When I was a young child, Momma would take me along with my brother and sister to visit my grandmother Taylor. Everyone called her Lillie except us, and we called her Mamaw Taylor. She lived in an old, brown sprawling house on a hill in the mountains of North Georgia. She was a heavy lady with a pleasant manner and a twinkle in her eye. It was always such a treat to go visit her, and we especially enjoyed her cooking. No one could cook better.
Her house stood on a hill overlooking a yard that usually had a few young chickens running around in it. Sometimes, we'd see a mother hen with baby chicks following behind her. If we visited in the morning around lunchtime, Mamaw would go out in the yard, catch a half-grown chicken, wring its neck and begin to prepare it for dinner. She’d fry it slowly, and when it was done, she’d make gravy from the drippings. And of course, her dinner would not be complete without her homemade biscuits.
I had a serious problem, though, when we visited my grandmother. Before lunch, the children would go out into the yard to play. I would not be out there any time, until I felt a hard pinch on the back of my leg, so hard that it would make me yell. You see, my grandmother had a rooster that seemed to delight in catching me off guard and pecking me on the legs. I believe he must have waited faithfully for me to come visit for this very reason. It didn’t take long until I became afraid of him.
Each time I’d go into the house and tell Mamaw what he had done. She’d press her lips together and shake her head from side to side. It wasn’t too long, until Mamaw asked us to come have a meal with her again. When we arrived, this time I looked cautiously over the edge of the porch for the rooster, but I couldn’t spot him anywhere. Mamaw noticed my anxious look and said, “Sis, you won’t have to be afraid of that rooster anymore. He’s gone.” I was so thrilled to be able to play out in the yard without looking behind me in fear every time. It was not long until Mamaw called, “Come and eat!”
As usual, she had the table full of food, and in the middle of the table was my favorite dish, chicken, but this time she had baked it instead of frying it. I had my hand almost to the platter, when I heard her say, “Let’s see how this old rooster tastes.” I know my eyes grew large, and my mouth flew open as I put two and two together. Mamaw had killed the rooster for dinner. Surely, she didn’t expect me to eat that mean old bird that had pecked me so many times. Suddenly, I lost my appetite and pushed my plate away from me. Mamaw simply smiled as if she understood.
When I became a teenager and learned to cook, my sister and I decided to fix our own chicken dinner. We’d seen it done often enough. That morning we came up with the idea that we could catch a chicken, wring its neck, pluck its feathers, cut it up, and fry it just like Mamaw had shown us. We spotted a young one probably half grown and took after it, running as fast as we could. We tried every way we knew to catch that chicken, but every time we got close, it outsmarted us and ran the other way. Determined, we kept at it, until we were both
worn out. Finally, at last when we were just about to give up, we caught it. I don’t know why I decided to try to kill it. I’d always been squeamish, but I took on the job. I couldn’t decide the easier way. Should I wring its neck or chop off its head with an axe. Neither one of those methods appealed to me, but I decided to wring its neck since that’s the way I seen it done more often.
Reluctantly, I grabbed it around the neck and began to swing. Around and around I swung for several minutes, until I felt sure the job was completed. At last when it was done I laid the chicken down in the grass between me and my sister as if to say, “See there, I told you I could do it!”
I had no more than got the words out of my mouth, when to my shock and amazement the chicken I thought was dead, jumped to its feet, shook its head as if it had been in a long sleep and ran back toward the barnyard as chipper as ever, except for a few staggers.
At that moment, I was secretly relieved that it had lived, and I knew I would never attempt to kill another living thing again. It was years later that my sister confided in me that she could have wrung my neck that day, when she saw the chicken run back to the barnyard after we had run it all morning.
It has been many years since that incident, and today, life is so much easier. Now, I can go into the market and pick up a chicken already baked or fried with no worries of cooking it. One of the benefits of growing up on a small farm in the country is that I learned appreciation for so many things that I have now. And after all these years, I bet you’d never guess what is still my favorite dish.
You guessed it. FRIED CHICKEN.
(An excerpt from this essay was published in the Georgia Magazine in 2000 and was a winner in the funniest story contest)
Glenda Barrett, a native of Hiawassee, Georgia, is an artist, poet, and writer. Her art is displayed on Yessy.com, and her first chapbook, “When the Sap Rises,” is for sale on Finishing Line Press or Amazon.com. Her writing has appeared in Woman’s World, Farm & Ranch Living, Rural Heritage, Nostalgia, Kaleidoscope, Red River Review, Mindprints, Smoky Mountain Living, Georgia Magazine, Muscadine Lines and other magazines and journals.