I Remember Grandma!

I Remember Grandma!


Chapter One: “Ringing Necks!”


Not sure of the reason or reasons, but I’ve been thinking of the happy summertimes I spent with my  Grandmother Keiger on her farm near Mt. Erie, Illinois.

Like your grandparents, she loved her grandchildren, and I was lucky enough to live nearby in Olney and could spend weeks with her.   I wasn’t old enough to stay with Gram when she married Bill Keiger and moved to his and his father’s farm and so she’d been farming for several years when I began to spend weeks with her in the early 1950s.   She amazed me as a farmer’s wife.  I acted as a “sidekick”, always near her when she moved through her tasks.  Rarely did I spend any time with her new-to-me husband Bill and his elderly father, Sam, who lived nearby and took meals with us.   I saw them only for brief periods at meal times as they were always out with their cows or working their crops.

During those years when I spend summer weeks with her, I felt I was in some sort of dream.  I loved my time with Gram.  My behavior, at whatever, always pleased her.  Unlike at home where I seemed to disappoint my stern, Victorian father and get punished, with her I never heard a harsh word, much less being smacked.   She seemed to love my being with her as much as I loved being with her.   I, thus, spent every waking minute with her.  Besides, as I was a town kid, I knew nothing about farming, and, as a pre-teen or “Tween,” I was worthless to the busy farmers.  Their work, their world, was just background; my grandmother’s, with her kitchen, garden and chicken yards, my world. 

One activity I’ll never forget was catching a chicken for dinner.  Grandmother’s key job on that farm, it seemed to my childhood mind, was to tend to the chickens.  She had two chicken yards, one of youngsters and the other for hens and their eggs.  When we were going to have chicken for dinner, she and I went out and ‘got’ one.  I said “got” and should have said ‘caught.’  I remember that as a lively, fun activity.  Sometimes she had trouble cornering one. 

Of course, I was trying to help.  Both of us were laughing.  I never saw her mad.  I was never in her way.  Try to see an old Irish woman wearing a dress she made of feedbags and skinny 10-year-old kid with a butch haircut, standing a few feet apart scaring a bunch of hens back into a corner blocked by the wire fence.  See us both carrying an open feedbag, trying to bag one of hundreds of frightened, running hens trying to get airborne away from us.  Picture the clouds of dust and flying feathers!  Hear the chackling, screaming hens!   It was a scene of a mock opera!  Eventually one of us, or both, would bag one.  Usually, we both ended up on the ground covered with dust and chicken feathers -- and chicken waste.  (Scared chickens have a lot of ‘waste.’)  If we both had one, I would bag mine and then go to Gram and help her up.  Often she hadn’t bagged hers; instead she had one by the leg, it fighting hard to fly away.

Next, Grandma had to kill the chicken.  Ever heard the expression, “ring its neck”?  That’s what she did.  From about twenty feet away, sitting on the back porch step, holding my feedbag with my hen, I’d watch her grab the head of hers with both hands and begin swinging the body.  Around and around, like a propeller in front of her she swung that hen, until the head and body separated.  Then I’d watch in amazement as the headless hen ran around the yard, running into the farmhouse foundation or against the backyard well.  Bill’s dog, Spot, sometimes chased it, barking like mad.  After a minute or so, it would drop, and we’d pull its feathers off and begin to cut it up into parts.  Unlike today’s supermarket trays of six legs, for example, those hens had just pairs.  I said “we.”   Grandma taught me how to cut up chickens, first beginning with legs.  Loving knives, I especially loved to “butcher” hens.  To this day, I still can cut up a chicken fryer.  Later, we’d enjoy a meal of fried chicken with cream gravy.  Today, I still enjoy such a meal – but I can’t eat the neck, maybe because I can still see that bloody thing racing toward me in the farm yard.

Oh, I did many things with my Grandma -- catching a hen for supper is just one example.  I‘m sure she could have done it much better without my “help.”  I am equally sure she loved the time we shared. 

"Livin', Lovin', and Laughin!!"  -- I learned what was important from my poorly educated, simple Grandma!

I could share with you the time we picked vegetables out of her huge garden -- in my child’s mind it was like a jungle.  I stayed close to Grandma when in the garden, as I hated snakes .  They seemed to love her garden, especially near the bean bushes.  But that’s really a ‘snake’ story and I’ll save such for another time.

Indeed, soon I'll post another summer day with my Grandma!  I do remember Grandma!