Were the chickens really ‘talking’ to grandpa?

Published 7:51 pm Sunday, July 7, 2013

Chatting with someone of your own generation can bring to the surface interesting thoughts of the mostly forgotten past.

While enjoying a meal of fried chicken, we began to chat about how much trouble it used to be to get fried chicken to eat. It was so much trouble it was mostly only on the Sunday dinner menu, especially if company was expected.

At the time, lots of people had chicken yards filled with their own flock. Not only did they provide eggs for the family table, when you wanted to eat chicken they were pretty handy.

First, somebody had to catch one and it wasn’t always easy. If fried chicken was on the menu, then a young chicken was needed. If it was for any recipe for boiling chicken, it would most often be an old hen past her egg-laying days or an ornery rooster who attacked everybody who came in the chicken yard gate.

I remember watching my mother wringing the neck of a big fat hen and throwing her under a washtub where the chicken would flail around until she would finally stop. Not a pleasant thing for sure, but when your meal depended on it, what else do you do?

 The next step was dipping it in boiling water and plucking off the feathers…a right smelly job if I remember correctly. After all the feathers were gone, the carcass had to be singed over a flame to burn off what was left of the feathers… another stinky procedure.

Then the job of gutting the chicken and washing and getting the good parts ready to cook. Most often the process from chicken yard to chicken pot was a well over an hour, not including the chasing. If it was an old hen, it could take forever for it to be boiled tender enough to eat. However, that flavor was unbeatable.

Makes one think about the convenience today of buying already processed chicken at the meat market, ready to cook. Or better yet buy chicken already fried and skip the whole cooking business. That is an option.

When my grandfather was an old man and almost blind from cataracts, in good weather he loved to sit outside in the shade of a tree. The chickens would come around him and some would even hop up and sit on his lap. He had made pets of them and enjoyed their company. He would cluck to them and stroke their feathers and they would cluck back to him, almost as if they were talking to him.

Grandpa married again late in life and his bride made the mistake of taking one of his pet hens and “putting a blanket” over her — the expression for making a chicken pie.

That did not set too well with Grandpa, although I never did understand whether he actually ate any of it before he found out. Their marriage suffered at that point… all because of a chicken.

According to research, Grandpa wasn’t too far off with his relationship with his chickens. Chickens are apparently inquisitive and very intelligent animals and can make good pets. Almost anybody who raises chickens can tell you about the different personalities displayed in a flock — and some of them are downright mean!

I remember watching one of the House Hunters episodes on TV when the new bride, who was looking for a first home with her husband, insisted they pick a property where she could have her chickens. Not necessarily because of eggs or anything, she just loved chickens and wanted them around her.

I also recall seeing a TV tour of Paula Deen’s home where she introduced her chickens by name! Once you name it, forget about fried chicken! Not going to happen!

Those who have chickens say it is interesting to chicken-watch sometimes as they enjoy dust bathing, as well as the usual chores of making nests, roosting in trees and searching for food.

According to research, chickens form friendships and strong family ties. They love their young and mourn the loss of loved ones. Some even say chickens are as smart as some primates, such as monkeys.  I think you could say that about most animals. They have to be pretty smart to survive.

One researcher went further by saying chickens show sophisticated social behavior, can recognize more than 100 other chickens and remember them. They also have more than 30 types of vocalizations.

I don’t have any idea how they figured that out, but I’ll take their word for it since I don’t have any very personal chicken friends at this very moment to observe.

Since clucking is vocalization do you think they could have actually been “talking” to Grandpa as they sat in his lap? Stranger things have happened!

Retired Lifestyle Editor and Pine resident Bob Ann Breland writes a weekly column and may be contacted at bobann_b @ yahoo. com.