A gal has her first moon time and is initiated either gently or suddenly into womanhood. A woman experiences pregnancy and birth or feeling love for someone more than any love she has ever felt for herself or another – a different love – and she is initiated into motherhood. Today, I was initiated. I took another step out of the speeding rat race of the world back into the days when woman, wife, and mother were words for many other jobs as well.
Yesterday was a blessed and sunny day. We spent the day outside, enjoying our chickens who have finally started laying and setting. The house chickens have found a safe nest – their third try. The barn hens began using the nest boxes and sticking close to the barn.
The other day we found six of Little Girlfriend’s eggs in Lars’s doghouse. She wasn’t setting, so we ate them. She moved the nest under the old coop.
The girls played in the sandbox. I planned for a breastfeeding workshop I am giving soon, sitting next to them in a straight backed chair with my lap desk and the sun giving the perfect light.
This morning it was gloomy. The rain clouds came overnight. John was preparing to leave for the weekend, and we had just finished our pancake breakfast. Our neighbor, Brett, walked up on the porch in time to finish the last of the pancakes. He wasn’t coming to eat though. He was coming with photos of a hawk, down in the barn, killing our setting hen. Brett wasn’t able to stop it.
We work really hard at getting things just so. It seems to go better, then the natural world reminds us where we are in the scheme of things. It didn’t take me long before I had a plastic grocery bag in hand and shoes on my feet to walk down to the barn. I got there and realized the hawk hadn’t broken her skin, only her neck. I picked her up by the feet, put her in the bag, and brought her up to the cabin to be prepared for eating.
I used a Buck knife my daddy gave me to remove her head. She was our sweetest and prettiest hen. The knife wasn’t the type I needed, but the best I have. I tossed her bitty head, with cute tufts of beige feathers that stuck out from her cheeks, into the trees. I made a quick phone call to my dad for some reminders and instructions, and John and I took her to the creek to gut and pluck her.
I remembered my great grandmother, Golda Johnson, and her deep fear of chicken feathers. I remembered the story of my Uncle Vince ringing a chicken’s neck, and its body flying off and into my great great grandmother’s well, ruining the water. I remembered my grandmother’s (Ida Hansel) disgust at a chicken and her druthers of not fixing it to eat.
John stood by to observe, and I stuck the Buck knife into her soft belly slicing downward. The knife hit a shell. When I opened her, I pulled out a perfectly formed egg. The one she’d lay today. I set it to the side. With two fingers I began to remove her innards from the cavity of her still warm body. I understood for the first time how much of her little body was devoted to making eggs. To being a provider of life and food. I held her tiny, healthy heart in my hands a moment to look at its perfection.
Plucking was harder. It took me a minute to get the hang of it. I finished her in the house, after a scald in the pot. Plucked, drained, gutted, and washed, I placed her in a freezer bag to be fixed when John comes home.
I knew at some point we’d eat some of the animals we raise. Deladis took it well. She knows where her food comes from, and she likes meat. Ivy cried a little, but I think she sensed my downtrodden mood. I wasn’t ready to do it today. Not without numerous diddles running across the field following their mama. Not without a fridge full of eggs. I couldn’t let her go to waste. She wouldn’t leave her nest. She couldn’t run. In her death, she’s giving us a most healthy meal, and a perfect egg. Both will be prepared with love. We will consume her and know her. We will know personally our food.
I think of the Appalachian women whose job it was to kill and prepare chickens. Appalachians mostly ate hogs, but on a Sunday, fried chicken was a nice dinner, especially if you were expecting company. I wondered at their chore of feeding the chickens, holding them under their arms, gathering their eggs, wringing their necks, plucking feathers, and preparing them into a special dinner with all the love they had to give. It was the least I could do for our hen.
Later on, we stopped at McDonald’s after a prolonged doctor’s visit. From the drive-thru I saw a mama dog with heavy teats wagging her tail at every stranger that passed by, hoping for a bite. She hadn’t gotten anything, and she was begging so politely. Hungry to the core as only you can be when nursing a baby, and yet she begged with more humanity than some people I’ve encountered on the city streets. We got our food, eased the truck next to her, called her over, and the three of us females donated half of our meat portions to her and her pups, wherever she had them waiting. She ate without chewing, her front paws on my seat.
I’ve been initiated. It’s hard to wash the smell of blood from your hands.