Tell Us Another Big One: More Favorite Family Stories

As I've told you before, there never seemed to be a shortage of chickens to kill for Sunday dinner at Mama and Papa's house. And that was important, because Mama never knew how many people would show up for the noon meal.

I used to watch her getting ready to feed the large numbers of family members and friends who were likely to show up, often unannounced. She'd arise early and start looking for some unsuspecting hens, pecking away nearby. When she spotted a plump one she'd walk up to it, natural as could be, reach down, and gently pick it up. She was smooth and fast. In fact, I always had to watch the next part carefully so as not to miss her special talent.

Before the poor chicken knew what was happening, Mama would put it in an arm lock with her right arm. Then, using her left hand, she'd grab its neck and twist it so fast her left hand and arm were a blur. She'd lay it aside and repeat the process on the next unsuspecting hen to come near. In no time at all, she had the number of chickens she estimated would be needed for dinner. She'd head for the kitchen then, to scald them, pluck their feathers, cut them up, flour and season the pieces, and fry them until they were done.

As a child, I never got to eat at the first table, where the choice pieces of chicken were devoured quickly. Gary, Pat, and I ate at the second, or third, table where there were no breasts. Since I seldom got a breast, I was less interested in watching Mama prepare a chicken for frying than in watching her wring its neck. Had there been a chicken-neck wringing contest in Stickleyville, or at the Lee County Fair, Mama would have won hands down.

After admiring her skill a number of times, I decided I could also wring a chicken's neck. Maybe not as fast and efficiently as Mama, but I thought I could get the job done. So one day, when no one was watching, I sneaked up on a poor hen, snatched her up off the ground, wrapped my left arm around her, and grabbed her neck with my right hand. I gave it what I thought was a pretty good twist, but the neck didn't break. It just stretched. I tried again and the neck stretched even further. After one more attempt, I decided that chickens had much longer necks than I realized.

It was hard to tell which one of us was more disgusted, me, because I was humiliated, or the poor hen that had been minding her own business until a young whippersnapper sneaked up on her and decided to give her neck a good stretching. That's when I decided to leave chicken-neck wringing to Mama, the family expert.