Who Keeps Changing the Rules in the Book of Life?

Until my classes are over at the end of the month, posting in My Wintersong may be erratic at best. In order to write coherently–even on the lightest of subjects–it takes time to think and organize. I just don’t have much of that left over these days after classes and/or household chores. To buy time, I’m sharing another “one o’the nine” stories, this one from June 11, 1987, in which my uncle laments the change of social customs concerning the order of eating tables in large families gathering at Grandma’s house on Sundays. This piece especially resonates with me since very often as soon as I’ve learned to successfully maneuver one social norm or another, just when I’m feeling good about the progress I’ve made, yep! The rules are changed, and I’m right back at square one! Everything from fashion to cooking as well as eating. Read my uncle’s take on customs and rules of life:

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009_9-2When I was a boy growing up on the farm, we always had plenty of food, such as it was, but you can believe me when I tell you that we didn’t have fried chicken every day. In the summer we had plenty of vegetables and sow belly meat, but in the winter we had grits and sow belly meat, or syrup and bread. When the preacher came home with us for dinner on Sunday, Mama would always have chicken and rice, chicken and dumplings, and fried chicken. But like everything else when I was a boy, things were different about children eating than they are today.

It used to be an old southern custom to make the children wait until all the adults had eaten before they could eat. I would peek into the dining room and see that preacher eating that chicken like corn going through a corn sheller. Just one swipe of a chicken leg through his mouth, and out came a clean bone! When he and all the other adults had finished eating, about all that was left us younguns were the feet and neck.

Now you know that no one likes chicken feet, but my daddy had a way of getting us to eat them without complaining by telling us that if we ate the chicken feet behind the door it would make us pretty. Needless to say, there was a youngun behind every door eating a chicken foot trying to get pretty. It didn’t help our looks much, but I guess every little bit helps when you look like we did.

Well, when I became an adult so I could eat before the younguns, somebody went and changed the custom and the younguns began to eat first before the grownups. Now I have to wait for them to finish and I still get the neck and the feet. It’s not that I’m prone to bad luck, it’s just that I was born in the Depression and I’ve been in a Depression ever since.Just like the other day, I bought a new suit that had two pairs of pants so it would last longer. But I went and tore a hole in the coat.

Postscript: The “sow belly” referred to in my uncle’s story is more appropriate known as salted pork slabs that came from hog’s (or pig’s) belly, loaded with white fat, and often uncured. It was sliced and fried up as thick bacon, or used in chunks in a myriad of dishes Grandma cooked in the summertime, such as the greens and string beans. In the wintertime she used it to flavor the dried beans. Rendered on hog slaughtering day in large iron vats, it became the grease (lard) used for frying everything from chicken to fish the boys and Grandpa brought home from fishing the creek. The skin area of the same sow belly is the source of the pork rinds that were so loved by former president, George H. W. Bush. In fact, frying up pork rinds during hog slaughtering was one of the jobs children could do to help out and earn their keep growing up on a farm. Of course my uncle exaggerated a little bit when he says he had only chicken feet and necks to eat, it is true that most of the family preferred the breasts and those disappeared off the chicken platter first. And Grandma did cook the chicken legs, but I never ate one. I remember hating having to eat the thighs most of the time, though preferring the drumsticks if I couldn’t get a bit of the breast. As for the neck, I never could figure out where the meat was, and much preferred the gravy anyhow. The food items mentioned are not exaggerated, however, as I remember some very lean years myself and I came along quite a few years later. Like I’ve said before, the Depression lasted a whole lot longer in our neck of the woods than it did in most of the country.

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10 thoughts on “Who Keeps Changing the Rules in the Book of Life?

  1. I don’t think I would ever be hungry enough to eat chicken feet.

    The Great Depression did make for creative cooking to feed families. My grandmother used to serve mush for breakfast and fried mush with syrup for dinner. I am not sure whether that was a necessity to save money or because, as an entrepreneur, she didn’t have the time.

  2. My mother used every part of the chicken, especially chicken feet. She would put them under hot water and take the top skin off.

    She added them to her chicken soup. They were so sweet, maded a lot of flavor to the soup.

    She got a lot of meals out of one chicken – soup, chicken for salad and roast chicken. Oh yes, we ate the plain boiled chicken too!

    We ate a lot of chicken in those days, it was one of the most ecomomical meals.

  3. You could be right, Grannymar. I spoke with a woman earlier in the week here who confided that, since her son had lost his pilot job and couldn’t find another, she had just bought a 20 lb. bag of dried beans. I teased Hubby that he’d better brush up on his tofu-hunting skills.

  4. Millie, I remember seeing those yellow feet sticking up from a pot of chicken and rice, and they floated around as well in a pot of chicken and dumplings (mostly dumplings). Women were creative with what they had in the kitchen even if it wasn’t gourmet fare.

  5. And Darlene, I suspect that time was always a problem for our mothers and grandmothers. My mother went to the fields alongside my father and worked all day. Then when we finally got home, he and the children (including me) did the outside chores while Mama got supper together. We ate a lot of grits, usually left over from breakfast, sometimes doused in an egg batter and fried. Our version of mush. Thanks for commenting.

  6. My boyfriend’s mother told me about using chicken feet to make soup with. I saw them for sale at the butchers and bought a bunch, getting instructions over the phone. Unfortunately, she was trying to help me take the top skin off like millie says, but because she couldn’t see the chicken feet, she didn’t know it had already been done. And I didn’t know any better, so that was a bit of a mess.

    It tasted ok – a little bit sweet – but I had a hard time enjoying it, to be honest. While it was simmering, the feet kept coming to the surface, looking like an alien hand coming to get me. *shiver*

  7. Oh my, I can’t imagine that my uncle’s story could have resulted in a real experimentation with food! He would be so pleased to know you had the gumption (as he would phrase it) to do that! I must say *shiver* that I have not tried to eat chicken feet to this day! Grandma used them in a dish she called “perlo” (pileau I suspect), i.e., chicken and rice boiled together that was great comfort food.

  8. Pingback: Why You Haven’t Seen Me Around Lately « My Wintersong

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