Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Chickens: a true story

Warning: this story is a little bit gross

I was sitting up in my room when a commotion started downstairs. I had heard a car door slam shut in the driveway but had assumed it was my Dad getting back home from some errand he had slipped off to do, though I didn't remember hearing him leave the house. From the kitchen, the sound of the front door being opened was accompanied by exclamations in both English and Portuguese. The word galinha reached my ears several times letting me know that, somehow, there was a chicken involved in all this ruckus. "I don't wanna see it. I don't wanna see it. I don't wanna know." That was my brother's response to the entreaty from my Father: "Daniel! Come see, boy!"
"Oh please. Not more road kill." I thought as I remembered the dead Red Tailed Hawk that Dad had found “Still fresh and warm!” on the side of the road and had brought home a few weeks before.
"But who finds a chicken on the side of the road? This isn't exactly farm country..."
Sister Margarida's voice carried down the hall and up the stairs along with the other sounds (correcting my assumption that it had been my Dad closing a car door) but the words were lost in the noise and I couldn't understand what she was saying; I only knew it was Portuguese.
Gradually the excitement downstairs subsided and by piecing together the snippets of conversation that I had been able to understand, I deduced that Sister Margarida had brought a chicken and that it was dead, or would be soon.
I heard no squawking so I ruled out the possibility of a live chicken and felt it was safe to go downstairs and see the unfortunate fowl. I saved lesson 91 of "Keyboarding and Document Processing" on my laptop, gathered my phone along with the afore mentioned computer and went down the stairs.
There was Sister Margarida at the sink, my mother at her side. I put my things down on the table and said hello before I approached the sink. I was greeted at the counter by the sight of two spindly bird legs sticking straight up into the air.
"Oh look. A chicken."
There was indeed a chicken lying in our kitchen sink; two, in fact. Both were stripped bare of all feathers, one still featuring legs and a head while the other was lacking in both areas. The gory neck of the latter bird hung dripping from the body, deprived of its capital. For an instant, I was inclined to feel repulsed at the sight, but I quickly thought better of it.
 "I'll see worse when I'm a physician's assistant."
I stood by silently, not needing to ask any questions about where these chicken had come from because it was being discussed enthusiastically by the adults, now in one language, now in another. I learned that the Sister and a friend had gone to a farm owned by someone they knew and had there caught these two chickens along with a few more of their companions. They had brought their spoil to the Sister's friend's home and there...well, suffice it to say that was the last garage those chickens ever saw.
All this Sister Margarida explained as she skillfully cut into the headless bird and disassembled its innards. I watched with interest as one organ after another was pulled out of the avian carcass, trying to identify as many as I could.
"What's that?" I asked once.
"That's the testicles." she replied without blinking.
She continued to disembowel her victim placing everything edible in the large pink bowl sitting on the counter and all the inedible parts in a plastic shopping bag that was lying in the sink.
“ You killed them yourself?” I asked
“Uh huh.” She took a small step back from the counter and motioned with a bloody hand to her pant legs; I saw that they were spattered with blood. “I grew up on a farm baby. I’ve done it all.”
“How appetizing.”
Once all the organs had been removed the Sister proceeded to cut the meat from the outside of the chicken.
She sliced around the thighs and wings and I cringed at the crunching sound when she twisted them off.
“This is what everyone did before supermarkets. All girls knew how to kill and dress a chicken.” I felt quite inferior to the women of prior times.
Soon the first chicken was done and the second endured the same fate as his fellow fowl. As she made the first slice and reached her hand inside, the intestines of the second animal reminded me of the expression used in 2 Samuel: “...and his entrails poured out on the ground.” It was fascinating to watch. Gruesome, but fascinating.
In dissecting the second bird, a hen, there was a surprise. Sister Margarida pulled five eggs, all in different stages of development, out of the bird. The first one she found was large, and probably would have been laid very soon. It didn’t have a hard shell, only a translucent membrane to hold it together. The other eggs were decrementaly smaller and were round instead of oval. As each egg was pulled out we became more interested and excited.
“Hey c’mere and see! Quick!“ I shouted to my siblings (They had, up to now, had no interest in watching the dissection) then I asked Margarida, “Are those edible?”
“Oh, yes. Yes.” was the enthusiastic reply.
“Go get the small pot and we’ll boil them.” my mother said to me.
I went obediently to the cabinet in the pantry, all the while talking seriously with myself in my head.
“I think I want to learn how to kill and dress a chicken. Ew. Thats so gross. But people had to do this all the time way back when. I’m always daydreaming about ‘the good ol’ days’... At least for the sake of being able to say that I know how...I really should learn. What if there is a disaster one day and all the big-name chicken farmers go out of business, or if all the grocery stores close?... I’m gonna learn how.”
My mom put the exceedingly fresh eggs in the pot and we both went back to our posts from which we had been observing the dissection. I was perched on a stool on the Sister’s left, and my mother stood to her right. My father would come and go, watching for a while, commenting “You’re brave, sister!”, and then going about his business.
“Hey, next time you get some chickens...can I come? I want to learn how to do that” I gestured to her hands.
"Yeah, you want to come? I bring you; sure."
"Thanks" I smiled, wondering if I really wanted her to follow through on that offer.
The second chicken was soon all cut up and placed in the bowl along with the first one.
The waste from the two birds was disposed of, the counter and sink were cleaned and the bowl with the meat was covered and placed in the downstairs fridge. We thanked Sister Margarida for thinking of us and then she was gone.
After she left I reviewed the whole chicken ordeal in my mind, amused and slightly incredulous.
"That might have been the weirdest thing that’s ever happened in this house...besides the hawk of course...I better write this down."

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