Chickens–an oral history of sorts

This is a place of my childhood. Pale, butter colored stucco on the outside, full of love on the inside. It is my grandparents’ home. 1903 So. Steele Street. 352-9747. The first address and phone number I memorized.

As I pull into the drive-way to visit over lunch, I’m carried away in memory. I wonder, How many times have I pulled into this drive? And I realize, once again, that Gramma and Grampa have always, always, been there for me. They are the foundation of my life. Two stalwart souls. From them I’ve learned about love and hard work. I admire their resilience; they’ve lived through so much. I can see them in the window now. Grandma looks pretty today; evey day. Hair neat, matching polyester pants and blouse, always a necklace, always made-up, so sweet, and still in love. Grandpa is headed for the door.

I get out of my car and let the memories and the love sweep me inside.

As gramma broilers the beef patties and dry toasts the brown bread, pours the half-glasses of “skim” and orange juice, sets out the small melmac bowls of peaches, and starts the coffee, Grampa and I talk.

Gramma sways between stove and table, listening, commenting, cooking. He’s seated for lunch and ready, head of the table, back to the garden window, placemat down, drumming his fingers and saying, with a smile…

The chickens again. I never know how we get on this subject but I love how the story goes:

“One time, back on the farm, you know we were all poor then. (Gramma chirps in–Neva, you wouldn’t believe how poor we all were, just plain poor).

“Anyway, Hazel, I’m telling her… Anyway, we had some chickens to sell, me and Alfred and her brother. (A nod and a grin in gramma’s direction) So’s we
got ’em ready to go and loaded up the truck.

I ask, “Did’ja load them live or dead?”

“Oh, dead. You see, we had to wait a day or two to go to town, so we killed ’em, and put ’em in a hole in the yard to keep cool…

Gramma—“No one had refrigeration back then.”

Me— “Did you have ice to stick in the hole?”

“No, we just stuck ’em down deep.

Gramma—“That’s how people did it back then.”

“Me–How deep?

“Oh, about yea… (he shows me with his hands, about a foot or so).

Me—“So did you just chop their heads off and hang them by their feet?”

“Yep,” Grampa says, with a definitive grin.

Me—“Do chickens really run around after their heads are chopped?”

Gramma, with a head shake. She’s stopped her back and forth in the kitchen and is listening to every word, though she’d never admit it.
She says, “No, you…”

“Hazel, I’m telling it. Anyway, you just lay ’em on the stump–that’s what we had for a chopping block–and chop. Then you tie the feet…

Gramma, with exasperation— “Elmer,” she looks at me— “he doesn’t know a thing.”

Grampa grins and winks at me.

Gramma contines to explain, “First you chase ’em and catch ’em, then you take them by the feet and then you swing them around…

Me—picturing Gramma with a chicken whirling overhead.

“…then they get dizzy and then they don’t move and you can get ’em easier.

Grampa bursts out, “I’ve never heard of such a thing. That is not how you butcher a chicken.”

Gramma—“Oh, yes it is.”

They argue, lovingly, a bit, and Grandpa says…

“Anyway, Hazel, I’m telling it. So, we set ’em on the chopping block without swinging ’em around (sideways glance at Gramma) and butcher ’em and stick ’em in the hole for a day or two. Then, when her
cousin’s truck gets there, we load ’em up and take ’em to town to sell, thinkin’ we’ll get us a little money.

Gramma—“Nobody had any money to buy with though.”

“That’s true. We got there and everybody had the same idea; all them fellers had something to sell. So’s we loaded all them chickens back up and went home.”

He grins.

Me—“Did they spoil or did you eat them?”

“No, we did.”

Gramma—“No one had a thing to waste those days.”

Grampa continues, “We ate chicken–for a few meals.”

He chuckles.

Gramma sets down lunch. We eat the broilered patties on dry brown toast, the canned fruit. As grampa spoons coffee over his daily ice cream, he leans over and says…
“You don’t swing ’em around like that…”

Gramma says, “Oh, Elmer, you do too!”

He winks at me and we both smile.

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  1. Mary Ware

    You certainly nailed that one Neva !! That's exactly how I remember the chicken story, the meals, the interaction between the two, the kitchen, that super long couch in the living room and both of them sitting (Elmer in the rocking chair) holding coffee cups and watching TV but keeping an eye on who was driving down the road in front of the house. I always got a chuckle out of the phone ringing. Hazel would say, "Now who could that be?" and then Elmer would say, "Why don't you answer it and see."


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