Digging through some old journal entries and thinking about fowl, again, I recently asked my mom what useful purpose roosters served on the farm. She immediately started laughing, saying, “Linda, surely you know what roosters do!!!” That put both of us on the floor laughing. “Of course I do! But we never hatched our own chicks, so why did we have roosters around?”

I ask because the one I so vividly recall was the meanest damn bird. To leave the house and avoid attack, we kept a long-handled spade outside by the door to hold him off so we could make it to the truck, or if he was super aggressive, to knock him a bit silly. He terrified us kids. We would carefully open the door, peek out, and grope for the handle of the spade leaning against the side of the house. Often, hearing the door open would bring him running, full strut. An alpha male with no fear, even considering he was only a third the size of a kid. His head bobbed back and forth, and his pace never slowed when the spade was in sight. Brazen and bold, but dumb.

In the morning, when we walked down our long lane to wait for the bus, he would occasionally find us. Our screams would draw Mom out of the house, and she would act as a decoy and get him to chase her instead of us. I can only recall one time that he was of any benefit to me. After my sister and I had had a pretty good fight, she went outside and I went to our bedroom. I ran to the window when I heard her screams from outside. She had ventured into the barnyard without the spade and that rooster was hot on her trail! I distinctly remember thinking, “I win.” So why did we have that rooster? I had forgotten that we took him in when Mom’s cousin and her family moved away and could not take him with them. We were a rooster refuge. Mom nor I can remember what ever happened to him, but we both remember his mean streak.

I know another rooster story that took place well before any farm memories settled in my brain. My dad had a “pet” rooster with enormous spurs on the back of his legs, near his feet. When Grandma or Mom went into the chicken coop to pick up eggs, he often saw their visits as an opportunity for battle. He would jump on their backs and peck them, using those spurs to dig in. I can easily visualize the episode, complete with the sound bite of the cussing that ensued. Fed up one day after my grandma had been attacked, my mom told Grandma they had a little job to do. The rooster had chosen the wrong day for battle because Mom and Grandma had extra time on their hands.

It took Dad a while to realize the rooster was gone. When he finally asked about him, Mom delivered the one-liner: “You ate him for dinner a few days ago.” I hesitate to write this; it sounds so close yet so foreign! To hear this story without the background of living in a place so close to your meals, it sounds a little barbaric. That was probably over 35 years ago. We all laugh over it now, and Dad says he didn’t eat chicken for a month after that. And the reason this rooster was kept around? Dad and Grandpa liked to hear him crow. Can you guess who never picked up the eggs?

If Grandma were still alive, she and Mom would be able to co-teach an inspiring version of “Problem-solving” in today’s world. If chased by a rooster, you pick up a long-handled spade. If attacked by a rooster, you do what you need to do. Either way, deal with it and move on.


Linda P.S. Mom, thanks for filling in the gaps of my memory for this one! Judy, thanks for the “material”! ;)

A Fowl Story

“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.)