“Kids get outside and quit fussing at each other,” Mom shooed us with a swish of her apron. “Dad’s getting a chicken ready. Can’t have a picnic without fried chicken. ”
That’s all me, my brother, and cousins needed to hear: Dad getting a chicken ready. We knew what that meant. We squealed and headed for the back door, excited for the upcoming entertainment. It was the 1950’s and our amusements were simple things.
Pushing and shoving, we burst outside. We could hear the chickens clucking from the coop and see Dad’s bent head as he peered inside, intent on making a selection.
I stopped, my giggles frozen in my throat. In front of me was a horned toad. This was the desert so reptiles, insects and other creepy-crawlies weren't uncommon sights. I just happened to be terrified of horned toads and my brother knew it.
“Hey, Sissy,” he called, sneaking up behind me. No, he wasn’t calling me a sissy. Sissy is what the family called me.
“Watch!” Before I had a chance to move, he poked the horned toad with a stick causing it to react by puffing up. The spiky horn things lining the sides of its body and head made me think of an evil, devilish creature.
“It’s gonna spit blood at ya,” Gerald cackled.
“Daaaaaaaad!” My voice came out in a high-pitched shrill. I’d never had blood spit at me by a horned toad, but I knew it could happen. I’d seen it for myself. Squirts right out of that ugly thing’s eyes, I kid you not.
“Gerald, leave Sissy alone,” Dad said, the chosen chicken underneath one arm. “Gotta chicken for Mama to fry.” Dad tightened his grip on that squawking chicken that was trying its best to get away.
Stepping backwards, I felt just like that chicken. Trapped! I managed to scramble away before that blood-spitting toad could get me. I hefted myself up on top of the baby chicks’ cage, managing to kick at my brother in the process.
“Poor picnic chicken,” I mumbled as Dad’s big, muscular hand encircled that chicken’s neck. A few swings and it was done. That headless chicken dropped to the ground, jerking and running in circles. My brother dared to get as close as possible, dodging and darting as he tried to stay out of the chicken’s path. “I hope it gets you,” I hollered. “Serve you right for poking the horned toad.”
Unlike my brother, I always got to a higher place for this event. I found no fun in being chased by a headless chicken. As a matter of fact, watching that headless chicken unnerved me, but I wasn’t about to give my brother something to poke fun at me about.
That chicken soon ceased its headless dance. It was thrown into a pot of scalding water, then handed over to us kids to pluck the feathers out. I questioned the grownups’ notion that scalding water causes them feathers to come out easier. My six-year-old fingers gave up after extracting a handful of feathers, leaving the task to the bigger kids.
That chicken finally made it into the frying pan, the smell filling the house with a tantalizing aroma. When everything was ready, we headed out for the picnic. The grownups drove until they found the biggest Palo Verde tree that would provide enough shade to spread blankets underneath.
The women placed babies in the shade and began setting out food. All of us kids scattered, looking for tarantulas, horned toads, snakes or Indian and cowboy artifacts. At least, the boys did. Us girls played hide and seek or helped the women lay out food.
My uncle hollered that it was time to eat so we made our way to the blanket set with a feast. I filled my plate with potato salad, pork and beans, and cake. As for that chicken, I couldn’t bring myself to put something in my mouth that just that morning had been a bloody, headless thing chasing my mean brother around the back yard.
Us kids, we never thought a thing about having picnics in the desert. We thought everyone did that. We didn’t know you could have a picnic where there was grass, shade trees, tables and without some adult yelling, “Watch out for scorpions and rattlesnakes!”
When our bellies were full, us kids started flicking bits of food off our plates to see what kind of critters would venture over to eat it.
**Fictional account of actual events from my childhood.
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