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The Last Chicken

Posted Tuesday, October 30, 2012, at 4:30 PM

This is what my little chicken looked like, only I don't believe she was quite this plump!
Cousin's call sparks memory

I recently got a call from out of the past, and it's caused me to remember the days when my mom and all her sisters and brothers were alive. There were eight of them, growing up together during the Great Depression, so I had lots of cousins. They are the best part of my memories of our family.

Mom was one of five girls, and they were all wonderful and beautiful and funny. When they were together, the house rang with laughter, even in the hard times.

Several years before my mother died, we were remembering one of the most ridiculous cousin stories. I told her that I had written about it for the paper, but she told me a truth that I had never known about that long-ago incident.

It goes like this:

The year must have been around 1948, because we still lived in the white house on Chicago Street in Springfield, Mo. I must have been five, and my favorite cousins were Mike and Steve.

My family had a small pen of chickens in the back yard, and, as the summer progressed, their numbers began to dwindle, until there was only one little red hen left. She was my favorite, and I had made a pet of her, because she would let me pick her up.

One evening, Mom loaded me and my little brother David in our old 1941 Oldsmobile and went to visit my Aunt Nell and my cousins Mike and Steve. I didn't realize that the little red hen went, too, but she obviously did.

Once there, I discovered to my horror that Mom and Aunt Nell were going to kill the little red hen and fix her for supper. They took her out back behind the shed with an ax.

My cousins and I stood on the back porch and shrieked, "Don't kill our chickie!" as tears streamed down our faces.

Periodically, Mom or Aunt Nell would charge out from behind the shed and yell, "You get back in the house and shut up!" We went back in, but not for long.

This went on for what seemed ages, but, eventually, our little "chickie" ended up on a platter, fried to a golden crisp. I tried not to eat her, but I was just so hungry! For all their screaming about our parents' cruelty, my cousins joined me in our wicked meal.

I always held this traumatic experience in my mind as the ultimate act of cruelty on the part of my mother, but many years later, she told me the truth.

I had long heard Mother's side of the story--how she and Aunt Nell had watched my grandmother wring the head off a chicken, but they had never done it themselves. The scene behind the woodshed was a real comedy of errors, as each tried to do the deed, and the chicken kept getting away and fluttering around the yard, while my cousins and I shrieked from the porch. Mom said the chicken's neck kept getting longer and longer. They finally managed to chop off the head, but they were a frazzled mess.

Finally, after many years, Mom admitted the truth.

"Madeline," she said, "I knew you loved the chicken, so I saved her for last, but you children didn't realize that we had nothing else to eat that night."

In my childish innocence, it never occurred to me that times were hard. I never knew it until just a few years ago. The story that I've told so many times has now taken on a new significance. As I talked with my cousin Mike, the memories came flooding back.

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Chickens have been a big part of our history. If you had a pen full of chickens, they could keep a family from starving. They provided eggs both to eat and to sell. They were a valuable commodity.

I know they're not bright critters, but there's something so pleasant about watching a hen and her chicks scratching on the ground.

I really enjoyed them, when my farm was a working farm. I would still have them, if I didn't have dogs.

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Oct 31, 2012, at 1:00 PM

The chicken in the photo is a Rhode Island Red. I can't remember what the white ones are called. The black and white ones are called Barred Rocks.

I also loved to raise turkeys and geese--especially geese.

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Oct 31, 2012, at 1:04 PM

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Madeline DeJournett
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at advancensc@sbcglobal.net.
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