Old Crip the One Legged Rooster
So many memories fill my head of my youth and spending many days at my grandparents farm. For a boy whose parents lived in a cotton mill village community and worked long hours in the mill, getting to ride the big yellow taxi (Henderson County School bus) up to Mount Olivet was something I looked forward almost every Friday afternoon.
Living in the mill village wasn't really all that bad. We had a community ball field where the mill village kids spent a lot of time after school down there playing ball or in a vacant lot where a house had burned. Our elementary school was in walking distance so we could walk down there and play on the playground equipment or play basketball and shoot baskets on the playground. It wasn't as if I was bored,I also had regular chores that were expected of me like chopping wood for our cook stove and heater and filling the wood boxes. Occasionally milking our cow and making sure the other animals were fed. My mama made sure that I knew how to wash dishes! Then, homework!
My dad had been the first son to be born in a family of 14 and the last child of my grandparents was an Uncle who was only eighteen months older than me. We were more like brothers than an Uncle/nephew relationship. When I was just beginning Junior High, I had already caught up and passed him in school while he was still in elementary school. It wasn't that he wasn't smart, he just did not see the value of school and never applied himself to his schooling. Sadly, he quit school at the age of 16.
Riding the bus to the mountain was always exciting. The road up the mountain was gravel and had many curves so our ride was almost as much fun as being at the county fair and riding one of those bone shaking tummy turning rides.The mountain air just seemed to smell better and the skies more blue. Being up there on the farm also opened so many options for us boys. There was plenty of work to keep us both busy but enough time to play in the woods or go squirrel hunting.
The weekends were the best and Saturday afternoon meant one or more chickens must be caught to be prepared for Sunday dinner. My Grandfather always had plenty of hens and roosters so he would tell us which ones to catch. Usually a big fat hen that had ceased to be productive laying eggs or an old rooster that somehow became unlucky.
I had never killed a chicken but I had seen my daddy take an old hen by the head and ring it right off with the quick twist of his wrist. My Uncle and I were assigned the task of catching Sunday dinner and Old Crip was to become the unlucky bird. Crip had been a good old boy but suffered the misfortune of having a wharf rat chew one of his legs off one night while roosting in the hen house. Having one leg didn't seem to hinder him in any way. He would hop around the farmyard as happy as a one legged rooster could be and gobble up as much of the scratch feed I would throw out to the chickens every morning with the best of the yardbirds on the farm. None of the other roosters bothered him and I am not sure the hens gave him more than a second look much less notice him when he flap his wings and would crow loudly at the crack of dawn.
We caught him and another old hen and set about the task of killing them. I grabbed Old Crip and as I had seen my daddy do many times before, gave him a quick twist. To my dismay, his neck remained attached! He flopped about on the ground shaking off my futile attempt. By then I knew I couldn't finish the job and my Uncle finished killing Old Crip by chopping his head off with an ax along with the hen we also had to kill.
We had heated water to a boil that we would dip the dead chickens in to pluck their feathers. I had plucked chickens before and the stink of hot chicken feathers almost turned me against eating chicken. Soon our birds were ready to dress and remove the entrails saving the gizzards and the livers. Once all that was done, my grandmother would cut the chickens up and put them in the refrigerator to be fried on Sunday.
We have all heard of Colonel Sanders and his recipe but the Colonel couldn't hold a candle to my grandma's recipe. It wasn't complicated herbs and spices but simply a concoction of flour, salt, pepper and a little cornmeal placed in a bowl or in a brown bag to be shaken. The pieces of chicken would become coated and then fried in a big black cast iron fry pan that had an ample amount of hog lard already good and hot. The chicken would fry to a golden brown when done and then once removed from the fry pan, she would make gravy using milk and flour. The little crispies that fell off from the chicken during the frying process made the gravy taste so good. with an occasional crunch in our mouths.
Sunday dinner came as usual and aunts, uncles and cousins arrived after Sunday meeting. Old Crip and that hen sure looked good piled on a platter on my Grandma's table cover with a red checkerboard table cloth. Dinner was a virtual feast and the table was filled with fresh vegetables:green beans, okra,squash, tomatoes, mashed potatoes and that big bowl of gravy. Huge biscuits, light and fluffy! Sweet tea and always a great dessert.
The men folk always ate first at my Grandparents on Sunday and the ladies and children ate last. By the time the men folk finished eating, we were getting pretty hungry but there was always plenty left for us. Seems wings and necks were always left for that second round of eaters! I sat there that day and my Uncle looked at me and said,"Well, what do you think about Old Crip now?" To be honest, I don't remember eating any of that chicken or Old Crip that Sunday but that chucky gravy over a hot biscuit sure was good!