We had about 150-200 chickens growing up on the farm. There were lots of colors and several roosters. Naturally, we had many eggs, which was a good thing because at times that’s all we ate. It made sense to scramble a large cast iron skillet full of them to feed seven kids. I got so sick of scrambled eggs that I can’t eat them to this day unless I doctor them up with all sorts of goodies first.
The hen house was a wood structure with boxes staked several rows high. There was a narrow isle in between. Mamaw (Daddy’s mother) stuffed the boxes with hay, so the chickens would roost in there every night, either in the boxes or on the crossbeams spanning the small space.
We kept the little chicks warm under a dome shaped incubator that had a light bulb in the top. We’d also grind up corn for the chickens on an old grinder attached to Mamaw’s porch.
In the summers, we would help with gathering the eggs. My sister, Scherri, was much better at this than I was. I always ended up breaking several eggs because I didn’t have the delicate touch she did. Because of this, she was the candidate to gather them once when a fox was lingering about. She was scared to death, but Mamaw went with her and stood at the crook in the road to keep watch while she was in the hen house.
And of course there were always many chickens to wade through too because they squawked and made a racket until you fed them. They would be in frenzy and pecking at each other to get at the food. Because of this behavior, at times some of them had bare spots where feathers were missing.
Our father’s mother would have made an ideal pioneer woman. She took to farm life and everything seemed so natural to her, even when it came to ringing the neck of a chicken for the stew pot, which she did many times. Sometimes she’d take a small ax to them on the chopping block that sat outside the gate to her yard. She would bring a big pot of boiling water out and have it standing by. With the deed completed, she would immerse the chicken in the hot water to loosen its feathers. These feathers she saved for pillows and comforters. Not much goes to waste on a farm.
Once she plucked the chicken, she would singe it over an open flame on her gas stove. I remember entering her kitchen and watching her do this lots of times. I will never forget this smell.