When you are poor, sometimes you get lucky and have chickens to raise. As long as they lay eggs, you collect them; but every so often you want more than eggs. That is when the chase begins. It’s not pretty to be chasing the birds around the yard, occasionally slipping and falling into the mud and chicken shit that carpets the area. Eventually you catch one and learn quickly how to keep the bird from pecking holes into your arms.
The task of killing and cleaning a chicken is not a pretty one, but it was even uglier in a coal dust covered dirt floor cellar. It requires a sharp axe and some swift moves to behead a chicken. You have to quickly finagle the chicken’s neck onto the chopping block and bring the axe down before the bird has the chance to bend its head out of the way. Next comes the choice of either hanging the chicken up to drain or letting the beheaded body flap wildly around the cellar while laughing about it. We were children; we let it fly making guesses as to where in the cellar it would finally come to rest!
Cleaning a chicken involves opening it up and removing its insides, taking care to sort out the edible organs from everything else. The chicken was then plunged into scalding hot water to be de-feathered. Human hands went into the water with the bird to pluck away even the tiniest of the feathers. The bird would then be butchered into edible portions before being tossed into the soup or fried in a pan or baked in the oven.
I never understood the necessity of boiling ones own hands to remove feathers from the chickens when it was just as easy to peel away the skin, feathers and all, before butchering and boiling. Nowadays, I’m just grateful that the birds come ready to cook.