A fat chicken is a splendid fowl to
possess. Unless. .. And I will tell you this story about my chicken which
was bought for a school science project.
We are talking about a time like
1953 when green, pink and lavender chicks could be bought for ten cents each
at a local feed store in Charlotte. Who knows what kind of dye colored these
fuzzy little critters. Society had not thought about that issue yet. I
bought a purple chick and a little chicken feed for about fifteen cents.
Once home the chick was placed by
the heater in the kitchen in dead Gristyís cage, a cage built by my Daddy
out of an orange crate. Gristy was my beloved dog that got killed by a car
on East Boulevard.
Since I was writing up all details
of chicken behavior for a school science project I did not want to miss
anything about chicken development . I really never had liked chickens much.
At age four I had a good bit of interaction with a pen of them while living
on Sardis Road during World War II. The chickens had nervous breakdowns -
which is another story for another day. My goal, in addition to getting an A
on the report I had to write, was to raise an emotionally stable, plump chicken.
Being the conscientious type, I was
very faithful to the little creature. One day my brother told me the chick
thought I was its mother. I never intended this to happen but it just seemed
to. I documented everything in a notebook - what time it ate, how much it
ate, how much it drank, how often it went to the bathroom, the consistency
of its stool. I measured its height and weighed it on the bathroom scale. I
patted it and bragged on it with the best sounding clucks I could make so it
would feel good about being a chicken. Since the chick liked to follow me
around the house it wore little diapers I made. After about two months
little purple "Lulu" was on the way to becoming a hen. Long red feathers
started popping out here and there, the purple color started disappearing
and my chick was not so cute anymore. All this was documented in the
notebook. Incidentally, Lulu had been called "Mary Lynnís chicken" for two
or three weeks, but my Mother said it would be good if it had a name, so
that is why it got a name.
After a few weeks, my science
project ended and I received the "A" that had been my goal. My daddy, who
had been raised on a farm, said that since the project was over I must find
another home for Lulu. She couldnít continue to walk around in our house.
I had filed Luluís toenails and painted them pink and bigger diapers were
needed as each day passed. All this was just getting to be more than I could
deal with at the age of 12. Etha, a middle aged "old maid" who ran a boarding house up
the street from us, also had a hen house and said Lulu could move in
there. I was apprehensive but knew it had to be. Kind Etha said I could visit
For the first week or two I would
visit Lulu daily. I could sense that her affection for me lessened as each
day passed. She had become quite large and quite fat and soon got to the
point where she preferred her chicken friends to me. A couple of more months
went by. A flyer was posted on the A & P wall saying that a "pet" show would
be held at Freedom Park. Blue ribbons would be awarded with movie tickets as
prizes. Pet birds and chickens were invited, along with the dogs, cats,
hamsters, etc. My mother said she was sure that Lulu would win a blue
ribbon. On the big "Pet Show" day I went and got Lulu out of Ethaís
two-story chicken house and put her in a box. She was quite large and quite
heavy. My mother drove me to the park. I found the pet chicken arena and was
told to take my chicken out of the box, sit down in the big circle, and wait
for the judges. Lulu sat very quietly in my lap and I rubbed her just like
when she lived with me. Her feet were rather large by now, the toes and
nails were long and pointed and the pink polish was gone. The sun hit on her
large feathers in a way that the auburn color glistened and I was sure the
judge would be delighted with not only her obvious healthiness and fatness
but by her poise and calm disposition - all due, of course, to her good
early upbringing in the Caldwell family that cared. About fifteen other
people were sitting in the circle with their chickens. The judges arrived
with blue, red, yellow, white and green ribbons. The chief judge announced
that the blue ribbon winner also got ten movie tickets. I was very excited
as I went to see a movie nearly every Saturday afternoon with school friends
and would be most thrilled to get free tickets.
My time at the Freedom Park Pet
Show had come. Luluís time had come. The blue ribbon was going to be ours.
The judge was here. He bent over to check Lulu out. She started squawking
and flapping her wings. All this white powdery stuff started flying out that
I had never seen before. The judge told me that I seemed to have a very
nervous, high-strung hen. He said he couldn't remember when he last
saw such a bad case of chicken dandruff. The ribbons were awarded. Lulu got
nothing. She didnít even receive an honorable mention paper with one movie
ticket. Back in the cardboard box she went.
My mother drove us home, told me
that Lulu just got a little upset being with strangers and that it can happen to
anybody. My mother also said that the judges should have given every
participant a piece of paper for going to the trouble to be there. Always
one to support her own, Mother bought a blue ribbon at some store, hung it
up in the kitchen, and said in her opinion Lulu was the best of all
chickens. She assured me that I had done a splendid job raising Lulu, that
she was fine emotionally, that she was not nervous and that chicken dandruff
is not important. Lulu went back in Ethaís chicken pen and I sort of forgot
about the whole thing due to all my other activities.
A short time later on Etha came
down the street for a visit and said that it was time to start processing
all of the chickens in the hen house of a certain age for her boarders to
eat, and Lulu was that age. She said old hens are not tender and tasty, and that pen space
must be available for
younger chickens. I told Etha that I could not imagine cooking Lulu. She
said God meant for people to eat chickens. My mother always tried to
accommodate her three children in every way possible but she could not
figure out what to do if Etha wouldnít keep Lulu anymore. Mr. Anthony, a
short, large-bellied retired man next door who most always kept a toothpick in his
mouth, said he looked after many chickens growing up and he could help me
solve the problem - to bring him my chicken. I didnít know exactly what his
plan might be and he was not the type that you questioned. I took Lulu
to him. He was sitting in a chair in his back yard. He laid my chicken
in his lap, rubbed her head a moment with his left hand, put his right hand around her
neck, gave a little forward jerk and the next thing I witnessed was Luluís
head in Mr. Anthonyís hand and Luluís body darting off without her head
through the grass, soon to collapse forever. It was all so fast. I was
stunned. Mr. Anthony assured me that Mother Nature intends
things to be this way. He said chickens like this make good eatin'.
Just wait and see he added. I was speechless.
Holding Lulu's headless carcass
upside down by her feet, Mr. Anthony delivered her to my house and told my mother he had something for
her to cook. Mother was rather shocked as she said her meal plan for
the day did not include chicken - especially this particular chicken.
The plan was soon to be changed. My mother had learned through
trial and error that flexibility can make life less painful in stressful situations. She
soon had the feathered body boiling in a large pot of water and after a
short while emptied scalded Lulu into the kitchen sink. She
pulled out Luluís big feathers, squeezed out the little pin feathers,
removed the innards, washed her well one last time and put her in the oven to cook.
Baked Lulu was soon placed in the
middle of the supper table. I sat there staring at my formerly feathered "child" and
tears started to flow. My mother cried a little bit too, probably
tears of sympathy for me more than for Lulu. She quickly regained her
composure and said serving Lulu as food for our family was probably
not a good idea after all - that Etha's boarders or Mr. Anthony's
grandchildren might have enjoyed this chicken more than our family did.
My daddy said it was all sure ridiculous. He said a fat, good tasting hen
like the one we had on the table was a great blessing when he was growing
up. When he said grace that day he thanked God for the fine meal and
most especially for the nourishing chicken. My brothers ate a little
bit of Lulu, but
didnít seem to eat any of the meal with their usual relish. No one talked
much. I ate some green peas and went to my room as soon as
the meal was over. Mother brought me a cream cheese and olive
sandwich, my favorite, about an hour later. Lulu was never mentioned
again. I never used a living creature for a science project again.