31 January 2009

Brown Eggs and Ham

The first thing most people notice if they poke around in my refrigerator are the brown eggs. People are afraid of brown eggs. They think they are somehow “different”. After I whip up a batch of scrambled eggs, just to prove a point, they state with amazement that “These taste just like REGULAR EGGS!!” I just roll my eyes and smile, and try not to say “I told you so”.

I only buy brown eggs, even though they cost a bit more, but not for the reasons you might suspect. While most cartons of brown eggs contain, in no particular order, the words “Organic”, “Free Range”, “All Natural” and “Farm Fresh” I care about none of these things. I don’t buy brown eggs because they are eco-friendly or because I am a chicken rights advocate. Rather I buy them in celebration of my own personal domination of the species. I buy them in remembrance of the chickens we kept when I was a kid.

My dad is a farmer at heart. He actually worked at a dairy farm during the summers as a teenager. Even though he grew up in suburban Nutley, New Jersey, a stone’s through away from the gritty streets of Newark, I suspect in some way he always wanted to be a farmer. In his high school yearbook, he is listed as a member of the Future Farmers of America. His nickname was Farm boy, although it was probably not meant to be complimentary.

There was a nursery across the street from his house, where he worked from a very young age. One of his main responsibilities was taking care of their work horse. He made the local newspaper in the winter of 1953 when, during a snow day, with nothing better to do, he nailed two 2x4’s together in the shape of a “V”, attached the contraption to the horse and proceeded to plow all the sidewalks in his neighborhood.

And so, in order to give his kids a taste of the good life, he took us to a game farm and bought three hens of the Rhode Island Red variety. I remember my father nonchalantly carrying them, upside down, with their legs bound, clucking and fluttering to the car, and placing them into boxes for the ride home.

Once home, we placed them into the chicken coop my dad had hastily constructed out of 2x4’s, plywood and chicken wire (no pun intended). The chickens immediately set about establishing a pecking order, which is but one of the chicken’s many contribution to the world of metaphors.

A pecking order goes something like this: Chicken #1 (the Alpha chicken, as it were) is allowed to peck the feathers off of Chicken’s #2 and #3, but they are not allowed to peck back. Chicken #2 gets pecked by Chicken #1 and is allowed to peck Chicken #3. Chicken #3 is gets pecked by Chickens #1 and #2 but cannot peck back.

You can tell a chicken’s place in the pecking order by the state of their plumage. The chicken at the top of the pecking order has a bright shiny coat of feathers, while each succeeding chickens feathers are in a progressively worse state of affairs. The last chicken is nearly bald and is often scarred and bloody from all the pecking. In fact, the last in line sometimes gets pecked to death, resulting in a demotion of the next to last chicken. A better more accurate metaphor for office politics cannot be found.

Each day after school, my brother and I would chase the chickens into the outer portion of the coop and collect the eggs, brown as could be, wash the shit off of them and place them in the fridge and TADA!!! “free” eggs.

After a while, my dad brought home a rooster so it could wake us all up at 5:00 a.m. with its “Cock-A-DOODLE DOOO!!!!” The neighbors must have loved us. Despite our best efforts the keep the rooster separate from the hens, every now and then, while making breakfast, my mother would crack open and egg and a bloody, chunky, fertilized embryo would drop onto the griddle. Nothing kills an appetite like bloody eggs.

I don’t remember when exactly we got rid of the chickens, although if I am not mistaken, at least one of them ended up on our kitchen table. I am sure over time, and with us kids growing up, we just did not have time for such things. It is much easier to buy eggs in the supermarket after all. If it weren’t, we would all have chickens.

I don’t have the time or the inclination to keep chickens now a-days and it’s been a long time since I have had a rooster for an alarm clock. But I buy brown eggs today to pay homage to a time when I did, in honor of my father, of my chickens, and of a place I once called home.

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