It used to be an invective we shouted to anyone that we thought was a ‘fraidy cat.
This is me especially when I think about chickens. Dead chickens in meat trays with wiggly pink meat – not the characters that poke their beaks into the dirt and ruffle their feathers when you scoot them out from under your feet.
The live ones are interesting. Colorful, most of them. Loud, if they’re male. Darned adorable, if a tiny pale yellow fluff-ball when brand spankin’ new.
I had a chance to experience them in a way that this Midwesterner hasn’t ever when I visited Key West. They are everywhere. No, I mean it! We were greeted with huge roosters in living color at the airport. They were smart enough to avoid the roads. The volume of traffic was enough to encourage them to stay off the streets, but that meant the restaurants, stores, and sidewalks were filled with them.
One of my favorite Cuban restaurants had an entire dynasty in the outdoor portion of the restaurant. Of course, this just added to the sense of authenticity. (Does Cuba have a lot of chickens?? For whatever reason, I think it might.)
I was leary of the cocks. Ornery little peckers.
Still, I have always had a poultry bias. Yes, I admit it. I think they are dirty. Nothing says “wet market” like bird poop everywhere mixed with moulted feathers and a constant cheaping, clucking, crowing, and all the other chicken chatter. It’s not a long leap to the wet, wiggly pink flesh that makes me want to urp.
I should have learned to cook when I was growing up, but I didn’t have much opportunity. By the time I turned 13, we were in a new house 600 miles from anything familiar. Mom’s alcoholism was on the verge of being out of control and, well…you know…thirteen. It’s a really hard year for the parents. We moved into a slightly smaller house – downsizing since it was just the three of us. With sibling four out of the nest, there was no need for all those rooms to clean. The new house had a galley kitchen that didn’t allow for more than two people that liked each other to work at the same time. So, I was sh*t out of luck for learning to cook from that point on. My role was dishwasher. I was pretty good at it, if I may say so.
Chickens. I like them fried, grilled, in casseroles, even kabobs are good. Just not raw.
Having spent most of my college career in one dorm or another, it wasn’t until the winter of 1978 that I moved into a slum of a duplex with my new husband. The place was filthy but, well-ventilated thanks to the 1-inch gap under the front door where I could watch vermin take refuge inside. The kitchen base cabinets had rotted floors, so I avoided putting anything that wasn’t rat or roach poison inside. Needless to say, we had a very small budget for food. We were pretty excited about the market that opened up near our duplex that might have been considered today’s precursor to Costco. Buying in bulk is still hard on a budget, but we were careful. The meat was a godsend. It was cheap, and lucky for us I could get animal protein on our budget. I was hungry for something other than hamburgers and Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners so I bought a couple of whole chickens with the intent to cut them up and put them in the freezer.
She could hear me crying and cursing at the top of my lungs. Between grinding that damn cartilage with my dull knife, and rushing to the sink to hurl, my neighbor, a tall husky woman of German descent, started beating on the door. Oh, great. Just one more thing to make this already-crappy day, crappier.
God bless her soul! I don’t know if she is still alive, but if she is, I hope God has blessed her richly in this life for doing the one singularly Christian thing anyone can do: take the knife away!
To this day, I still struggle with raw chicken, but I’ve learned a life-hack (Imma gonna let that pun go, too) that makes it a little easier: Defrost the meat about half way, then cut with a recently honed knife — quickly.
That wasn’t the only mishap with poultry. It was on Thanksgiving Day of 1982, with a ragtag group of new military friends from 3 or 4 branches of the service in my tiny little Seattle apartment, that I asked a Marine to slice up the turkey while I finished getting a few things on the tables. (What he didn’t know was that I simply had no idea where to start on a project like that and hoped desperately he did or at least was brave enough to venture in. He was a Marine, after all. Don’t we send them in first???)
It got really quiet in the apartment. Usually that’s not a good thing. I looked towards the kitchen to investigate. Ken (not his real name) was pulling a bag of body parts out of the cavity and asking, “Are these supposed to still be in here?”
These stories and too many others have served as fodder for my family’s sick sense of humor. I have literally dozens upon dozens of chicken things from coffee cups to exquisitely quilted wall hangings with chickens and roosters all over them. I’m certain not a birthday or a Christmas has not served as an opportunity to present me with the latest in feathered finery. Frankly, I’m surprised there isn’t a coop in the backyard!
What I Know Now
Has nothing to do with chickens.
It has everything to do with not taking yourself too seriously. I love that my family has sent me chickens for lo these many years. The stories are amusing, if not a bit self-effacing. I mean, really. How can you demand much shock and awe when you wield a knife in one hand and a barf bag in the other?
I identify with those silly chickens. I fear things I don’t understand. I’m insufferable when my ideas are overbaked. I can get my feathers ruffled on occasion. However, it is moments like these that it is important to enjoy because they are the ones that make you a real person. Accepting your foibles and your fumbles develops a sense of humility. They level the playing field making you approachable and accessible to the people who need you the most.