• Last modified 2635 days ago (Feb. 2, 2012)


Another Day in the Country

© Another Day in the Country

When I was a child, staying at my grandma’s house across from Lewis Cemetery, I was deathly afraid of the outhouse. Had to use it! Had to go there! Desperation drove me to go inside, perch precariously on a hole that opened into Hell, do my business and then run away. Sometimes I ran faster than others. I made the best time after dark.

While I loved being with Gram, there was another fearsome thing: butchering. When they butchered beef (I only remember it happening once when I was present), Gram made me stay inside (even when she had to go out) and Aunt Verna tried to distract me by playing games; but I knew that something fearsome was happening out by the shed.

Gram believed in fresh meat, so every other day or so she’d head to the hen house and catch one of the chickens for dinner. Since I tagged along after her endlessly, I was there. I’d stand a distance away from the chopping block, black on top with the blood from many a fine chicken, grooved and snaggly with hundreds of hits from the ax and a few near misses.

The chicken was subdued, Gram stretched its head out on the block, aimed, “Don’t look now, close your eyes,” she’d say to me, having given up getting me to leave. I’d close my eyes and listen for the “Whack,” of the ax, the thud and flurry of feathers as she threw the chicken to one side. And then in horror, I’d open my eyes just a squinch and see that headless chicken flopping around on the ground as if it were alive, blood flying, Grandma saying, “Get back, get out of the way, child.”

I was scared and mesmerized at the same time. I don’t remember ever watching her clean the chicken. The next time I saw that chicken was at dinner where it had metamorphosed into something so delicious. Gram was the most wonderful cook. My favorite pieces were the heart and the liver. Gram always saved them for me, putting them on my plate.

It was over 50 years later that I attempted to clean a butchered rooster with Tooltime Tim’s mom supervising. After I’d done one, I was done. Jess tried, out of loyalty, but quit before she’d made her second cut. TTT’s mother laughed at our squeemishness, our city ways. She’d killed many a chicken in her days. It was nothing to her. A little work, some clean up, cutting, frying and a wonderful dinner — and she did make good fried chicken, with potatoes also frying in the chicken grease — her specialty.

Evidently, those days of butchering are long past. In 50 years, we’ve all come to depend on our chickens encased in Styrofoam and clear plastic wrap. Any old day we’d give $5 to $10 for a ready-to-go chicken rather than do the dirty deed ourselves. I thought I was the only weird one because I’ve spent most of my life as a vegetarian; but it turns out I have lots of company.

I picked on the older generation first, because I thought they’d still know how to butcher a chicken, but nobody wanted those roosters. Next I tried the hunters in the back yard of the B&B cleaning pheasant. They’d joke around, politely declining, without saying so.

Meanwhile, we had rooster wars going on in the hen house. Something had to happen soon. And then I saw neighbors, who had chickens, at the café in Lost Springs. “You don’t by any chance need a rooster?” I asked after we’d chitty-chatted a minute. Zeb grinned. His wife said, “No, he doesn’t,” she laughed, “I told him no more, we’ve got too many roosters already.”

“But I’ll help you get rid of them,” Zeb said. “Give me a call when you’re ready.”

You can’t imagine my relief. It probably seems like a strange thing to need from a friend, but I was desperate. As it turned out, I didn’t even have a chance to call. He called me.

“I’ve found someone who wants those chickens,” he said.

He was coming to collect them. He’d even bring a cage. All I had to do was catch them and he’d help me with that if I needed it. Can you imagine my relief? Within a few minutes he had a cage full of birds and I had a peaceful henhouse. Peace at last. I couldn’t believe the quiet.

The girls in the big house were so relieved. Within minutes, they were scratching around in the hay quite contentedly with a minimum of hassle. They’ve begun to lay, diligently. Aunt Sue, who’d been badly injured by the roughhousing of two roosters trying to get dominance, is starting to mend — along with our equilibrium, on another day in the country.

Last modified Feb. 2, 2012