Commentary and Philosophy Flash Fiction posted May 22, 2017

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The way with chickens and men

Chickens, Life and Death

by bhogg

The summer of 1958 was memorable. Rather than the usual two weeks, I got to spend the entire summer with my grandparents. They lived on a farm in west central, Georgia. Mom asked, "Are you sure you want to go? You know the farm isn't close to anything. You're nine-years-old and won't have your brothers or any friends close by." I guess she forgot my best friend on earth lived in a small cabin on the farm property. His name was Virge Gates. He was a ninety-year-old black man, a son of slaves.

My grandparents worked around the farm every day, so there were chores to be done. Mine centered on chickens. Every day, I fed them, made sure they had water and gathered eggs. Every third day, the poop and straw needed raking and placed in a pile at the end of the garden. When it rained, it was necessary to run out and chase the chickens into the roost. The dumb things would stay out, look up at the rain with their mouths open and drown.

Stupid little boogers. I loved every minute of it.

When you live on a farm, you shouldn't name the animals. There's a good reason. You might have to eat it. My favorite was a chicken I named Ernest. Virge told me the name didn't make sense since Ernest was really an Ernestine. I don't know, a chicken is a chicken.

Ernest was my favorite because he was so different. The other chickens looked elegant and regal. They'd throw their butts up in the air, hold their heads high and strut. Ernest jerked his head back and forth and rather than walk, shuffled. For some reason, the other chickens hated him.

One day, I came out and found the other chickens pecked Ernest around his wing and back. His feathers roughed off where you could see flecks of blood on his bare skin. My grandpa had a bottle of purple medicine he used to swab on the mules and cows, so I thought it would be perfect for chickens. Ernest always let me pick him up, so grabbing him, I applied the purple salve and sent him on his way.

The next morning, Virge and I were picking figs for my grandma. The fig bushes were next to the chicken pen. They were thick and ripe. Some fell to the ground and rotted, the smell pungent. We'd gather the good ones and toss the not so good over to the chickens.
At the end of the pen was what looked like a muddy lump. Walking over to take a look, it wasn't a lump. It was Ernest. He was dead. Where I'd brushed the purple salve on was more than bare, bloody skin. You could see the bones.

Virge knows a lot about country stuff, so I asked him, "Why did the other chickens kill Ernest?"

His answer was so much like many of his comments. There was a long pause, a shrug of his shoulders and then the reply. "Sometimes critters kill one another because they're different. With purple salve on his wing, old Ernest was even more different. The others saw it and just came over and pecked him to death."

"Oh, no, he's dead and it's my fault."

"No, child, you wasn't responsible. It was going to happen no matter what. We should have culled Ernest out a long time ago. Animals just don't cotton to others that are different, even of their own kind. It's just the way of life."

"Well, that's just stupid. It don't make any sense at all."

"No, I s'pose not. It's just the way with chickens. Let's finish picking these figs for your grandma."

We continued, either throwing them into a bucket or over the fence to the chickens.
Virge paused and said, "You remember me telling you my mama and daddy were slaves?"


"Back in those days, white people owned black people, kind of like you own your dog, Skippy. Many times the black folks were beaten and not cared for. Why do you figure white people thought it was okay?"

"I Don't know."
"Could be 'cause they thought blacks were different."

We picked more figs. Another pause.

"You know, my grand-nephew, Joe, was in world war two. He was in the 761st Tank Battalion. Toward the end of the war, his unit came across a German concentration camp, Gunskirchen. You ever hear of a concentration camp?"

"Yeah, but I don't know much about them."

"Well, it was a place where the Germans penned up people and killed them off. They was mostly Jews. Joe said he would never forget what he saw. People still alive were skin and bones. Some of the dead were stacked up like logs in a mass grave that wasn't even covered with dirt. This was over thirteen years ago. Just last week Joe was sitting on my front porch and started crying. The thought of that time is always with him."

"So, I'll ask you, why do you s'pose the Germans thought it was okay to kill all them Jews?"

"I don't know, maybe 'cause they were different."

Virge nodded. "You is right. They did it because they thought them Jews were different. Think about this. Those chickens did a bad thing, but wasn't nothing they could do about it. It's just the way with chickens. The slave owners and the Germans did bad things and they could do something about it. They chose to do bad things."

We picked more figs. Virge paused again and said, "You know, when you think about what people do, chickens don't look so bad."


Thank you madhughes for your wonderful picture of roosters.
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