Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 27, 2007

For the birds

After I sent a recent column and recipe about Hungarian chicken paprikash to Art's cousin Claudia, she e-mailed back, saying she doesn't touch chicken. Surprised, I asked her why.

"I can only say that a few childhood experiences may have done it," she responded. "As you know, my Dad was a butcher and crates of squawking chickens were often delivered to our place to meet their fate. I hated the noise and the smell as a girl. Somehow, when beef and pork were the end result of other deliveries, I didn't react the same way. It's a good thing, too, or the butcher's daughter may have become a vegetarian!"

My sister Gaila had a similar dislike for chickens. When I asked her about it, she said, "Hated the chickens. I always felt they were out to get me - and JUST me, of course! I loved the chicks - cute, little, innocent beings. Then they grew up and got evil. I never did gather eggs - you did. I just stood by the door and they would all swoop around me and leave you alone. I also remember how they smelled being put in boiling water to be de-feathered - aaack! And Dad chopped off the head of a chicken and it chased me around the bus - headless! Why it didn't just run in a straight line, I'll never know. But it ran around and around!"

When I read Gaila's e-mail, I laughed out loud. I had forgotten how terrified she was of the clucking, crowing birds. On the other hand, I enjoyed my farm chores of gathering eggs and feeding and watering our chickens, particularly our black and reddish-gold Bantam hens and roosters.

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of the time Mom and Dad brought 300 chicks into the house in the hatchery boxes they came in. A late winter storm had knocked out the electricity to our farm, rendering the warming light in the brooder house useless. The peeping chicks spent the night in a corner of our living room, warmed by our propane stove.

I still enjoy watching birds through the front window or when I sit on the back deck of our house. Husband Art and I also enjoy listening to birds in the morning before we get out of bed, trying to identify various warbles, songs, cackles and mating calls.

Claudia's bad memories of chickens didn't carry over to other birds. She and her husband Karl have hummingbird feeders hanging close to their northern Wisconsin home in the summer and backyard bird feeders in the winter.

However, I must admit to getting a bit uneasy when large flocks of birds gather in one place. It might have something to do with having seen Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" when I was a young girl. In that movie, the gulls and other birds in the town seemed to have it in for some people, going so far as to peck a few of them to death.

But my reaction is nothing like that of my late mother-in-law Rita, who hated birds of all feathers. When she, father-in-law Ken and my parents were helping my late husband Jerome and me with our fixer-upper home, one of the first things we did was haul out the accumulated junk the previous owners had left in the basement. We were all downstairs surveying the mess when Mom said, "Oh, look, a birdie!"

Rita didn't waste a second before bolting up the stairs and out the door. As for the rest of us, we didn't hold back our laughter. It seems the species of birdie Mom had discovered was the kind that is always found with a badminton racket!

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