The Gutsy Chicken Pluckers

#4 in the I-Alice YesterYears Series

Photo Courtesy of Cheryl Dust from Duster Video

Moving from the city out to the end of a dirt road was not really what I had in mind when I married the man of my dreams. After three lonely weeks and no meal cooked for me to perfection, I decided to venture out and prepare a gourmet meal of fried chicken, just like my mama used to make. Today it was sunny and warmer then it had been for days, so I decided that this would be the perfect time to try my hand at dressing a chicken.

It seemed like such an effortless chore for Mama. Never had I witnessed mother’s procedure of decapitating the chicken or scalding the feathers, but I did become an expert at plucking the wet, smelly chicken feathers for Mama. Remembering how quickly Mama had the chicken readied, I felt I was capable of doing anything my mama did. At this moment I recalled how tasty the golden brown fried chicken was that she always served. I vividly recalled how our mama’s delicious fried chicken was set on the table in a large blue enameled roaster. I had not thought about all the hard work Mama did to give us such a feast.

I guess I thought I knew this soldier walking beside me through knee-deep snow. We did have five years of letter-writing correspondence and we had a few hours to spend together when he was on furloughs. We had made a lot of plans when we had time to ourselves, but the expertise of Chicken Plucking never entered my mind, and if he gave it some thought, he definitely didn’t mention it.

My handsome young husband squirmed when I suggested we butcher a chicken from the chicken coop for supper. Somehow I got the strange feeling that this man was ill at ease about the chore, but he agreed to help me just the same. I-Alice was a newcomer to this farm, and he was a soldier who had just recently returned from witnessing the destruction of Europe.

Thinking I could be of solace to him by helping, I said, “It’ll be okay, I’ll join you.”

Like a true-to-life farm couple, we were on our way to do our first chore together. As I was about to go out the door, I recalled how, whenever Mama went out to do this chore, she’d take along the butcher knife. Just like my mama, I grabbed a large, steel-bladed knife from the cupboard drawer. Edwin gave me a shocked look.

“What’s wrong? I asked innocently.

“The knife!” he exclaimed.

“Aren’t we going to butcher a chicken?” I asked uncertainly. Did he not know how this was done? What will I tell him if he should suggest that I have to do the killing?

He interrupted my skeptical thoughts. “Please,” he said, “Put that knife back in the drawer; it makes me feel nervous.” Then he suggested that he’d much rather chop the chicken’s head off.

“Whew!” I gave a sigh of relief knowing he would be the one doing the beheading, not me.

Holding hands we shuffled through the knee-deep snow; it was my first sight of the sod hen house. I looked around and there before me stood the morbid-looking butcher block. Deep-seated in the aged old tree stump was a well-worm, wood-handled hatchet. I shuddered at the sight of splattered blood and blood-stained feathers rustling in the warm Chinook wind.

Ed seemed to be hesitant. Having no idea what my partner had in mind for me, I timidly asked, “Now what do you want me to do?”

“Go in and fetch a chicken,” said my brave soldier husband.

A parka hood covered part of his face, but I could see in his warm, blue eyes how much he dreaded doing this. And whatever the reason, I loved this tenderness in him.

Reluctantly I entered the poorly lit hen house. It was much too low for me to stand up in. It had only one small window. Here I stood surrounded by a flock of Rhode Island Red layers. They sported shiny red feathers decorated with a ring of black feathers around their necks. They all stopped in their tracks and squawked their approval of the new young farmer’s wife,

“Dear me.” They all looked so friendly as they strutted around, coming nearer and nearer, then pecking fresh snow from my boots. Looking from my left over to the right and up to the few poles for them to roost upon, somehow I could not bring myself to make a choice.

“Which one do you want me to catch?” I called out bending low so I wouldn’t bump my head.

“I have no idea,” my husband replied with a sorrowful tone to his voice.

Finally I saw one. I beckoned for her to come. She came willingly. Picking her up, I cradled her ever so gently in my arms. She nestled close to me and to my amazement began to cackle a song. Quickly I handed the hen out the door to Edwin to ease my twinge of guilt. Climbing out from the low door, once again I bumped my head. Immediately I headed towards the house, wanting no part of what was about to take place.

“Hold it,” Ed called after me, “Where are you going?”

“To the house, I’m freezing! And besides I want to check the water that should be boiling by now.”

“Don’t leave me to do this alone!” he pleaded.

“I have no idea how you plan to chop this chicken’s head off,” I muttered, feeling less gutsy by now.

“Well,” he suggested, “You hold the wings behind its back and the legs together.”

“Okay.” This didn’t sound all too complicated. My fears allayed momentarily.

“Now hold the bird’s head on the block,” directed my brave soldier man.

Hanging onto the legs and wings, I spread my legs to lower my body closer to the tree stump. I turned my head away from the gruesome scene.

From the corner of my eye I saw Ed raise the hatchet over his shoulder. His eyes looked glazed; I freaked and without thinking I swung the squawking hen away from the blow.

Around in a circle the chicken and I reeled, me finally letting it go. Up and away flew my gourmet supper into the huge snowdrift that surrounded the sod hen house. Opening my eyes, I saw the agitated hen flapping her wings and calling for help while treading in the deep snow, getting nowhere fast.

Ed looked stunned. The hatchet was caught in the block but there was no head lying by the butcher block.

Holding the shivering bird close to me, I repeatedly stroked her trembling body, trying my utmost to let her know how contrite I felt to think that I wanted her for my special supper. She struggled and protested in her very own chicken language, wiggling hard to free herself from my arms.

Not a word escaped from our lips. Somehow it became a mutual understanding between us that this was not a chore either of us knew how to do.

Slowly Ed opened the door to the chicken coop, allowing me to return the Rhode Island Red hen back to its flock. Ruffling her shiny red feathers, she squawked repeatedly as the other hens squawked excitedly in return. They surrounded her and I could tell by their  cackling that they were all anxious to hear just what took place outside the sod hen house. They scratched vigorously in the straw bed in hopes of distracting her and hopefully calming her down.

Ed smiled embarrassingly at me, “Let’s have scrambled eggs for supper tonight!”

I smiled back and timidly held onto his gentle hand wanting him to know that I understood.

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