CPR Section House

CPR Section House

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chickens in the Trunk

The steamer trunk , that had held Mum's possessions when she came over from England as a war bride , saw many things in its lifetime .

In Tabarette , it held her precious items , including embroidered sugar bag creations , folded cotton from flour bags and wool for knitting socks or mittens .

 In Snake Creek , little frilly dresses for a baby girl were added .

In McKerrow , items of clothing based on season filled the space .

In Larchwood , a second cedar trunk was purchased to hold the blankets and winter clothing during summer . Precious things were still kept in the steamer trunk .

After a few years in Mattawa and the growing need for storage , the trunk was emptied . Special memories were put into the bottom dresser drawer and the trunk migrated to the shed where it held Christmas decorations and such that were pulled out once a year .

It was no longer as shiny as the year in which it was loaded onto the ship . It was battered with dents and scratches , broken clasps and locks . Still , when Mum went into the shed to get an armful of firewood , she would brush her hand across it -gently caressing memories ."I came to Canada with that trunk " she told me . Then , she would shake the memories away and load my waiting arms with a few pieces of wood before she grabbed an armful and closed the door behind us .

 One spring , she announced that we would be getting chickens . She emptied the old steamer trunk into a cardboard box from the grocery store and placed it under her bed . With a light bulb on an extension cord inserted for warmth and lined with newspaper, the home for 20 chicks was prepared . The day they took residence in their new accommodation was an exciting moment . Pretty little balls of fluff clustered together in the corner of a large trunk . Here in the trunk was the potential for great things for the future ...just as there always had been .

When the chickens became too large for the trunk , a small area at the back of the shed became their new home with access into a fenced , outdoor pen for day use . Mum continued to care for them with a thought to the future . A dozen or so fresh eggs per week would enhance the family diet .

 She cleaned the pen weekly , fed and watered the hens to laying maturity . When at last Mum heard the nesting clucks of ready hens , she was pleased that all the attentiveness was at last going to pay off . "Fresh eggs tomorrow morning" , she announced .

At dawn , she was out with a pail at the coop . When she slipped her hand under the hens , she came out with three eggs . Thinned shelled delicate eggs that she used to celebrate in a cake for supper .

After a week , the eggs were all soft-shelled , 'wind eggs' my Dad said as we examined the soft pliable shells . " Something must have scared them ", he explained . " The eggs blew out before they were ready ".

He went to check for traces of unwanted predators  and shore up the fencing and hen door . The next day , Mum found three eggs again with hardened shells that were so delicate they broke under their own weight in her hand . No eggs today .

The following week , after a dozen unusable eggs , she went to try again . Behind the coop door , she found all the chickens with the exception of six lay strewn about with severed throats . A weasel , in the nature of all weasels , had found a way inside and killed all but the few hens that had managed to find their way onto the collar ties in the shed roof . Senseless killing , not for food , but in following the passion of the kill .

 After another few days , the remaining hens still hadn't lay again . They were too stressed by the night time visitor .There was no choice but to kill the rest for the soup pot .

Dad prepared the stump and axe for the job while Mum put the water on to boil . One at a time , he stretched a head over the stump and swung the axe. Off with their heads . Each headless body ran in circles when released  . Dad began to make fun of the chickens in an effort to lighten up a tense situation . Mum watched without a word , disappointed that her plans hadn't worked out .

Sis and I laughed nervously because it seemed expected to laugh off signs of concern for the fowl to please Dad . But after two of three chickens , even Dad could not keep up the facade . Dad was always squeamish about killing ...willingly ending a life . He was becoming angrier with each chicken and eventually sent us into the house , blaming our reactions for making the job hard for him .

When the last chicken was placed in position for execution , Dad lifted the axe extra high to make the death as quick and painless for him as possible . On the downswing the axe head caught the fixed clothesline between the porch and the shed . It was wrenched from his control and fell straight down onto Dad's forehead , blunt end first luckily .  In the automatic response to grab his injury , Dad had to let go of the hostage hen . Off it ran into the yard . I always thought this scene was a good example of retributive justice at work .

 With a bump forming quickly on his forehead , Dad had to now retrieve a panicky hen which is no easy task . Enraged and " cursing a blue streak" , he at last caught the chicken , grabbed its head and gave a whipping snap . The chicken was still ...no running or twitching life in it . Quick and easy . Much more efficient - with a lot less drama .

When Dad came into the house , sporting a huge purple bump on his forehead , Mum remarked , " Well , I wasn't expecting a goose egg from those chickens ."

" J**** C***** , Mum! Can't you see I'm hurt here ?! There's nothing funny about that " ,he vented . We all left Dad in the kitchen with a bag of Mum's frozen waxed beans ( the only plant that she had been able to grow at the CPR section house in Mattawa ) pressed against his head . There were chickens to gut , scald and pluck .

The steamer trunk remained in the shed as a container to hold Dad's tools until it found the landfill after it fell apart .

FYI- In later years , we found out that the thin shells were caused by the use of DDT to kill hen fleas in the coop . DDT was later banned as an insecticide as it caused wild birds eggs ( falcons...) to be fragile . Failure to produce a normal shell put many bird species on the endangered list . There are still traces of DDT turning up in the environment in locations that never were exposed to it during DDT's use .

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