Monday, May 01, 2006


She was something else - to a sixteen year old boy she was a princess in white. A shining example of what womanhood ought to be like. She didn't giggle in groups or put you down for doing something silly. Nope, this was a real woman, and I had to have one just like her when I grew up and got serious.

Her name...well, isn't that funny I can't really remember her name, nor can I truthfully remember her face - just a vague image of a rather short and well proportioned woman, of around thirty. Best I can remember, she was pleasant to look upon and had a smile full of teeth. I remember teeth, because she’s the one who taught me how to take care of my teeth and to brush my tongue! She was the best biology teacher anyone could have had.

The thing that was most impressionable to me was how she loved the out-of-doors. The tales of how she and her husband roamed the lakes and woodlands of Northern Alabama thrilled me and filled me with impatience. I wanted to share the great wilderness with a true loving lady all my own. Gosh! I used to think, how great it must be to have your own woman, one who owns her own shotgun, archery equipment, and fishing gear. Wow, and not only that, but she also loved to watch bird dogs working in the field. What more could a man ask for - to have a lover right by his side all the time? She was always there to share and to encourage.

Yes, I really had a crush on that teacher. I tried desperately to impress her every chance I got. I studied extra hard, just for the opportunity of answering questions in class, or to see a smile on her face as she handed me an "A" paper.

Another opportunity arose late in the fall of that sophomore year. The school always held a science fair and would invite the parents to judge the exhibits. I desperately wanted to shine during the affair, so I thought and searched for a project worthy of a prince. It had to be special, a one of a kind, and one that would get the greatest amount of praise. Why? Well, it was partly to impress a pretty gal, but mostly it was for the applause. I do everything for applause! Why hide it, it's a fact of life? I took a career planning course at work once, and it clearly pointed out that applause was the bottom line to every last thing I do in this world. So....yeah, I did it for the applause. I could see all my class mates cheering and their parents clapping like six points had just been scored on the football field. Yeah, and it was my end sweep with a chicken skeleton that would do the trick!

That's right; you read it correctly, a chicken skeleton. That was the project I had decided upon doing. I think the idea came from an illustration in the encyclopedia. There was this dinosaur skeleton superimposed over a line drawing of its internal organs. Wow, that had to be a special idea! A unique idea! And...only I could do something so absolutely disgusting for attention.

I set to work looking up everything I could about skeletons, trying to decide which animal to do. You see the chicken didn't just come to me right off. I was still thinking big like a dinosaur, or a cow. Finally, I realized that the best thing to do was to use a chicken. I mean, who really loves a chicken? Dogs I loved too much, and cats I hated too much to touch. Now, where to get a chicken skeleton? Maybe I could save the bones from when we had chicken to eat. Naw, they'd be cooked and all brown looking, and besides some of the bones would be missing. Bones like toes, skulls, and even beaks wouldn't be on the table. I needed one complete chicken, with everything belonging to the same chicken.

As fate would have it, my grandfather owned a farm and had plenty of animals running around, especially chickens. Wasn't I a lucky kid?

After explaining over and over again why I needed the chicken, he finally relented and let me have one. There was only one catch - I had to catch it myself. Well, that didn't seem to be too big a challenge, besides I had my cousin Larry with me. We could do anything, heck, we were sixteen, and strong young examples of manhood.

Larry and I chased the rooster for about thirty minutes before Pa, my grandfather, informed us that the rooster wasn't part of the deal. If I wanted a chicken, he explained, it would have to be a hen. Larry and I sat on the powdery dirt of the barnyard, looking at each other, trying to catch our breath, and trying to figure out why one of us hadn’t told the other about the difference between a rooster and a hen.

We singled out a nice hen (the ones without the big red thing on their heads and long tail-feathers) and started the zigzag chase again. The hen gave us more than we wanted for about twenty minutes or so, and then made a critical mistake. She ran into the hen house and was soon cornered. I came out of the chicken house carrying her with one hand around her throat and the other around her jerking legs. I was struggling to hold on, so I quickly gave the feet end to Larry. All smiles, we carried the hen up to Pa and showed him that we could indeed out run and out smart a chicken any ol' day.

"What'ya go’na do with it now?" He kind of squinted up one eye and spit out a stream of tobacco juice. I believe to this day that Pa never figured he'd have to give up one of his hens. I don't think he thought we had the guts for what was to come next.

"Uh, we kin’da figured you’d kill it for us, Pa."

"Nope, not me - if you want a chicken dead, you have to kill'er yourself." He was looking us straight in the eye, so we knew he was serious, and there was no changing his mind.

"Well, uh, how do you kill a chicken?" I asked after swallowing very hard.

"Ah, I know how to do that city boy," Larry interjected. "You just ring their neck by slinging them around and around, or you can chop their head off with an ax," he said proudly looking up at Pa.

I thought for a couple of seconds and then explained that I needed the whole chicken, and nothing could be broken, or out of place. We gave it some long hard thought. Pa looked on and grinned, probably still not believing it would ever happen.

Alcohol! That was my big decision. I'd kill the poor chicken by drowning it in alcohol. Why? Heck, I don't know. Why do young boys decide anything?

Maybe it was having heard about formaldehyde at school. You know that smelly stuff those cute little dead frogs come floating in! I always thought that was how they killed the little buggers, just dropped them into the jar and the formaldehyde not only killed them, it preserved them to boot. So since we didn't have any formaldehyde, I figured alcohol was the next best thing.

One problem came up. We didn't have enough alcohol to drop a full grown hen into either. What now, we wondered? Pa just produced another stream and grinned some more.

Drown her in the alcohol was the best I could come up with, especially since all we had was half a bottle. So we proceeded to do the execution, and Pa went toward the house shaking his head from side to side. We poured the alcohol out in a small bowl and grabbed the hen by the throat. Then we sat there for the longest time looking down into the bowl and then at the chicken. One thing one must remember, if they’re going to be a hunter or a killer of any type, is above all else, don't look into their eyes.

I remember killing a beautiful doe on my first archery hunt several years ago. The veteran group I went with stood by and watched, figuring I wouldn’t have the guts (pardon the pun) to field dress the deer. Well, I surprised them all, even got to laugh myself when one of them got sick and turned away. I think they were impressed that I could do that well on my first kill. They didn't know that I hadn't looked into that big beautiful brown eye, but on the trip back, I had ample opportunity to look sadly into that eye covered with specks of pepper (pepper is added to keep insects off the carcass). Every time I tried to eat some of the meat at home, I'd see this huge brown eye starring at me. I finally, gave the meat to my mother.

Anyway, the chicken’s little yellow eye with the black pupil was having the same effect on two teenage boys. I ran other projects through my mind, but none seemed as fantastic as this one. My biology teacher would really be impressed with this one. I had to do it, that's all there was to it....drown the chicken!

WARNING: For those of you, who abhor graphic violence, please do not read the next paragraph. For those of you who love it, let's get on with the show.

I forced the hen's head down into the bowl that Larry was steadying. The hen's body lurched and jerked until I was almost forced to let her go. Then bubbles started coming from the holes in the beak of the chicken. The eyes rolled around and the lids started opening and closing like the shutter of a motorized camera. Oh God, I remember saying, how long can this last! After several minutes, that seemed like hours, the chicken went limp, the eyes stayed shut, and the mouth came open and froze in position. I released my grip and stepped back starring at the chicken's lifeless body.

When I finally got the courage to look at Larry, he was looking at me, as if to say, how in this world could you do such a thing! I did feel guilty and still do today. I've killed animals since on hunts, or in special have-to-cases, like dogs injured by cars, but I've learned that it should be quick and painless. Needless to say, it was a long time before I could eat chicken again.

I was left alone to do the rest by myself. Larry had had enough and went home, and Pa didn't want to see his hen going to waste. I built a fire under the old black kettle that my grandmother used to use to wash clothes. After the water started to boil, I dropped in the chicken.

Several minutes later the feathers started coming off and floating around in the water. Why I didn't pluck the chicken first, I don't know? Didn't want to cause anymore discomfort for the poor fowl, I guess. The water began to stink and I began to skim off the feathers. It was two or three hours later that the chicken was boiled enough to take out. I had thought the meat would all boil off, and the bones would be left in a nice clean neat pile. Wrong!

I sure made a mess picking and squeezing the meat off the bones of that chicken. It was greasy and smelly, and sometimes didn't seem worth the applause that would come at the science fair. I had to work outside, the mess and odor was too great to be allowed inside. Soon, after picking and re-boiling several times, the bones were clean. I had to wait several days for the bones to dry enough to begin restructuring them in order.

The best I can remember, I took several more days of gluing and piecing the puzzle together. I wanted the chicken to stand with one leg slightly raised, like they do in the barnyard while slowly moving around. I mounted the skeleton on a piece of plywood and had a small piece of bossa wood sticking up through the framework for support. I'll have to admit, the old bird looked pretty good. Once completed, I gave the bones a good coat of shellac to make them shine and it also added a certain amount of support.

So there she stood - head half cocked to one side and a foot raised in anticipation of the next step, and waiting for the applause. I dug for more information and finally found a drawing of a chicken’s internal organs. A sheet of white poster board, and several bottles of bright model car paint and the project was completed - total time, probably around thirty hours of dedicated work. I was very proud of the project and as always, waited for my own judgment to be reinforced. Usually, I'm very critical of anything I do, and if I see it as good, then it hurts very much to have it all shot down, but if I'm not completely satisfied, then the criticism doesn't hurt too much. This I saw as being close enough to perfect, for me.

Science Fair at Coffee High School, in Florence, Alabama, was really an open house sponsored by the PTA (the A stood for Association back in the old days). Parents came and visited the rooms and spoke with the teachers and some to relive the old high school days themselves. The students arrived earlier to set up their projects and displays. I was assigned an area and began pulling my chicken and things out of a large box. I worked for several minutes setting up the exhibit before looking around at the other displays. My eyes swept the room making me more confident that I had come up with a winner.

Suddenly my eyes passed a table where a girl, I recognized her from my class, was setting up something very familiar. My eyes jerked back in her direction and sure enough, she was setting up a skeleton of cat. A darn cat! It was another reason to hate cats! I stood there with my mouth open for a minute or so, trying to feed through all the data, and come up with some explanation as to why my entire world was crumbling around me and my chicken skeleton.

I examined the cat closely. Surely the teacher could see the meat still between the cat's ribs, and the brain hadn't even been taken out. Yuk! class. She wouldn't see any meat on my bird, no sirree bob! She'd know the difference.

She did know the difference, but a frog won! Yelp, a dad-burn tadpole took the gold, the cup, the roses, the crown, the trophy, etc. Johnny Bookworm, and his horn rimmed glasses, had raised tadpoles to frogs and back again to tadpoles, charting their entire family tree on both sides of the pond. Good show ol'boy. I do hope you find one in your soup someday!

Well, all wasn't lost. I did get an A on the project, and the teacher did make quiet a "to do" over me and my chicken. I guess it proves one thing; I'll do an awful lot for a good woman, but you have to be willing to go through a lot to find a good one. That's why today, after several mistakes, I feel I deserve the good woman I've found (even though she doesn’t like hunting the way I do).

And let me leave you with the moral to this story: Slow down a little in life, and don't try to dig so deep into the "why’s and why for’s", just take things as the come. Suffering will prove to have its reward; but there's no reason to get upset over the little things....'cause a cat may eat a chicken, but a frog will dump on you every time.


Ron Southern said...

Long, but good fun! Suffering is it's own reward, I guess. Poor ole chicken. Actually, I never liked them much more than cats, so it's all the same to me.

FHB said...

How the hell did I miss that one? Great story, and a great message. I hear ya.