Carrol Vertrees: Hatching the perfect childhood memory
Carrol Vertrees November 3, 2012 7:12PM
Updated: December 5, 2012 6:19AM
In my farm kid days, when Herbert Hoover was commander-in-chief and Jack Dempsey was a famous pugilist, we treated our chickens with appreciation, if not outright respect.
We have sinned and gone astray. We are not fair to chickendom. No wonder they would like to cross the road — people used to joke about that, but the answer is simple: Chickens cross the road because they are yearning to breathe free, but modern chickens may never see that road. What a pity.
Maybe chickens should have formed a union long ago. Now it is too late. In the commercial world of fowldom, chickens have no freedom, no play time and usually no romantic trysts, surely a disappointment to roosters of the world.
In huge buildings, assembly lines of hens laying eggs or fryers eating themselves into terminal obesity tell that sad story. Think of that the next time you buy drumsticks or a carton of eggs.
Back home, our chickens roamed freely, no curfew, no out of bounds. They woke up when roosters crowed, and their day began.
Life with chickens back on the farm was like being in a comedy show — not always funny for the birds though.
Chickens had freedom, but there was a catch for the frying kind. They were not always safe. If one got careless when my mom showed up, it could pay dearly — she might grab it as a sacrifice for our Sunday dinner. What followed was a common scene in our rural enclave.
My mom was 110 pounds of kindness. And grit. She knew the art of wringing a chicken’s neck. I believe that she felt sad about it, but it was necessary because we had to eat.
The fun started when a chicken broke loose before losing its head. I often chased the poor thing and returned it to the executioner. Neither of us found joy in this — probably the chicken didn’t either. I tried to forget it when I reached for a Sunday drumstick.
Roosters were part of the show, too. By nature, a rooster is a braggart, arrogant, a male authority figure. Some are not really bright, though. One of ours, who could crow with the best, got taken in by a rural sting. It was a free show that I will never forget, right there in our backyard. The rooster spotted a busy bumblebee in a little patch of clover and he pounced.
Bumblebees sting to the very end and this one caused our rooster to perform a dance I had never seen. For a spell, he did no crowing, either because of a sore throat or embarrassment.
When baby chicks got wet during a surprise shower, my kind mom brought them in and dried them out in the oven of our wood-burning range. I often wondered how she knew when they were dry enough, but she was wise.
Life on the farm was busy with dramas like these, and I often visit these simple scenes in my memory trips. Other folks probably have similar memories.
Our hens provided plenty of eggs. We traded some for groceries in Elnora and the grocer sold them to townies who had no chickens. It was a simple economic plan that worked.
In my naïve reasoning, I often wonder why our folks in Washington don’t try to hatch some simple formula that works. Chickens don’t vote, which is a shame.