Tag Archives: chickens

How I Lost My Virtual Virginity Selling Bibles in the South

Part 4

I was a long-legged, skinny, Sun-In blonde chick. Who, at nineteen, was more naive than a young girl should be so far from home. I play back the memories in my head and wonder how the hell I made it out of Mississippi unscathed.

Unfortunately, my Number Aught roommate’s dad died of a heart attack and she went back to Kentucky. I was ready to head back too, but The Company persuaded me to relocate to Corinth, Mississippi. Apparently Paragould, Arkansas was a hotbed for our competitor, The Southwestern Bible Company, and I was always one step behind their salesman.

My boyfriend moved to Corinth too and to save money we planned to stay together. It was just a little three room place in half of an old farmhouse owned by Mrs. Beatty, a sweet elderly woman who may or may not have believed us when we told her we were married. Living together was not really acceptable at that time. I hated lying to her until I found out she was a voracious potty mouth when she watched Big Time Wrestling. I felt like it kind of evened us out.

From Times Files

My boyfriend had to go back to Paragould for another couple of days to finish up some deliveries so I stocked the freezer with Boiling Bags and chicken pot pie, then mapped out my territory for the next several days. He took his car, so Mrs. Beatty agreed to drop me off at 9 am at the highlighted spot on my map. Tuesday was the day she got her hair washed and set at The Beauty Nook, so it was on her way.

Photographer Unknown

I stepped out of the car onto a dirt road with a patch of weeds so tall the chiggers didn’t have to crawl up my legs they could jump straight to the elastic in my underwear. The dilapidated street was rich with sleeper sofas and Frigidaires in front and colorful junkers up on blocks in the back. A mix of lysol and lard hung in the air like wet clothes blowing on the line.

Mid morning I was chatting up our Medical Dictionary to a pasty, pre-diabetic seventeen-year-old mother of three in a fall down duplex who said, “If’n I knowed about them diseases it might make my baby git sick.”

Sadly, I heard that kind of thing a lot from uneducated, worn out, young mothers who quit high school to “like it or not,” populate the South. There by the grace of God…not I.

From npr.org

Soldiering on, I dodged a couple of mean dogs, danced with a couple of chickens then finished up the rest of the houses on the street. The noon whistle sounded so I stopped at a gas station for a Yahoo and a Bit-O-Honey then stuck out my thumb to hitch to my next location.

Segregation was alive and well in Mississippi in 1974. My next stop was where the locals called, Nigger Town. I can’t tell you how it makes me want to vomit to put those words on paper, but I need to tell it like it was.

We were told at the Thomas Nelson Company Orientation that the “blackies (their word not mine) “were suckers for the word of God.” Later, when I tried to deposit a check from a sale I made there. The pinched-face teller at the bank told me, “That check ain’t no good even if it is good. This bank don’t deal with people from Nigger Town and neither should you.”

I wanted to punch pinch-face in the throat.

I was in the third grade when they integrated Kentucky public schools. My small town was old and steeped in racism and resentment. It didn’t change without conflict. I heard that word often back then but not from my family. My mom and dad grew up poor and humble. They were instilled with a genuine sense of kindness and equality that they passed on to me and my siblings. Racists pissed me off then and they piss me off now.

The dusty road was lively. Shirtless, barefoot girls and boys were running around yelling, chasing chickens and playing kickball. They had nailed cardboard squares into the dirt for bases and rolled a football cattywampus to the kicker at home plate. I admired their skill, they made a zig-zag run at the ball, booted it hard and sailed it past the mimosa tree. A solid home run. I felt such joy watching little boys and girls jump up and down chanting a victory cheer.

The sprawling live oaks, Kudzu and a trail of purple-stained popsicle sticks led me to my first customer. I opened the rickety gate walked up to a white clapboard house that was desperately in need of a few more Bois d’arc stumps to support it’s rolling foundation. A pink, Huffy bike with candy cane streamers in the yard got my bible brain a twitching. I could sell a Children’s Bible, a Medical Dictionary and a Family Bible. Red geraniums on the steps and a fat yellow tomcat gave me a feeling that this is where happy people live. A dog yipped behind a peeling, yellow door and woman’s calm voice said, “That’s enough Smitty, you done done your duty.”

The heavy-set, elderly, Brillo haired woman in an orange patterned housedress looked me up and down through the screen, dried her hands on a kitchen towel safety-pinned to her dress and said,“What can I do for you, child?”

I jumped right into my rehearsed spiel. She cut me off after a few seconds, cracked the door and said, “I can’t have no white girl standing on my porch in the middle of the afternoon, My neighbors will think I’ve been up to something. Get in here tell me your business and be quick about it. I got cornbread in the oven.”

The odor of Ben-Gay and cornbread made me hurt and hungry at the same time. She patted a doily graced sofa and said, “Sit child. I’ll be back directly, you gonna need something to cut this dusty day.”

When she came back from the kitchen with a large glass of sweet tea, I was ready for her.  My best sellers were laid out on the sofa, I recited my introductory lines then showed her a gleaming white Family Bible with gold embossed letters. “This,” I said, “could be your pride and joy. It is the holy word of God and everything Jesus says is noted in red. There is also a section here in the center for you to list all of your kin, going way back to great, great, great grandparents.”

She completely ignored my sales pitch and said, “I’m Mrs. Lottie Green, but you can call me Miss Lottie. What’s your name child and how old are you? And don’t lie to me, I can tell when people are lying.”

General Hospital 1970’s

The Company told us not to give our real names. I had been using Linda. My middle name was Lynn, so it came easy. I lied about my age too and told her I was sixteen. Another idea from the Company-If you’re younger, you can work a pity sale.

Miss Lottie said she didn’t believe me but she wouldn’t hold it against me just yet and let me go on with my pitch. She was politely smiling and nodding the whole time. I was feeling it! I would close this deal, make my way through the neighborhood and hitch back to the farmhouse in time to watch General Hospital with Mrs. Beatty. But no, Miss Lottie wanted to “talk Bible.” I went to Sunday School as a kid so I held my own, for a while.

She was quizzing me on the Beatitudes when her face lit up and through the screen door, I could see a large white caddy pull up out front. When the dust settled, two tall, wide and menacing looking men got out and headed for the house. Apparently they had got word someone was visiting their mamma.

Miss Lottie jumped up and said, “Oh my babies are here!”

She must have noticed the “freaking out look” on my face and said, “Oh don’t worry honey, them’s my sweet boys. They won’t hurt you none as long as you ain’t up to no good.”

Shit.

No telling what they considered “up to no good” was when it came to their mamma. I figured I should leave this little homecoming, fast.

But it turns out, I didn’t leave until the sky turned over a few times and the Kudzu had all but covered that little pink Huffy. 

 …to be continued

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 Chicken Killer              

I killed my first living thing when I was 11 years old.  I picked it up, grabbed it’s neck and wrung it around and around until I heard a snap. Then I ripped it’s head off and flung the body on the ground.

“Good Lord!  It sounds awful when I read about it.”

I killed a chicken.  Only once. It never happened again.

Chicken Killer

I grew up in a small town in Kentucky just down the road from my grandparents farm.  My dad, a high school biology teacher, still helped Pappaw with most of the planting, tending and harvesting and in exchange we got chicken and beef and all the fruit and vegetables we wanted.

We had  “Chicken Killing Day” each year, but Mammaw was the one that usually did the deed.  I just stood and watched them flop around the yard. Then one day, I bragged to my sister that I could do it and asked my grandmother if I could try. I thought she’d say no. I would have looked like a chicken (excuse the pun, but that’s the word for it) to back out. So I did it. It wasn’t hard to do, a little scary at first because it clearly didn’t want to die, making a heck of a noisy flutter. I’d seen Mammaw do it so many times, it was over and done with before I knew it.  The unfortunate thing was being called a chicken killer for the next several weeks.  My grandmother probably killed over a thousand chickens, but I became “our little chicken killer.”  One lousy, dead chicken and I was labeled for life.  They got tired of it after a while, but my sister still brings it up from time to time.  I think she may be sorry she didn’t have the guts to do it.  She missed a life defining moment, of sorts.

Our “Chicken Killing Day” chore was to take the headless bodies and dip them in water, bubbling in a huge cast iron kettle, set over a fire behind the hollyhocks in the back of the yard.  We’d leave them in for a few seconds, just long enough to make it easier to pull their feathers out so we could take them in the house for my mom and Aunt Hazel to gut, cut up and pack in freezer bags.

That doesn’t sound so good either, but it’s what we did. It’s what happens when you have a working farm.

My Mammaw & Pappaw

My Mammaw & Pappaw

It was a small farm, raising mostly tobacco and corn.  There were five or six milk cows, fifteen to twenty chickens, two mules (for plowing where the tractor couldn’t go) a dog named Butchie and a big vegetable garden located out behind the stable.  I was there with my sisters almost every weekend, and daily during the summers from the time I was born until I was fourteen.

My dad would help Pappaw and Aunt Hazel work the tobacco fields while Mammaw, my two sisters and I would do chores around the house or play made up games in the yard.

I enjoyed most of the chores.  Feeding the chickens in the morning was fun although, sometimes frightening. They would peck at you and fly up trying to get the feed out of the pan.  Once I dropped some on the top of my foot and got a nasty peck that drew blood.  Mammaw washed it off with Lysol and water while she yelled at me for not wearing shoes, “If I told you once, I told you a thousand times, you can’t walk around chickens in those dang flip flops.”

The chickens had the run of the yard, so we were always on the lookout for chickenshit.  It was funny.  The word “shit” was a bad word.  We would have gotten a whipping if we said it, but chickenshit was different and was used on a regular basis by us all.

Aunt Hazel would say, “Make sure you check your feet for chickenshit before you come into this house.”

Lamenting the placement of poultry poo, Mammaw would exclaim, “Look at that chickenshit, right on my cement!”

I don’t think chickens have the brain capacity to be purposeful in such things, but she took it as a personal insult.  There was only a little cement around the cistern and she liked it to be clean.  She’d say, “Those girls are just being spiteful doing it there, when they got the whole dang yard to do it in.”

I guess she thought the rooster knew better. I miss chickens.  Now that raising them has become a popular urban hobby, I’m thinking I may take on a few.  I just hope they don’t recognize a chicken killer when they see one.