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.
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
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.