My grandmother raised chickens and turkeys. The former deposited their pyramids of leavings under her house, which rested on brick pedestals. It was an old farm house, surrounded on one side by cornfields, on the other a dirt road and sandy yards. Now that I remember those aromatic pyramids, I'm amazed at their construction! And frightened, too. I used to have nightmares about being trapped under the house!
Her sandy yard was home to grasshoppers and bees who couldn't resist her lantana, petunias, and other assorted flowers. She would go out to the chicken yard, grab a chicken, and well---wring its neck. She was good at it. Then she plucked and singed it, brought it inside to her kitchen counter, and turned it into a fryer, its assorted parts ready to be dipped into seasoned (highly salted and peppered1) flour and fried.
Yesterday I found a bargain at Ingles! Organic hens reduced by nearly 75% so that they could be sold by the 4th of July. I couldn't resist, so I bought two. This morning I got to work quartering, sawing through joints, doing the old-fashioned work that women no longer do, buying their chickens already boned, skinned, turned into portions ready to fry, grill, and bake.
What my grandmother did every single day, I did this morning, as if learning a new skill. A revelation, really, when I think of the time it took. Preparing a chicken would have taken time my grandmother could have spent on facebook or twitter. Or checking email if she lived today! Left over bones and giblets I boiled to make stock.
My poor grandmother. Standing in her kitchen cutting and dredging chicken parts when she could have been surfing the internet!
She made jelly and jam this time of year too, sweating into her pot of plum or mayhaw or blackberry juice. I'm not going to sweat over the plums I bought yesterday. I'm making freezer jam. No stirring and stirring until the syrup spins a thread. We like freezer jam, and as long as we have electricity, I'll keep making it, but what would happen if we no longer had the electrical grid to depend upon? Would I know how to can? I would know, I think, how to put away preserves and jellies, but as much as I love them, how could one survive on jam alone?
I marvel at how much my grandmother knew how to do, how much I once knew how to do but now no longer have the energy or the facility with which to do it. I sit here typing text into a blog whose workings of which I have not the slightest understanding. So much of my world seems beyond me, a technological mystery. My grandmother's world remains that richest of mysteries, one to which I can return in memory, marveling at how the the window light transformed the ancient linoleum, how the door still opens onto ways we can survive and beyond that, live within our means in a landscape in which we are no longer strangers.