Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Child of the Country

Today, in honour of the 29th anniversary of my 29th birthday, my favourite story:

Me. (Missing from the photo: the Chicken)
Harvest.
A mellow time.
A time to catch one’s breath and simply appreciate the bounty and euphoria of the season.
When the tireless efforts of every farmer in Alberta culminates finally in the production of golden streams of wheat, barley, canola and corn. Truckloads of peas, potatoes and sugar beets.
When sheds and storage buildings are full of the warm, sweet smell of new-mown hay and grasses, carefully dried.
On the Stringam Ranch, we, too had our harvest.
There was the bounty of endless (and I do mean endless, but that is another story) rows of garden produce to be brought in. Carrots, peas, beans, corn, turnips, potatoes, parsnips, beets, cucumbers. And many other things that a four-year-old simply couldn't name, though they did taste good.
Oh, and chickens.
Chickens?
The slaughtering of the chickens on the Ranch was a huge production. I can picture even now the great tubs of scalding hot water to loosen the feathers. The teams of choppers, pickers, and . . . innards removers. Everyone with a sharp knife or axe. Or with rubber-gloved hands working in the scalding water.
It was every parent’s dream for their small child.
Not.
But there I was. Bouncing from group to group. Being forcibly removed from the more dangerous situations.
Slowly getting covered in feathers.
Most probably looking like a large chicken myself.
When some of the more stringent voices hollering at me to keep away had finally effected obedience, and my initial fascination with viewing the death throes of the chickens had worn off, I was at a loose end.
Not a good thing for a four-year-old.
Mischief happens.
Not my fault.
The bodies of the chickens were systematically hauled away, so a closer study of them had proven impossible, but the heads . . .! Those were still there, lying forgotten near the chopping stump. They were piling up, obviously needing to be disposed of.
Please remember – I was a child of the Country.
Capital ‘C’.
One by one, I began picking them up and throwing them, unceremoniously, into the river, only a few feet away.
Hmmm. This was fun!
They would bob for a few seconds, then sink into the milky depths, perhaps to be eaten by some unseen fish, or maybe one of the monsters that our dog, Mike, was sure lived there.
I found a paint can lid. Great! Now I could throw the heads out four at a time. Much more efficient.
For some time, this obviously essential errand kept me occupied – to the vast relief of those who mistakenly thought they had more important jobs. I would collect the heads on my little ‘plate’, walk over to the river and . . . give them the Alberta version of a sea burial.
It was genius.
To a four-year-old.
Then the fateful, life altering event. I picked up a head, deposited it on my plate . . .
AND. THE. BEAK. OPENED!
No word of a lie. It opened! It was possessed! It was going to get me!
Straight into the air, the plate went.
By the time it and its contents had hit the ground, I was already halfway to the house screaming, and I quote, “THE CHICKEN HEAD! THE CHICKEN HEAD!”
Not very inventive, true, but effective.
It stopped the entire production line for several seconds. Mostly, I admit, so the people could laugh, but why haggle over details?
Mom consoled me, between chuckles, and all was smoothed over.
Except for one thing. From then on, I was afraid of chickens. I learned to wrestle 2000 pound bulls without turning a hair, but tell me to collect eggs from under a 3 pound pile of feathers and I was a quivering mass of . . . something soggy and cowardly.
My family still laughs.
There is an addendum to all of this. When my husband and I were on our honeymoon, we decided to make a day trip to the Calgary Zoo.
Fun!
There was a display of emus. And a machine that dispensed grain to feed them.
Put in a quarter, get a handful of feed. All went well to that point. I approached the emu with my little handful of grain.
It moved closer.
I moved closer.
It looked over the fence.
I looked at it.
Its beak opened.
And my new husband was suddenly staring at the handful of grain that magically appeared in his hand.
I was halfway to the car screaming . . .
You get the picture.

20 comments:

  1. I have a niece who is deathly afraid of birds. Any kind of bird... Budgies, wrens, sparrows, robins - you get the idea. Unfortunately her cat keeps bringing 'mostly alive' birds into her home and she winds up outside, waiting for someone to come and get the bird out. I shared with her and hopefully she enjoys your story as much as I did.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! We phobia-ists (?) must stick together!

      Delete
  2. "The chicken head....the chicken head" I spit my coffee all over the screen. So sorry you had a bad experience but honestly...where's the windex?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bwahahahaha! Umm . . . sorry about that!

      Delete
  3. I don't know whether to laugh or cry or gag :)

    I was a child of the country, too, but not on a farm. When I learned where pork chops came from, I didn't eat meat for a week. Unfortunately, there was no alternative and I got hungry. When I moved into my own apartment and had to prepare raw meat, I couldn't eat it when it was cooked. People should not be that removed from their food sources!

    I now eat as little meat as possible for health, ethical and environmental reasons. It sounds like your farm-based processing of the animals was humane, and I'm glad to hear that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the ranch, we ate meat for every meal! Now, we're lucky to get it a couple of times a week. Oh, how times have changed!

      Delete
  4. This is a funny story. Have you ever worked out why you still avoid things with beaks?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nope. I had a notable experience with a dead blackbird, too . . .

      Delete
  5. Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha!
    We're still laughing!
    Love you,
    Chris

    ReplyDelete
  6. This was the best of stories. LOL on this one. I remember watching my family member chopping off the chicken head and it took a moment for them to die. If memory serves me well; they could still walk around for a few seconds. Yuck!
    I liked the 29th Anniversary of your 29th Birthday; congrats!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. Death throes are more 'throe' than 'death' when it comes to chickens. Bleagh. Thank you so much, LeAnn!

      Delete
  7. I can see that your parents did not have to buy you many toys. Who needs them when there are chicken heads around.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I love this story! The same thing probably would have happened to me too! I have a thing about horses, love to look at them, love to pet them, but you can't get me near one wearing a saddle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We artistic types and our animal aversions! That's why we write! :)

      Delete
  9. The joys of butchering chickens. I have to admit that we had some sort of perverted fun doing it. I especially liked to watch the decapitated chickens doing backflips... Until Dad rather severely told me to hold them down until they quit flapping.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dads always take the fun out of everything . . .

      Delete
  10. Look at you! You were so cute! But oh dear! I can picture the shock on your face as the beak opened. I have memories of the yearly chicken, duck, geese butchering in mum's back paddock. I came to live there when I was 16, so hadn't learned how to do any of the processes involved, lucky me. My job became cooking the dinner for the rest of the family. Roast chicken of course.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yep. Cooking the dinner would definitely have suited me better. Once the chicken had been 'hollowed out', of course . . .

      Delete

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