We have chickens. Thirteen hens and one rooster. Last week the rooster, known as Rocky the Rhode Island Red, attacked McKinley at the door to the house. He was unharmed, but terribly frightened. And ever since he’s been petitioning his father and I for the–removal–of Rocky from the flock. Like this: “Mom! Mom! Mom! I thought you said we were going to kill the rooster today, Mom! Mom! I don’t want to get off the bus and have to hide in a tree! Mom! When are we going to kill the rooster? You said next Sunday and now that’s past! I HATE the rooster, Mom! He attacks me and I can’t go outside and he’s gotten out of the coop again and I can’t go outside!” (Now, if you notice a little redundancy here, I would like to note that I am merely quoting my source).
Then Renee chimes in, “Yeah, Mom, let’s kill the rooster and put him in a big pot of hot water. Let’s COOK him! Then we can eat him!”
This afternoon McKinley began his petitioning again, Rocky was out of the coop again, and McKinley couldn’t go outside, for fear of another attack. He begins his tirade. Finally, after seeing that I am paying little heed to his requests for slaughter, he asks me if I will just put Rocky back in the coop so he can go play outside. This is a simple request, certainly much simpler than preparing the bird for dinner–something I’ve never done–and so I put down my work and step outside to collect Rocky.
He’s an easy rooster to catch, and as I’m lugging him to the coop I take note of his spurs–and they are huge! Long horns at the top of his claws made for mutilating—my son! This bird must die! This bird is a killer!
So when Andrew comes home McKinley begins his petitioning. “Dad, when are you going to kill the rooster? I’m afraid of him, Dad! I can’t go outside ’cause he might attack me and he’s been getting out of the coop! Dad!” And then I step in: “Andrew, his spurs are terrible! And Sharp! We need to do something about the rooster, honey. Really we do.”
And then Renee chimes in: “Yeah, let’s put him in a pot and EAT HIM!”
What’s a man to do? He pulls together the necessary equipment, goes and gets the rooster that he’s actually quite fond of (having had two pet roosters—Rhode Island Red Roosters at that–as a child, which is of course another story altogether), the rooster that is easy to catch because Andrew would hold him and stroke his feathers, the rooster that he saved from the possum two Christmases ago, the rooster that survived the Bear Feast, his rooster. He slaughters him.
He slaughters him but it doesn’t go so well, which happens when you’re not in the habit of killing your dinner, and while he’s removing the head of the rooster McKinley is on the periphery, wanting to watch, not wanting to watch, edging close until he’s sent off. I am inside with Renee.
Renee wanted to watch. When it became clear that today was The Day for the rooster, she began to exclaim, in a most excited tone, “We’re going to chop his head off and the blood will come out!” and other such, um, exclamations which make me wonder just what lies beneath that fuzzy pink exterior that is my five-year-old daughter. And when McKinley steps inside to report that the rooster is dead, his head has been cut off–giving a nice ax gesture to accentuate the news–Renee proceeds to holler, “BOIL! BOIL! BOIL!”
Which leaves me with little choice but to accept that underneath that cute fuzzy exterior that is Renee there is a bloodthirsty carnivore that will grow up to write horror stories while living on a farm where she raises her own meat. Veal will be her favorite.
I take her by the hand and say, “Come here, little girl, we’ve got to talk.” We go up the stairs, one step at a time. I sit down in my chair. I look into those sweet chocolate eyes.
“Yes, Mommy?” she sings.
“Renee, when an animal gives its life, that is a sacred thing.” McKinley walks in. “You MUST respect the life of the animal. And if it dies so you can eat it, then you must be very grateful.”
Behind Renee McKinley has clasped his hands in prayer. “I respect the rooster, Mommy. I’m praying for him,” he says, as he closes his eyes.
I’m not sure where all this is coming from, but I follow his lead. “Yes, let’s say a prayer of thanks to the rooster,” I say. And we all hold hands.
“Thank you, rooster, for your life,” I begin.
And McKinley steps in, “I respect your spirit, rooster.”
And Renee says, “I love you, rooster, but you had to die because you were mean.”
McKinley: “If the possum hadn’t bitten off your tail then maybe you wouldn’t have turned mean but I didn’t bite off your tail, rooster, and I couldn’t get off the bus without being scared.”
Renee: “And now we are going to EAT you, rooster.”
And before this goes any further, I close with, “And thank you rooster, for the gift of your body, which we will eat.”
By the time the rooster is in the pot, Renee has sang over its featherless, headless, body, and McKinley has begun to be a bit sickened by the whole ordeal. My brother is joining us for the dinner and is enjoying the rooster’s detached feet, which irritates McKinley greatly. My teenagers are announcing their disgust in loud voices that fill the house. Andrew is reeling a bit with the stress of the slaughter combined with other assorted stresses not limited to the incessant bickering of Bert and Alex, and the pressure cooker that’s making dinner out of Rocky is hissing loudly. It’s a chaotic scene, and part of me is wanting, desperately almost, to run out and bring back pizza.
But the timer beeps, the pot cools. When we open the pot, there is chicken–thick-skinned and lean. The dark meat is, well, darker than a store bought chicken. Renee is at the table announcing that She Is Hungry and Ready to Eat. McKinley is announcing that he wants a grocery store chicken for dinner. And Bert and Alex are bickering.
I make a gravy and Andrew pulls the meat off the bone. I was certain that I wouldn’t eat the rooster, but I do. And it tasted…good (especially with the gravy). I place dinner in front of Renee, and she barely hesitates before she begins to eat rooster exclusively.
McKinley refuses. “There’s a feather in it!” he proclaims. (There is not). “Ugh, what’s this?” he asks. “It’s a piece of meat, McKinley” we all answer. “I’m not eating the rooster,” he states flatly.
And so on it goes. He finally eats, though I’m not sure if he really did eat any rooster. And it’s such an odd thing, really, to sit down at the table and eat something that was alive only hours before. And what’s even odder is that it’s odd.
Later Andrew and I discussed the wonders of tofu and the benefits of vegetarianism.
I don’t think Renee will go for that.