March 23rd……..“SHARE WITH US, GRANDPA, DID YOU HAVE CHICKENS ON YOUR FARM IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA? AND, IF SO,WHAT WAS IT LIKE”?
Ohhh myyy, how the air ….was…BLUE in that place!!!!, but in a happy farmer sort of way. Unlike the afore mentioned idiom, which is commonly used in describing vulgar language or outright feelings of anger, this “blue” environment had a more manly hometown aura to it and the friendly “blue” was due to the visiting farmers smoking their pipes and/or cigarettes as they enjoyed their agrarian fellowship for the next few hours. You see, it was another “Lucky Bucks” Saturday evening in our lovely hometown of Kiester, Minnesota.
To encourage families to shop and support our local economy, business owners, in our village, got together and pooled their resources to create a $50 “Lucky Bucks” giveaway every Saturday evening. Some folks may say, “Fifty dollars!!! That’s so much money back then”!! Well, even in the early 1960’s, a $50 “kitty” was easy to create when 10 or more businessmen contributed a mere $5.00 each to the cause.
A local person’s name was pre-selected each week by the collective store owners. At 9pm, each Saturday night, the town’s fire siren, atop a tall steel tower, would sound its horn with one long wail. Everyone on Main Street easily heard the siren and would then step inside any store they were near and hear the name of that week’s winner. If farmer “John Doe” wasn’t in town that week, the prize got $50 richer the following week. There were a few times, the coveted prize money coffer grew to $200 or more (which was quite a bit of money in the 1960’s). It was a win/win situation for all. The town businesses grew from the support of residents who lived nearby and families, who had purchased those goods, necessary for daily life, had fun fellowshipping with much loved neighbors, too.
Our handsome farmer father, Russell, had loaded his Norwegian family into our ’56 red-n-white Chevrolet Bel Air as we made our weekly pilgrimage to town for Mom to do her weekly shopping while us youngsters found school and church chums to enjoy. We youngin’s would run all over our sweet hamlet to enjoy as much playtime as possible until we heard Dad’s shrill whistle for Candi and myself to head for the car. On those fun evenings, Dad usually would saunter over to Paul Gilbert’s “Kiester Produce House” store to pick up some new baby chicks (in season), or Purina Chicken Chow to feed our brood of hens back at the farm.
The smoke-laced aroma of “Prince Albert” pipe tobacco and “Camels” cigarettes hung fragrantly “blue” in the air as I’d stop by this place of business to say HI to Dad and his farmer “brothers” huddling there at Paul Gilbert’s store. Paul had a pleasant magnetism about him that drew farmers not only as customers, but as friends and fellow brothers in the Lord. For you see, Paul and his dear wife also worshipped with us at our Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church there in town. If there wasn’t a chair or a counter top to sit on during that weekly fellowship of friendly farmers, there was usually a soft bag of Purina feed to gently rest yourself upon as this gaggle of guys talked about everything from farm ideas, to politics, to the weather. I found the “blue haze” of that manly environment very inspiring and I loved to be the proverbial “mouse in a corner” and just listen. After the 9pm “Lucky Bucks” announcement, it was time to head back to our farm place with our groceries, happy memories and the chicken feed.
Besides the clanging bells of our old-fashioned wind-up alarm clocks, we had the feathered fanfare of our roosters to cock-a-doodle-doo us awake every morning. With every step of our young feet across the yard, one could hear the clucks and chatters of the hens in our chicken house (or coop, as some farmers call it). Stepping inside the door, you saw straw-filled, wooden cubicles that lined the walls. Inside each cozy cubicle, a “Henny Penny” was busy laying eggs beneath her. With a basket in hand, it was one of our chores to collect those eggs for our own tasty breakfasts as a family. The extra eggs we gathered were cased up and taken to Mr. Gilbert’s store to be “candled” (with a bright light to see if a little chick was inside) and sorted. Our very own Aunt Bonnie Noorlun was one of those employees for Mr. Gilbert that rapidly picked up eggs and placed them upon a lighting device to “candle” the egg to see if it was o.k. for sale to the local grocery store. Our family received money from “Kiester Produce” for those eggs which became another source of making money from our farm.
When it came to feeding our farm family, chickens were one of our sources of meat. Since chickens could be quite fast in running from us, big brother, Lowell, talked about using a poultry catching device called a “Chicken Hook”. It consisted of a long, stiff metal rod, with an almost closed hook on the end of it. With quicker reflexes than those flighty birds, it was used to reach under a “clucker” and quickly hook her by one of her legs. The hen was then given to Mom who’d grab the bird by the head and quickly twist the neck, to snap and break it; thereby mercifully ending the bird’s life as fast as could be done. The chicken’s body was then draped over a wooden chopping block and the swift swing of a sharpened hatchet’s chop would sever the head from the body. To allow the nervous energy, still within the bird’s body, to “play out”, Mom would then throw the chicken under a large, upside down metal tub to let the bird flop and “run around” to “bleed out” and let that last energy dissipate to stillness.
Of course, there was the day when our toddler sister, Candi, learned the true meaning of the euphemism about someone “Running around like a chicken with your head cut off”. Our tender and youngest sibling was shadowing our mother as she was butchering chickens that day. The realities of farm life were about to be witnessed first hand for little sister. Mom grabbed the next chicken and chopped off its head. Before she could get ahold of it to throw it under the large, galvanized tub to bleed out, the headless chicken ran wildly around the wide expanse of our farmyard with blood spurting out the neck veins where once its head used to be. Needless to say, our tiny sister just stood there in shocked awe of the last bloody seconds of this bird’s life before it finally bled out and plopped dead upon the ground. For the longest time, our little sister refused to eat any chicken that Mom cooked for our family dinners. 😉
A small fire was kept going under a metal five gallon bucket of boiling water. The chicken’s feathered body was held by the legs and dunked into that boiling water to help “release” the feathers so they could be plucked clean from its body. Brother Lowell talked about being kept busy with dunking the birds and plucking feathers as fast as possible during that production phase of butchering. From there, Mom would chop off the claws and lower legs and, after removing the internal organs of the bird, would then cut up the meat for wrapping in preparation for our family freezer.
On a bit lighter aside, little sister, Candi, remembers how ornery and downright mean some of those chickens could be. She recalls instances, where “Cranky Clucker Clarence” (my name for him) would peck at her ankles whenever she was trying to be obedient to Mom’s request for someone to “go pick eggs”. There our cute little sis was, trying to be a mom-honoring little farm girl, and she was literally getting “picked on” as she’d reach inside those nests to gently pull out the eggs to fill her basket. I suppose old “Cranky Clucker Clarence” was getting his “point” (beak) across that this was HIS chicken coop on the farm of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son. 😉