Let us come to the feast. Our Episcopal priest calls the Pasadena All Saints congregation together every Sunday to profess its faith. My family didn't attend formal church often, we were more on the Catholic C and E calendar; yet, spirituality was the main course at every Sunday meal at our house.
Sunday, the day Father stayed home from work, read the Oregonian column inch to column inch and napped under papery folds, headlines moving up and down in a levitation of exhaustion until Sunday dinner was ready. If company was expected, Mother would say: “Keep your ears open and don’t wake him until they get here.” My eyes were generally glued into my newest Nancy Drew but my ear-alarm would set on her order. This Sunday, however, with no company expected, I turned Nancy Drew tent-style and followed her outside.
Mother was a countrywoman with strong bread-making arms, an Iowa-German
stature, and a disposition which would cuddle you up into her large, warm
lap or push you off forcing you to stand on your own two feet. I found
her walking out past the lawn bordered with flowers into the dirt
courtyard by the barn carrying a bucket of steaming, hot water and a
Here chick, chick, chick.
How she loved them. How they loved her.
Come Hector. Come, Ruby. Margaret. Penny. Come along Dolly. Rose. Hildegard. Here you go, Young Ike, over here. Corn rained down from her hands to the ground. Here chick, chick, chick.
And they came. Did they know it was Sunday? They ran so willingly on their skinny chicken legs, never hiding from her, staying close up by the house instead of out in the orchard where shades yielded shadows.
Clucking in return--what I can now only suspect must have been Dortha, Dortha, Dortha—they flocked to her feet, hard, yellowed beaks pecking the ground and small, black, beaded eyes cocking up to see if there would be more.
Here chick, chick, chick.
And more would come.
She had cupped each of them in her hands not long after they’d hatched. Each born from each born in this same courtyard. She once took Rose inside the house, worried: “She didn’t seem right.” Rose laid the brownest, richest yolks of any of the layers. And I’d seen her breathe life back into Penny when all life seemed to have vanquished.
Mother reached into the mass of feathers and on that one word and one action, the beat of musical clucking stopped. Cocked heads jerked away from her and set upon Hector, the red rooster, comb red-pale, hanging upside-down. Necks craned up, beaks opened into squawks and screeches and instantly chicken screams of horror and outrage filled the courtyard as they frantically flapped scattering in a chaos of dusty feathers and panic.
She seemed unbothered by the fluttering me'lee, and without missing a beat, in less than a second of a second, before hen or rooster could guess her next move, she raised her foot, placed the rooster’s head under her instep and gave a mighty pull. In the same measure she turned and dunked the headless body into the bucket of hot water, steam rising in a ghostly cloud smelling of wet feathers, blood and dying.
Then seeing me standing off to the side, she walked over and handed the soggy corpse to me. “Pluck him and bring him into the house. I need to put the potatoes on.”
Sunday, for the first time, I pulled one feather off at a time, plucking
each with the tip of my thumb and index finger, head turned, nose
up-wind. A chicken, this rooster, had red feathers on top, white cottony
feathers beneath and tiny pin feathers locked into flesh as good as a hook
into any fish. I tried holding the rooster away from me, not wanting to
get too close, pulling one feather at a time as if closeness might lead to
an indictment. But mother never killed below five pounds and this rooster
was too heavy to hold away from accusation too long. And it was too hot
to lock beneath one arm and pluck with one hand, in a casual way, as if no
harm was done. Eventually I had to put him between my knees and plucked
with both hands, all ten fingers, wet, stinking feathers sticking to my
legs and my arms, flinging off wet, fetid clumps to my feet embedding
myself in plot, evidence, and tradition.
Take eat, this is my body, drink the cup of life. Fried chicken accompanied potatoes and homemade chicken gravy on our Sunday table.
Mother passed out our favorite pieces: father was partial to the breast and I chose wings and she liked thighs. Our Episcopal priest holds up the plate of bread: DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME. And each and every Sunday, or any day for that matter when our food came from our land, before she took her first bite, mother gave thanks to the life that had been given to us. This Sunday she said: “Hector was a good old bird. Bless his old soul.”
D. J. Adamson resides in Glendale, California where she teaches at Glendale Community College. She has published numerous short stories in literary journals and literary criticism.