What are you thankful for?
As flour is than main ingredient in bread, chickens are the main ingredient in any farm or homestead. Easy to care for, they provide eggs and meat for our table and endless hours of pleasure and enjoyment. Let’s start with eggs. Scrambled eggs, fried eggs, sunny side up eggs. Deviled eggs, Easter eggs, hard-boiled pickled eggs. These are so many ways to prepare an egg, not to mention they are also used in many recipes for cakes and casseroles.
How about the chicken, also known as the Baptist Bird? Well, at the top of the list is fried chicken, of course, but whether you fry it, bake it, roast it, boil it, or grill it, chicken is a main staple on any farm table, especially for Sunday dinner. Think of all the delicious parts. Breasts, legs, thighs, and wings. I prefer dark meat myself, so I always reach for a leg and a thigh. But there are a few other parts, not quite as popular, but every bit as tasty. Necks, hearts, gizzards, and livers. I absolutely love fried chicken livers. Give me a bowl of fried chicken livers, a bottle of Texas Pete hot sauce, and an ice-cold Coke and I’ve got a meal that would look proud sitting beside any Texas-sized T-bone steak.
Add a rooster to your flock and now you have a sustainable flock (and an alarm clock). In the spring and summer, you will be able to enjoy watching a mother hen clucking to her clutch of babies, scratching in the dirt, teaching them how to look for food. Nothing is sweeter or more precious than a fuzzy baby chick. You can NOT hold a baby chick and NOT smile. It is good medicine for the soul.
Years ago, I guess back in the depression years, chickens were often stolen. Snuffy Smith, a hillbilly character in our Sunday comics is often depicted running from the Sheriff with a chicken in his sack. It was such a problem, even songs were written about chicken thievery. Below is one of my favorites.
Roost Behind the Moon
Boy, did you ever do anything like stealing chickens?
Oh chicken, oh chicken, you may go up in a balloon
Chicken, chicken, you may hide behind the moon, doggone you now
Chicken, I never let a fowl be
Ten thousand dollar warrant for the fowl on earth, he don’t roost too high for me
I got to thinking ‘bout chicken, late the other night, man, I couldn’t hardly rest
I jumped out the bed, grabbed up my old shoes, thought of where some chicken was at
I grabbed big buffcoat, stuck him under my arm, something I never let fall
I don’t think I’ve robbed your henhouse til I get your roost, poor chicken and all
Ah that chicken made me awful mad the other night, man, that’s something I didn’t like to take
I grabbed my little haversack and down across my back, grabbed the chicken right by the neck
Said I turned around, quick as I could, a chicken hauled away I declare
I won’t steal meat and bread outta the cook’s pot, I’ll steal a chicken from anywhere
Ah that police arrest me last Friday night, you couldn’t think of what’s it about
I’m going down the alley where I lived at, a lot of chicken tied in my house
I say, you may carry me to the pen’tentiary wall, I’ll go to work out my time
And just as quick you put me on the L&N track, I’ll have chickens on my mind
“Steal a chicken if you get a chance, Huck, because if you don’t want it, someone else does and a good deed ain’t never forgotten.” ~ Mark Twain
There is an old saying that firewood heats you twice. If you’ve never heated with wood before, spend a day cutting, splitting, and stacking firewood and you’ll fully understand the meaning of that phrase. My parents grew up in an age before central heat and air. In the cold winter months, you burned wood to stay warm. In the hot and humid summer months, you kept the windows open and prayed for a breeze to stay cool, especially at night when you were trying to sleep.
When I was a child, we lived in a nice home with an oil furnace that heated the entire house, but my parents bought a Buck Stove fireplace insert and used that to heat with wood in order to save money. They were both from a generation that was taught to be frugal, work hard, and save. My mom loved a cozy fire though. Often, she would open the doors of the stove and sit on the hearth near the flames. Nothing heats like fire either. It is a warm, dry, radiant heat that warms you to the bone. Aside from the warmth, the fire also tickles your other senses. You can hear the flames crackle and pop. You can smell the split, seasoned oak along with the woodsmoke wafting up the chimney flue. Lastly, you can watch the embers glimmering below the logs while the flames dance merrily on top. If it’s nighttime, turn the lights out and enjoy the orange glow from the fire and the flickering shadows the flames cast upon the walls. All wonderful, right? Well, yes, but until I was eight years old, I thought my name was Get Wood.
Nothing in life is free and there is a cost for enjoying the simple pleasures of a fire on the hearth. I remember many Saturday mornings when my Dad would be outside before the sun came up, patiently sharpening his chainsaw. We’d be in the woods right when the sky began to turn gray with dawn and my Dad would crank that chainsaw and start felling trees. I remember sitting in the truck and praying that just once that saw would not crank, but it was a Stihl and it cranked faithfully. Every time. Anyhow, Dad would cut for a little while and then I would get out and start loading the truck. I could not throw the wood into the truck, I had to stack it in the truck so that we could haul as much as possible. I also had to pile all the brush up too. Once the front end of the truck was high in the air and the tail end of the truck was sitting on the rear axle, Dad would declare that we had a full load and we would pack it in and head home.
Think that was the end of my day? Oh heck no. Dad would pull the truck around to the woodshed and then he was off to work on some other job. My job was to unload the truck, split the wood, and then stack it in the woodshed. It was hard work, but I enjoyed it. There is something satisfying about splitting a log with one swing of the maul. There is also something very satisfying about seeing a neat stack of firewood in the woodshed and knowing that you did that!
Fast forward many years. Mom and Dad grew older and eventually put in central heat and air. Their home is now heated with propane, but I carried on the tradition for many years after I married. My wife and I heated our home with an indoor Fisher Mama Bear wood stove. I remember many evenings; we’d come home from work to a freezing house. I’d build a fire in the stove and we’d stand on each side of the stove waiting for it to warm up. Neither of us ever thought of it as “hard times”. We talked about many things around that stove. We were both young and full of dreams and it was a happy time in our lives.
As we grew older, our family grew and so did our house. One indoor wood burning stove was not enough to heat it evenly, so we added another and it did not take long for me to realize that maintaining two indoor woodburning stoves was impractical (and a heck of a lot of work too). I had to get up every morning around 2:00 AM to put more wood in the stoves and that got old fast. The solution? A Hardy outdoor wood burning boiler furnace! Yep. We bought one and heated with it for another 15 years. It kept the house warm and toasty and it heated our water too. We never ran out of hot water. I saved a good bit of money burning wood because out in the country where we lived there were only three options for heat: wood, propane, and electricity. The cost of propane would fluctuate wildly, from reasonable to unaffordable, but never cheap. The cost of electricity was stable, but it was also high. The Hardy stove boasted a 24 hour burn time, but I had to load wood in it twice a day – once in the morning before work, and once in the evening before bed. At least I was getting to sleep through the night now, but the Hardy was a hungry beast with an appetite for wood that could never be sated. In the cold months, I burned a full-sized pickup load of firewood every week. Toward the end, I was so sick of cutting wood and splitting wood that I started buying wood and that was even more expensive than the propane or electricity. We finally sold the Hardy, or as I called it, The Beast. Some poor sucker is feeding it now and thinking they are saving a ton of money. Want to know how much I saved burning firewood? Maybe enough to pay for the surgery to fix my thumbs where picking up logs over the course of years has worn the cartilage away to nothing.
We still have our indoor wood burning stoves and a fireplace too. I keep one truckload of seasoned wood in the woodshed for emergencies such as power outages and ice storms, but now, when I’m cold I roll up my sleeves, crack my knuckles, and tap that thermostat until my heat pump kicks on.
“Before enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; Chop wood, carry water.”
Well, it is officially autumn, and October is just around the corner. Every year, after a long cold winter, I proclaim, “May is my favorite month!” And then, every year, after a long hot summer, I proclaim, “October is my favorite month!” October assails our senses with pure and simple pleasures like blue skies and yellow sunshine, red and gold leaves, and orange pumpkins. There are delicious foods to smell and taste. Things like pumpkin pies, apple cider, and spiced coffees. There are bonfires with toasted marshmallows, roasted wieners, and smores. There are warm days with bright mornings and soft, golden afternoons and there are cool nights fit for sweaters, blankets, and snuggling. How can you not love it?
As the days grow colder and shorter, the holidays are fast upon us. First Halloween, the crowning event of Autumn. When we wake up the following day, although we still have Thanksgiving to celebrate and much to be thankful for, there is an eagerness to put away the oranges and browns of Autumn and to pull out the reds and greens of the Christmastide. These last three months of the year are filled with anticipation, hope, and joy and they pass us by too quickly. Then, in the dark cold nights of January, I shiver and I pull the blankets over my head and dream of May.
“Listen! The wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves, we have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!” ~ Humbert Wolfe
Ever drive down the road and pass an old, abandoned farmhouse? Of course, you have. Have you ever wondered who lived there? Was it a big, happy family? Or was it a lonely spinster? Why is the house now abandoned and in disrepair? I often wonder these things, because in my short time here on this earth I have seen houses go from thriving centers of happiness and activity to forlorn and dilapidated structures with sagging roofs and broken windows.
I see one of these houses and I think, someone had a “last night” in that house. A “last meal”. A “last birthday”. A “last Christmas”. There is a long list of “lasts” in our lives and sadly, we cannot remember most of them. Do you remember the last time you sat in your mother’s lap? Or the last time your dad pitched baseball with you? Do you remember the last meal you had with your grandparents? Or the last time you read a book to your child?
Thank God for your blessings. Live each day and cherish each experience as if it were your “last”. It just might be!
“Lost things are not last things…” ~Ayaan