Reprint: Published locally in 2010 Kutztown Historical Society and Berks County TV web site in 2011
My parents belonged to the Grange Association in Kutztown when I was a youngster. I joined the younger folks, who participated in 4-H projects to learn life skills. I was about 13-14 years of age, too young to know the full extent of the word “work.” In my innocence, I announced, “Mom, I’d like to raise some chicks.”
Mom agreed immediately. I honestly think that she thought she had me pegged into being a farmer’s wife when I grew up. At that age, I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought that raising chicks would be a fun thing to do.
If I recall correctly, my parents stocked me with about 20 chicks. They were the cutest, most adorable, yellow baby chicks I had ever seen. And they were all mine.
My parents already had all the equipment I’d need to raise chicks. Their home was the shanty near the house. They were kept in cages called incubators. Each day they were given fresh water and feed.
I also had the task of cleaning up the chick poop. Old newspapers were laid out on the tray beneath their stalls. The trays could be pulled out easily in order to take the stinky poop paper out and place a fresh batch of paper in. After my first day of cleaning up the chick poop trays, I became less enthused about raising chicks.
I must have thought that they’d stay those adorable little chicks forever. They didn’t. They grew, and grew, and grew some more. When they were too big for the stalls, they graduated to the shed that we called the chicken coop. They were free to roam the grounds outside, which were fenced in.
Soon they were full grown chickens, and Mom announced, “Carole, you’ll have to butcher them now and sell them. You’ll be able to earn some money.” I was keen on earning money, but not the butchering part of it.
Alas, one day, Mom insisted that I come out back near the smoke house. There in the ashes was a tree stump in the ground, where I had seen Mom and Pop hack off the heads of chickens and ducks.
For some odd reason, Mom gave me the hatchet. I couldn’t tell you how many times I said, “I can’t!” Mom always retaliated with, “Yes, you can!”
Finally, at her insistence, I gave in. I got the hatchet and swung in mid-air. That’s where it stopped. It would not budge. Eventually, Mom gave in and did the job herself.
From there, we carried the dead carcasses to the scalding water in the big, black pot setting on the stove in the shanty. After placing the chickens in scalding water, we plucked the feathers. Mom saved feathers and used them to make pillows. That task wasn’t too hard. I think that Mom was becoming proud of me again.
Next, we carried the chickens, in the buff, to the kitchen, where Mom actually wanted me to pull their guts out. I had a hard enough time keeping mine in. She insisted, “This is your 4-H project. You have to do the work!”
Mom gutted the first chicken and had me watch. As she did this, she showed me the blood- curdling insides, what to save, and what not to save.
Now it was my turn. I reached out my hand tentatively. Mom yelled, “Get in there.” I ventured a bit more into this dark, insidious cavern. “Mom,” I yelled, “It’s warm. It’s not dead yet!”
Calmly, she said, “It’s dead. Pull the guts out. Pull the guts out.”
I did. I pulled my hand out, filled with all sorts of veins and hearts and livers and blood -- too numerous to mention. Quickly, I threw all parts in the sink and ran upstairs. There, in the toilet bowl, I gutted myself.
I believe this was the day that Mom knew for sure I’d never make it as a farmer’s wife. She was one smart woman!
Carole Christman Koch grew up in Berks County and has been published in numerous publications. She has a passion for writing and has many stories from growing up on a farm to raising children to humorous stories about her and her husband to everyday stories to season stories and more.