Frequently, my husband broaches the subject of chickens—not just as a conversational tidbit, but as in raising them, feeding them and collecting their eggs, protecting them from the packs of wild dogs that roam every path and by-way of Pine Grove. Larry’s eyes take on that longing look as he gazes backward to his farm-boy childhood. He sees the farm fresh eggs of free range chickens. He smells the big platters of fried chicken on his mama’s Sunday dinner table. My eyes, on the other hand, take on a panicky look as I gaze back to my more urban youth.
It’s not that we didn’t have chickens; we did. Keeping chickens in a pen in the back yard in Hazlehurst was commonplace during my childhood, but chickens and I have never been the best of friends. I don’t expect that situation to change at this stage of my life, so I quickly change the subject when Larry starts the “chicken” conversation.
When Larry was a boy, a half-wild flock of chickens scratched around the barnyard and fields after bugs, native seeds and berries, plus whatever feed grain got past (or passed through) the larger farm animals. Free range chickens were exactly that in the truest sense of the words. The family enjoyed the freshest of eggs, even though they did have to hunt the nests. Children were sent out to catch a chicken for dinner and wring its neck.
Today no free range chicken would stand a chance on Buck Head Speedway, and my animal-lover husband would never wring the neck of a chicken he’d raised. Times have changed somewhat since our childhoods; both our mothers butchered their own poultry. In all honesty, I want no part of it either. If we really, really want to eat chicken, I’ll run to the grocery store and pay some one else do the dirty work. Now that I think about the whole process, I’m finding that I really don’t like chicken all that much.
For years I had nightmares about Old Red, Mama’s rooster that hated me as much as I feared him. A regular Houdini, he managed to escape the chicken yard almost everyday and watched for me to come out the back door. My screams would bring Mama running. One fateful day she’d had enough and Old Red wound up in the dumpling pot. No chicken ever deserved his fate more.
Larry and I haven’t talked chickens lately, thank goodness, but our nephew Bill has just become the proud owner of a flock of fluffy yellow biddies. He built them a cozy chicken coop, and his dog Loki guards them diligently. Loki’s as proud as any mother hen and doesn’t even allow them to stick their small heads through the wire to peck at the clover outside. He barks to order them back to safety in their assigned places. After all, who knows what danger lurks when the night drops a cloak over the suburbs of Stockbridge, Georgia? Loki knows and guards his flock against it.
Kris, Bill’s dear wife, is as enamored of these fluffy wonders as is Bill. She posts regular pictures of them on Facebook, and in every picture, Loki is on duty. (Chickens on Facebook! What is this world coming to?) I’ll admit they are cute, but I wonder if either Bill or Kris realizes that those cute little biddies grow into mean, ugly chickens with sharp beaks and spurs on any roosters in the group. I fear that our cherished niece and nephew will pay most dearly for any breakfast egg they manage to wrest from their flock.
Worst of all is my fear that Larry will follow the progress of Bill’s venture and once again start that fowl language that I keep trying to eliminate completely.