One day, when I was about seven years of age, my father arrived home from an out-of-town trip with a curious box. Strange “peeping” noises were emanating from it. My siblings and I waited in eager anticipation as Daddy removed the lid. Inside the box, we were delighted to find 12 of the most darling yellow baby chicks! I fell in love with them at first peep! Daddy let us help feed and water them as he moved them to a larger box. We were allowed to hold them briefly if we washed our hands immediately afterwards.
When the chickens were big enough, Daddy built a chicken run in the backyard. By the time they were adults, the chickens were no longer yellow, but pure white. They were difficult to tell apart from each other, but we named each one and I think my siblings and I were pretty good at determining who was who. To us, they were our pets. We continued to help feed and water them but we were no longer allowed to hold them and were commanded not to touch or pet them due to the possibility of our contracting Salmonella (or some other dreaded disease). I am quite certain we broke that rule many times.
Sunday dinner was the most important meal of the week. One early Sunday afternoon my nose detected the unmistakable scent of Mama’s fried chicken wafting throughout the house. This was a common entre for our family and Mama made the best fried chicken I have ever tasted! When I arrived in the kitchen I spied a lovely Lemon Meringue Pie sitting on the counter. Mama also made the best Lemon Meringue Pies in the world. My mouth began to water. The pie would be dessert for those of us who could manage to eat a piece of chicken, a respectable amount of vegetables, and drink a glass of milk. As much as I enjoyed fried chicken and even looked forward to the creamed carrots and peas that were being offered that day, my eyes were on that pie!
Soon we were called to the table and sat down to enjoy what promised to be a lovely meal. In the course of the conversation between my parents as we ate, I was horrified to realize that the delicious fried chicken we were imbibing was in fact the remains of one of our beloved pets. I stopped mid-chew. I could not bring myself to swallow and spat the mostly masticated contents of my mouth out onto my plate.
“What’s the matter?” queried Mama, a concerned look coming over her face.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” I replied. That was not a lie. I found myself completely without appetite at the realization that one of my friends was on the menu. I did not even want a piece of pie, and probably could not have eaten even a bite of it either.
“YOU EAT YOUR DINNER,” my father commanded sternly, his brow furrowed in a deep scowl. “Don’t you know there are children starving in China?” I can’t remember for sure if it was in fact China, but somewhere in the world children were starving and my father knew exactly where that was, and somehow, by some magic, my consuming the crispy carcass of my former pet would be the means of providing nourishment to those poor souls. Despite my feelings of guilt, I could not bring myself to comply. Much to my relief, I was sent from the table and not allowed to eat anything more for the rest of that day.
As the weeks went by, our chickens disappeared one-by-one. I found that I needed to distance myself from them emotionally, so I no longer interacted with them. It was some time before I was able to eat chicken, fried, or in any other form.