(Occasionally, this blog will offer nothing more than a little story or an experience that is interesting or important to me. This is one of those blogs.)
When I was a small boy it was my job to feed the chickens each morning before I went to school. The chicken-coop was behind our house and wasn’t much more than a shack with some nesting boxes piled on top of one another inside. Often, it was still dark as I made my way to the chickens but they were always up and scurrying around me like white phantoms. A bucket filled with chicken feed hung from my left hand. I cradled a baseball bat with my right arm.
I would broadcast the seed like I was sowing it and of course I had to prop the bat up against the coop while I tossed the seed around toward the chickens. That was usually the signal to Foghorn-leghorn to come out goose-stepping and threatening me. He was a big rooster with dark ruby-colored wattles and a floppy red crest which sagged to one side like a tilted cap as he strutted towards me. Tilting his head to the side and fixing one evil eye on me, he liked to jump out toward me but I’d swing the bat at him with one arm and then hurry back to the house with a new tale about Foghorn-leghorn, our mean rooster.
One day my dad was in the chicken yard and he paid no attention to Foghorn-leghorn who was particularly aggressive that morning. My dad usually took care of him with an air-kick toward the bird which was enough to keep him away for a minute. But, that day dad turned his backside and Foghorn-leghorn Rooster flew at him and dug his spurs into my dad’s back. Dad let out a whoop of pain and a line of obscenities as he yelled at me to help him corner the rooster. With a quick swipe of his hand, Foghorn-leghorn was pulled up with wings flapping furiously but dad had him and held him tight around his throat. Was that rage or fear or both that I saw in the beady black eyes of Foghorn-Leghorn?
“Son, get the ax!” Dad was furious at the bird and I felt instant satisfaction as dad brought the ax down on the neck of Foghorn-Leghorn Rooster. That rooster’s strutting days were over and I never had to bring a baseball bat with me to the coop again.
Another time, dad and I hooked a mess of fryers and tied the two legs of each chicken together so they wouldn’t run away. After catching the hens, dad counted twelve wing-flapping, white leg-horns. We carried the twelve down into the cellar where we sacrificed the hens in the usual manner and plunged them into scalding hot water for the plucking ritual. Next the entrails were pulled out and the carcasses laid carefully in the wash sink and rinsed with ice cold water. Their tomb was our huge freezer. However, we counted only eleven victims.
Dad kept scratching his head saying, “I thought sure there were twelve.” But there were no more hens on the cellar floor. There must have been only eleven was our conclusion.
Two days later, after church, we were all sitting at the kitchen table and dad was there dressed in suit and tie. Mom was serving bacon and eggs. A barely audible cluck came from the cellar, followed by a louder, but more pitiful long drawn-out squawk. What’s that? said mom. “I dunno, said dad but I’m going to find out.”
I went down the stairs following dad. We saw nothing. Then, we heard a distinct squawk coming from under an old disused kitchen stove. I reached under the stove and grabbed a wing which was attached to the missing chicken that had some how scooted under the stove. I pulled her out — an angry, white feathery bird with neck and head intact,
“Son, get the ax!” Dad was –as we say round here– “bumflustered,” a combination of frustration and being bummed out. Dad in brown suit and green and red striped tie grabbed the hen, held her over the sink and the ax came down, ending the mystery of the missing hen and ruining my dad’s Sabbath rest, which he routinely enjoyed.
Why do these stories always end with a chicken loosing its head? And, by the way, some chickens can and do stagger around after loosing their heads with blood oozing from the neck stumps. It is not a pretty sight.