September 25, 2009

Chicken Dinner

Recently, I was watching some foodie program on television.  The host solemnly intoned that it was important to know where our food came from.  They went into great detail about how vegetables are picked and processed, but kind of glossed over the animal prep, completely ignoring that all important slaughter step. Having spent over a quarter century in the commercial feed industry, I'm well aware of the process involved in getting that friendly little farm animal to the table, and I conveniently block the more disturbing images from my mind before I dig in.  But when I was a kid, that process was kind of hazy.  As far as I could figure out, one minute old Bossy was looking at you with those big brown eyes, and the next there was a hamburger in front of you.

My mother grew up on a farm, and about three times a month, we'd go out on a Sunday to visit for a few hours. Grandad had about 200 acres and raised cattle and guinea hens to pay the bills.  When we'd pull into the yard, there were always a couple of chickens running around, which I thought were there for the ambiance.

One Sunday, we finished our visit and loaded up to go home.  As we were saying our goodbyes, my mother carried a burlap sack from the back of the house and threw it into the trunk of the car.  I didn't give it much thought, as my grandma was always loading us up with tomatoes, cucumbers and corn during the summer.

When we got home, my mother took the sack out of the trunk and placed it in the garage.  I noticed as she did this, that the sack twitched a bit, but I had other important shit to attend to, so I promptly forgot about it and went on with my business.

I should mention that we had just completed building a house in what was at the time, a pretty nice new subdivision.  In fact, we had moved in only a month before.  We were just getting to know our neighbors, and they seemed to be an agreeable, prosperous lot.

About an hour after we were home, my sisters came running into my room, yelling at me to come look at what mom was doing in the back yard.  The three of us scrambled out the back door and onto the balcony.  Mom was down in the yard, holding the burlap sack at her side. She reached into it and pulled out a live chicken.  She put the chicken on the ground, where it stood stupidly looking around, no doubt thinking "what the fuck is this?" Now, a chicken looked perfectly normal in my grandma's barnyard, but eerily out of place in our back yard in suburbia.  For just a second, I thought she was just going to let the chicken wander around and that we were going to start a chicken ranch.  Could we do that?  What would the neighbors think?

But before I could even finish that thought, mom grabbed the chicken by the neck and began whirling it around like a soft ball pitcher winding up for the throw to the plate.  After several revolutions, the chicken arced halfway across the yard, minus it's head, which was still in my mom's hand.  The chicken landed in an explosion of feathers and gore and began darting aimlessly about the yard, blood spurting from it's neck.  My sisters screamed, I nearly lost control of my bladder and the headless chicken crashed into a tree, where it keeled over and became still.

Aghast, the three of us looked at mom, our mouths working in silent protest.  She merely glanced at the chicken head clutched in her hand and said "there".

The three of us retreated to our safe places, and that evening we had chicken for dinner.  I refused to eat it, which my mom dismissed as "silly".  My sisters were too young for convictions, but they barely touched it either. Instead, we filled up on bread and green beans, which we kept well separated from the vile chicken that sat menacingly on our plates.

The next night, we had chicken casserole, but disguised or not, it was still the same chicken and I wouldn't eat it. The headless hen made it's last appearance the night after, camouflaged as chicken salad.  There were no takers.

That was our first and only experience with "fresh" chicken.  After that, all poultry would arrive at our house in a frozen state, via the IGA.

It is said that in the moment before you die, your life flashes before your eyes.  I'm all but certain that one of the images crossing with me will be that of a headless running chicken.

Thanks Ma ... 

1 comment:

  1. I just woke up, am waiting for the coffee pot to finish and I'm reading this. Ewwww. I was half way into it when I realized I should not even attempt to finish it until I've woken up completely. I couldn't look away.

    I will never look at chicken again without thinking of you, I'm certain of that.