Four of our largest kettles filled with water sat on the stove. The burners beneath them glowed red. Mom ordered, “Let’s hurry up and eat. The water will be boiling by the time we’re ready to scald the chickens.” I glanced at the stove after Daddy, Mom and I finished blessing our meal. I saw a small thread of vapor rise above one of the kettles.
In half the usual time it took to eat, Daddy put down his fork. Anticipation had taken away my appetite. As Mom began to clear the table, Daddy commanded, “You come with me, Kathy. I don’t want you underfoot when we carry out the boiling water.” He led me out into the farm yard where he had placed a large block of wood next to the driveway. He instructed, “Stay right here. Mama and I will be with you soon.”
The cotton scarf tied under my chin felt loose. I pulled it tighter and looked around. Clouds in the sky blocked out the sun and a cool wind made the day feel as if it wasn’t really spring. There were long stalks of browned grass along the barn and house foundations. They nodded and dipped with each breeze.
I felt sorry for my brothers and sisters, they were at school and missing out on today’s butchering of the chickens. It made me feel sad that next year I would have to attend school, too. Staring at the block of wood, I wondered what it was for and what Mom meant when she said she’d scald the chickens.”
Fortunately, I wasn’t a squeamish child, so the realities of farm life didn’t traumatize me. When Daddy and Mom joined me, they immediately went to work. Scooping up a chicken, Daddy held its head and neck over the block, picked up an axe and chopped its head off. The dead chicken fluttered and flopped around for a minute, then Mom dipped it in the boiling water. “So the feathers pull out easily.” she explained as she worked.
Things were going well until one of the chickens did more than momentarily flutter and flop around. It ran around the yard on its feet and out of sight. Daddy offered, “I’ll find it after I’m done here. It’s probably behind the cedar trees by the shrine.”
Mom suggested, “From now on, I’ll drop a bushel basket over them as soon as their heads are chopped off. We don’t want that to happen again.” The basket worked well. We didn’t lose any other chickens.
While Mom set to work gutting the chickens and preparing them for the freezer, Daddy searched for the missing chicken. Eventually he returned to report, “I can’t find the chicken anywhere!” As the birds were cleaned, I enjoyed looking at their organs. Using my gruesome interest, Mom taught me what everything was. I didn’t realize that most five-year-olds are unable to identify chicken hearts, gizzards, livers and lung tissues.
During my childhood my family ate a lot of beef. I considered pork and chicken meals as only served for special occasions like Sundays and holidays. I loved Mom’s pork, sauerkraut and raw potato dumplings. But I dreamed about her chicken dinners. The meat was always so tender that it nearly dripped off the bones. The beautiful smell of poultry seasoning and cooking bird filled our farm house with love and security. Meat juices in the roaster cooked into gooey, rich, flavorful bits of heaven.
A month after I watched Mom and Daddy butcher the chickens, school let out and the weather warmed up. One day my brothers smelled something unpleasant in the back half of the orchard where we never mowed the grass. Far, far from the block of wood used to lop off its head, they found the run-a-way chicken. It was rotting, with feathers lost without needing to be scalded. I felt bad. This was one chicken that would never be a deliciously memorable Sunday dinner.
In our modern society today, families often don’t carve out the time to sit down regularly to share a meal. Everyone is too busy. That’s sad. Studies show that eating together is good for every member of the family and pays back not only with better nutrition but improved grades and relationships.
Because we don’t have time in our busy schedules to sit down to eat, we buy fast food and gobble it down while driving or finishing some work. I’ve heard it called, “Eating dinner on the run.” When I hear that phrase, I chuckle. It makes me think about the day my family actually had our chicken dinner jump up and run away from us.