“Play date” was not a part of my family’s vocabulary when I was a kid. The closest thing we ever had to a play date was "a visit" from my aunts and our cousins. And in late summer, with my cousins who also lived on a farm, that meant it was time to butcher chickens. My lack of interest in cooking whole fowl most likely stems from those butchering days. As my mom and my aunt quickly cut the heads off, they would let those flip-flapping bodies loose. And even without eyes, headless chickens can chase nine kids with incredible accuracy. The safest place to run was to the back of the pick-up truck. Barefooted, we flew across the gravel drive to clamber up the bumper and over the tail gate. Once they were still, Mom brought out boiling water and filled five gallon buckets to dip them in so as to loosen the feathers. Then each of us kids had work to do: plucking. The soft feathers were easiest to pull out. The wings were the toughest. The little kids would pull the easy ones and then us older kids and our moms would have to clean-up what the 5-year-olds left on each chicken. And as we worked, those boy cousins would always try to whack us girls on the bare legs with a dead chicken. We choreographed our own chicken dance to avoid contact.
My aunt would oversee the plucking while mom built a fire in the 55 galloon fire barrel. After we plucked, my mom and my aunt would hold the naked chickens over the fire to singe off all the tiny pin feathers and hair. As younger kids, that ended our work and the “play date” could commence while Mom and my aunt went about cleaning and cutting up the chickens to freeze. The next play date would be at my aunt’s house to butcher her chickens. Coincidentally, at one of those get-togethers, one of those same boy cousins planted a big, dead bull snake on the doorstep of their house hoping his mom would step on it. However, my mom, carrying a big tray of chickens to the truck, walked out of the house and stepped on it with her bare feet. The tray blocked her view of the trap. My cousin was mortified when my mom stepped on it! That black thing all neatly coiled up was more the size of a small python than a Gartner snake.
The 24 chickens butchered that day would not even make a dent in Mom’s freezer space. I think a small cow would fit in each of her freezers. Every time I go home they seem to grow in enormity. There are three of them in the basement, referred to as the freezer on the west wall, the freezer on the south wall under the stairs and the freezer on the south wall against the west wall. Mom has a running catalog in her head as to what is in each freezer – all are nearly full.
Mom and Dad gave Bill and me a small deep freeze as a wedding gift. After a trip home to Mom and Dad’s, I think of my freezer as a baby offspring of theirs. The contents of our freezers point to the different path my life has taken. Away from the farm. Away from the meat locker. Mom and Dad rarely buy beef and pork at the store. They buy a pig from their neighbor and fill their freezer with beef from cattle they’ve raised. Their freezer is filled with neat white packages of meats processed at the locker, no per pound cost listed on each package. I feel like I have to pay for all my meat twice: once at the grocery store and again I get to see what it costs when it comes out of the freezer.
I can tell you one thing that I rarely see in Mom’s freezer… whole chickens and bone-in chicken parts. I’m guessing Mom got her fill of whole fowl too. I know exactly where my bag of individually frozen chicken breasts is and I bet Mom knows which freezer hers are in as well.
(Written on Thanksgiving Day as I think about that big bird in my fridge and hope that Bill will take on the role of head bird baker today.)
Little did I know... Turkey and Fire...
Staying strong, Linda
(Another fowl story! Roosters.)