From the time that I can remember, early every spring, Momma and Daddy took a trip to buy new, little Chicks. When they arrived home, my father took the large, gray, covered boxes (possibly 3 foot squares by 4 inch deep) from the trunk and went directly to the “Chick” house with the treasure! I thought the boxes were strange because their surfaces were waxed, but now I realize the wax made it easier to wash the “poop” out of the boxes after transport because they needed to be returned to the grower!!
The “Chick” house was preset for the new little birds with a thick layer of shaved wood chips. In the center of the room was a gray, metal, warming brooder, an octagonal, tent-like structure that was centered by a large, electric light to produce a warm area for the chicks. Around the brooder was two stations with water, although the bottom tray of the water feeder was very narrow so the little chicks couldn’t get in and drown and two or three narrow feeding trough where finely ground bits of corn and oats were put three times a day. The inside of the room was very warm, a slight, sweet, smell of wood and oats, mixed with the fragile smell of tiny little warm bodies covered with fluffy down. While the eye and the nose received little gifts while little feet climbing up legs or twenty little wings fluttering at your ankles teased the sense of touch. The most surprising was the gentle, sound of little peeps, each singing its own song, yet combining into a soothing sonata comparable to one for the wind instruments.
Until I grew old enough to understand the importance of being careful as you entered the Chick House, I was told not to enter the room. The first time I accompanied my Mother to help her when the chicks arrived I was anxious to see them for the first time.
After the first minute inside the house I understood what the concern was. Little, tiny chicks become frightened very easily and instead of running from you they encircle your feet and you need pick them up and move them before you can take a step. Later on they get used to you and won’t panic. After that first visit I never asked to go for a very long time. As I grew more agile and less intimidated by stepping on them I found the little chicks fascinating. To pick up a dozen or so tiny little, squirmy, chirping chicks, while trying to get under my arm or in the fold of my coat for protection is a mighty experience.
As the weeks passed and the weather turned warm, the little babies grew not only in size, but developed new coats that signified if they were a rooster or a hen. Momma only wanted Rhode Island Reds. She said they had the tastiest eggs and the roosters were the most tender. I couldn’t argue because our eggs and fried chicken was much tastier than our neighbors. Not only were they tastier, but also as they grew they were much prettier than a plain, old white hen or rooster. The Rhode Island Reds were very sassy strutting around in shiny, red brown feathers, bright yellow legs and feet and beautifully formed tail of long feathers. The males, always chic, strutted around with their bright red, combs and wattles.
Hen on the right , the Rooster on the left,
These are full grown, a little older than I write about,
but just as nice looking!!!
Depending upon how fast they grew, usually by the end of June, my Father would let Momma know it was time!! I knew what that meant and I shuddered each year. From that moment all I could think of was after the young roosters grew, developed their own unique personality, strutted proudly through the crowd of young hens and tomorrow—well first take another look at the young stud!!
By the following evening there would be a dozen less “studs” freely enjoying their budding existence. Just before sunset, Momma, Daddy, Sherry and I headed for the younger Chicken House. Each of us would return to the yard near the Woodshed with three aspiring stars. Before I put my three in the wooden cages I waited for Momma to put hers in. Then she would take two of mine while I petted the third rooster in my arms. My Father would yell if I dallied long so each good bye was as quick as could be. After they were locked in the cages I sneaked another little pet and bid them a good night. Now I think how ridiculous I was –why would I ever bid them a good night!!
The next morning I was awakened by “Thunk—scritch—slump!” Next came a rustle of feathers, the tone quickly slowly until it stopped. I covered my head because I didn’t want to count…….I didn’t want to know how many more to go…………..I knew and I didn’t want to remember that with each rooster Momma would take them one by one from the cage, walk over to the huge old maple tree and while holding them down onto the bark with her left hand the hatchet swiftly came down with the right hand. First it went through, then pull the hatchet across the bark and then use it to push the head off to the side. Whenever I mowed I tried to stay away from the bottom of the tree. The bark had permanently been stained red by decades of murder!!!
Murder yes, to a young person, but as I aged I realized that was how we got much of our food on the table. I never liked what happened and for weeks after I pined for Momma’s fried chicken, but I refused to eat!! But the best was to come. After I knew the axe had dropped for the last time I quickly got out of bed, dressed and ran down stairs. My sister already was with my Mother helping her carry the roosters into the summer kitchen. My job was to put away the cages and clean up the yard and the hatchet. Then, while my Mother and sister prepared the rooster to be take to the locker in town to be wrapped and frozen, I was to take charge of making dinner and supper.
The Killing Tree!!!
I had that wonderful, easy job because what was too happen in the summer kitchen was even worse than hearing the thump of the axe. When I was young I tried helping my Mother do the things she needed to do. First she dipped the roosters in boiling water to loosen the feathers. The smell was indescribable or so I thought. Next she had me sear the pinfeathers from the rooster by holding the raw skin close to an open fire. Now I was getting a little nauseous. Not only did it smell like flesh burning the damp feathers combined to give you the effect of a dead body in a sauna.
Even though I was holding my own at this time, I didn’t look forward to anything, although I wasn’t sure what was going to take place. I was standing near my Mother as she took a huge, sharp knife and cut the bird open. She did this with such ease. I watched with horror, disgust and a new wave of nausea. I had never smelled warm innards and the warm, strange odor really did carry with it an aura of death. Immediately following that first cut I grabbed my stomach and barely made it outside to let my breakfast out!!!
Momma was worried, came out to me and told me it was something that I had to get used to and in time probably wouldn’t even be bothered by it. Well, the little man decided to give it another try and so returned to have my sister show me how to cut the gizzard in half and clean it. I asked Momma what was in that gizzard……as she answered me I took my second trip out to the yard. This time I really felt sick. It was the last time I was expected to help inside the summer kitchen! God works in wonderful way!!