In the early 1950’s, my grandmother lived along the highway between Palm Springs and Los Angeles. She raised chickens and sold sold fryers on ice and eggs.
Between her wood-slatted hen houses were two eucalyptus stumps. One stump was my haven from the headless chickens that ran flapping and spurting blood. I was Caesar, fascinated at the carnage below, frightened and eager. The other stump was the killing place.
My grandmother was kind and thoughtful–straight out of Denmark. She would reach into the cage, gently taking a hen by the feet, dragging it across the stump, while the chicken held still, its head and neck stretched, relaxed. I remember my grandmother’s chicken prayer, the one she recited before each drop of her ax: “Poor t’ing, she ditn’t mean no harm.”
CHOP. Release. Mayhem at my feet.
Water boiled in a caldron on an open fire. Hens were scalded, feathers plucked with gnarled fingers. Fine hairs left on the skin were singed over the fire–leaving a burnt hair stench that detracted from my fascinations. Tubs of ice filled with naked chickens. Gizzards, slitted and emptied of grit, lay in a porcelain pan among hearts and livers. My grandmother sang songs from the old country–mostly to the birds. She called me, Little Ricky.
In retrospect, we don’t know what we’ve lost until it is gone.