The Chicken Kitchen

I’m 49. Too old to really care what the cashier at the grocery store thinks about my bagging decisions. Still, a part of me wonders if there is a recording of my repeated answer, “No, it’s fine to put the meat in with the other groceries.” Often they simply put my package of steak or fish or pork or chicken in its own bag, but never do they combine it with other groceries before asking and receiving my permission. With the quiet that follows my answer, I want to stand up for my decision: “I’ve never poisoned anyone yet!” When asked this question, I have flashbacks of the chicken kitchens of my youth. When mom and my aunt got together and butchered chickens – recapped in A Fowl Story -- the kitchen, either Mom's or my aunt's, became the processing plant. The chickens would be washed in the sink, moved to the table or counter, cut up into pieces, and put into Cryovac bags with twist ties. My granddad worked at Cryovac in Cedar Rapids; I don’t think we ever bought a single “freezer bag.” The smell of those plastic bags in bulk pervaded the kitchen when it was time to freeze food.

Chickens, 24 of them: 48 drumsticks, thighs, and wings; 24 un-split chicken breasts; 24 hearts and livers and gizzards. No boning or skinning. With all this activity and high quantity of chicken parts, the newspapers on the kitchen floor were soaked in splattered chicken juice by the end of the day.

With the kitchen near the door at both our house and my aunt’s house, the cousins – all nine of us – would whir through backwards and forwards as our moms worked and yelled, “Get out of here! Go outside!” But the bathrooms were inside. In both houses, they were through the living room. And the living rooms were connected to the kitchens. And we were barefoot. Surely our immune systems were built strong each summer considering where that chicken kitchen juice ended up.  Well distributed by 18 little feet.

But, I know, that was a different place and time. I asked Hillbilly Joe to take the recycling out this morning, and his finger got wet from rinse water on the garbage bag. Oh, the ire. Seeing my Hillbilly Joe in a chicken kitchen is unfathomable. He puffs up with pride about his summer feet, “I can walk on anything with my bare feet; they are so indestructible!” Hmm. I chuckle at his city feet’s grandiose-ness.

This morning I went out to water flower baskets on this hot, humid, icky summer day. When I think my outdoor chore is done, I see a dead rabbit between the trampoline and the swing set. I walk over to inspect and think I’ll get Bill to clean it up. And a thought strikes me as abruptly as if I had stepped on a rake and got knocked in the head by the handle.

Bill has never been in a chicken kitchen either. Really, the one with the most credentials to take care of this job is me. I scoop up the carcass with a shovel and toss it out behind the barn. I look at the spot where my hillbilly runs barefoot, and there is no evidence of this circle of life event. Still, I go get bleach water and pour it on the ground. I’m sure Mom and my aunt bleached the kitchen floor after their circle of life event too.

Yes, I’m OK with packing my lovely, clean packaged meat in the same grocery bag with the eggs or even the Cheerios. However, who at the grocery store decides to pre-pack three “everything” bagels in the same bag with three wheat bagels? There-in lies a true travesty. Everything bagels could go with, perhaps, onion bagels, but they should not be stored with wheat, plain, or egg bagels.  That seems logical.