Sunday, April 06, 2008


I have never liked eating anything with which I have formed a personal relationship. This is why I used to sit on a log and scream "Murderer!" at my mother as she was beheading a chicken. The chickens roamed freely around our farm, clucking and pecking at the ground. They used to cluster around Mom as she scrubbed clothes in the old galvanized washtub, the scrub board propped against its side, the water heated on the kitchen woodstove, then carried to the tub. She always used Fels Naptha soap, that odorous yellow bar that was capable of taking off the flesh along with the dirt. She used it for everything, scrubbing, washing clothes, shampoos, and baths. We all gave off a rather distinctive odor from our bouts with this smelly substance, but we were clean!

Sometimes the chickens would hop onto Mom's shoulders as she scrubbed the clothes under the tree that grew in the yard and provided us with summertime shade. Today, you pay more for what is called Free Range eggs, but ours weren't worth a dime to anyone except ourselves. Each Spring, Mom would order the chicks and they would arrive in a flat cardboard box. When you opened it, the chicks would spill out, little handfuls of yellow fluff, soft in the hands, and peeping furiously. They were adorable, these chicks, which is more than you could say about the adult chickens, who were rather a dull lot, pecking around, clucking aimlessly, shaking their feathers and dropping a few of them on the ground.

Each day, we had to locate the eggs. Most of the chickens nested in the tumbledown chicken shed, with its graying, knot-holed lumber and sagging roof, but some of the chickens liked to play games and roost outside. Then we would have to search the grassy spots and the underbrush to find the nests. It was Easter morning every day and we would shout with delight when we found an egg.

The difference between these freely roaming chickens and those raised in a cage may not be distinguishable by taste, but the idea of these feathered creatures roaming happily and freely is always an enjoyable thought. This, in itself, may make them taste better. There may be fewer chemicals used, too, because many of the caged chickens have antibiotics inserted in their food or in their necks, to promote growth. As I have always said, if you have a cold or a sore throat, eat a chicken. One could say that about any meat, which comes from animals liberally dosed with drugs.

Common hearsay has blamed our immunity to antibiotics on doctors who are said to have prescribed them liberally. In fact, today, one can hardly pry a prescription for antibiotics from any doctor. You can clutch your throat, moan in pain, and proclaim yourself hovering near death, but he will tell you to take an aspirin, drink a lot of water and get plenty of sleep.

However, the blame for our immunity to antibiotics may lie on the backs of the animal ranchers and chicken "farmers," who want their broods to grow fat and tasty as quickly as possible. We have been swallowing antibiotics with our meat for many years now, and it may explain why we have to take the Super Duper Thunder Wonder Drug to cure the flu, because the common variety has been rendered useless by too many meaty meals.

I didn't know all this stuff when I sat on the log screaming at my mother. That knife-wielding mass murderer formerly known as my mother was foreign to my juvenile eyes, and the sight of the chicken hopping about without its head, spurting blood from the stump of its neck, tried the limits of my sanity. My scream had the velocity of a jet engine streaming through the skies...and this was before a jet engine had ever been created.

This may explain why I do not like Reality Shows on television. There has been too much reality in my life. I like fiction when it comes to entertainment, pure made-up, imaginary, untrue fiction. I ran into one program where people had to enter a pit of snakes, hobnob with rats, eat maggots, and drink unspeakable concoctions. I quickly switched to the Dog Whisperer, which I consider pure fiction. Can anyone stop a dog from barking, piddling, disobeying, pulling on the leash, snarling, etc? I don't believe a word of it!

When Mom had finished scrubbing the clothes and "wrenching" them, as she called it, she would hang them on the clothesline to flap in the breeze. There they were, the clothes she had put together on the old pedal sewing machine, lined up for all the world to see. There are pictures of me from various times in my life, at age five, age eight, age ten. The thing is, I seem to be wearing the same dress in each one. Either Mom had discovered the secret of expandable clothing, or she made several dresses from the same batch of flour sacks.

While Mom was doing the laundry, Pop was working in the fields. As I played under the shade of the tree, I could see him in the fields. Sometimes Hubert would take over for him, holding the plow straight while the team of horses plodded along. Of all of my seven brothers, Hubert was the only one that loved farming. He had a knack for handling horses, liked plowing, and took an interest in the growing corn. When it was ripe, he would come to help pick the ripe ears off the stalks. Then he would load them into the trunk of his car and he and Pop would go on a tour of the markets, selling the corn.

I have heard Hubert described in many despicable ways...a handsome ne'er-do-well, a gambler, a womanizer, etc. etc. One of my many nieces once called him "her rather unsavory uncle." Well, where were you, dear niece, when he was toiling in the fields with Pop, helping him earn the money we used to live on? Where were you when he carried a load of corn to the house for Mom to cook, and a huge passel of people, including you and your family, gathered around the table to devour it? Where were you when he sent allotments home from the Army to give us more prosperity than ever before? Unsavory, indeed! He was always there when he was needed and many of us, including your family, needed him quite frequently.

So, there it is about big families. Like the chickens, we roamed aimlessly around, living lives someone somewhere described as "quiet desperation." We laughed, played games, gathered around the piano to sing, and gathered around the table to eat. However, things did not always run smoothly. Like the chickens, we would peck at each other and occasionally show our ruffled feathers. Those moments would pass and we would be united again, as mindless as the chickens in our ability to forget past wrongs and go clucking around as though nothing had happened and no harsh words had been spoken.

Then, too, there were the peacemakers. Bud qualified for this role. He was always serene, always steady, always reproving anyone for speaking in anger. "Now, now," he would say, "Let's just quiet down. There's no sense in carrying things on!" Now, there is nothing more irritating than peacemakers like Bud, calming things down just as you are beginning to ruffle your feathers. You're enjoying your spate of anger and it is like being splashed with cold water. Bud's tactics usually worked and the confrontations between family members were over before they started. Bud never showed his pleasure at the halt of any argument. He had deepset brown eyes and he would stare at the culprits with his steadiest, disapproving gaze. There was nothing one could besides feel guilty and reproved and go back to the fun of the gathering.

So many people. So many memories. At the sunset of your life, these are all you have, the love of family and the memories of times long past. You can't turn back the clock. You can't redo your hours on earth. You can't correct your mistakes or take back your regrets. You can't remember what you wanted to do when you were seventeen and decide to do it at seventy. So, all you can do is remember the good times and try to understand the bad. If the former outnumber the latter, you have been fortunate indeed.