to bed with you at night and was there to greet you the next day. Each morning Dad would take a tub of chickens in to town as he left for work. Finally the deed was done, but I was not to see the last of these chickens yet.
My mother kept about ten of the damn things. She spent two days frying them up in pieces. Then she packed them into fruit jars and poured in about 1/2 inch of hot chicken grease and put on the sealed lids and turned the jars upside down so the grease would form a air tight seal. This would be what we ate on the trip. For all these years the smell of frying chicken was almost enough to make gag. I think the only reason I can eat it today is in these later years I finally started talking about my childhood and some of the things I did and saw has released some of the resentment buried inside me.
I have mentioned in earlier chapters that my step-granddad Christman raised fryer 1,000 at a time and that never bothered me as the story I have just related happened just before we left Missouri. I even harbored the idea at one time of returning to Missouri and working with him to increase the size of the business. When I first met my wife she was a gullible California girl ( well she still is she just don’t believe anything I say anymore) I told her a story about how my granddad and I went broke with a batch of chickens. It goes like this.
We had this batch of chickens and were troubled by chicken hawks who would raid the pen when we tried to do field work. If we stayed to guard the chickens then no other work got done. If we did field work we lost chickens. So granddad got a idea, we ordered some South American Parrots and cross bred them with the chickens. The result was that we got a chicken with a Parrots head and tail but a chickens body and meat. We called them Parachicks, and when they got old enough we taught them to run to the Field screaming Hawk, Hawk every time a hawk came around. That way we could carry a shotgun on the tractor and run and shoot the hawks. We soon quit loosing chickens, but went broke anyway. Seems like every time we tried to sell the chickens they would talk us out of it.
Well nuff of the nonsense, thanks for dropping by.