Headless Chickens and the Process of Change

Posted: July 7, 2011 in South Texas History
Tags: ,

It’s like math. When holidays are celebrated, nostalgia for things past is necessarily a part. It usually takes the form of stories of a relative, usually deceased, and how they used to do it. This year was no different. I was reminded of a time when my mom would house and kill chickens. No joke. I suppose one conjures this being done on a ranch or at least a large acre of land, no! <em>This was urban fowl butchery</em>, or as urban as Kingsville can get.

It was when we lived on Warren street and we had a garage. On this occasion my mother acquired about 8 or 10 chickens which she kept there. The process by which she killed them is what makes the story so infamous. She would take hold of the unfortunate hen, grab a firm hold of its neck and proceed to violently twist and turn the body until the head ripped off. The bird would then run wildly and chaotically around the yard until, finally, the thing would collapse onto the ground; nerves still twitching from raging against the dying of its delicious light. Needless to say, us kids were amazed (disgusted?). It was the closest thing to ranch life that I had experienced. There even arose a legend among us, that with the blood dripping from the severed head, my mom would make a cross on the ground; and it is there that the chicken would finally rest.

She would then proceeded to pull the feathers off and cook the bird accordingly, usually for “Noodles.” (a kind of chicken-n-dumplings but with long strands of noodle-think tagliatelle. Very popular in my family.)
This type of thing didn’t happen often and this was one particularly memorable occasion (and there may have been more, like the time a pig was gutted, again, in our garage-different house. but that’s another story). I now realize that it was the last vestiges of ranch life, preserved in my mother but lost to me and my siblings. It is almost inconceivable that any of us would go through this process. Even if we wanted “freshly killed” chicken, we would likely find other means of getting it. It is indicative of changing times; from rural to urban living, from ranch life to city life. Put sociologically, a time of acculturation.

The process of change is nothing new. Focusing on South Texas, one can see the process of change quite clearly. If we were to apply a generic periodization scheme (a fancy term historians use to place things into understandable chunks of time, i.e. Reconstruction, Dark Ages etc) we see that the indigenous period gave way to a colonial period which gave way to an autonomous republic which, ultimately, gave way to statehood into the “American colossus.”

It is one thing to acknowledge (even understand) broad historical change and quite another thing to see it worked out in our daily lives. It’s a reminder that not all change is sweeping and chaotic. Most changes in life takes place even beyond our awareness, while we’re busy living. It is the small incremental changes that have the most lasting effect for our lives; changes as a result of decisions made and behaviours unlearned, like our willingness to remember an event such as the headless chickens running about our yard but not our willingness to practice it.

I end with a quote from Matteo Ricci (1552-1610), that Jesuit historian who opened China for us Westerners, because I think it is appropriate to the topic at hand. It reminds us that we make and change history on a daily basis!

It often happens that those who live at a later time are unable to grasp the point at which the great undertakings or actions of this world had their origin. And I, constantly seeking the reasons for this phenomenon, could find no answer than this, namely that all things (including those that at last come to triumph mightily) are at their beginnings so small and faint in outline that one cannot easily convince oneself that from them will grow matters of great moment   -Historia, Fonti Ricciane

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