Sharon is the wife of a good friend of mine who shared her interest in writing with me. She was born and raised in China until she was able to immigrate to the USA.
I asked her if I might read one of her stories. You will notice that she writes from a perspective quite different from a USA born writer. Her approach to family relationships and her youth was uniquely Chinese and hit me like a breath of fresh air in a room of stale odors. Sharon’s story could not have been written by an American raised writer. Its simplicity and charm will momentarily transform you into the mind of a seven-year old Chinese child and her pet chicken. Growing up in the USA used to be as simple, but is no longer as Sharon’s chicken story will convince you.
Immediately following Sharon’s CHICKEN story, you will find my take on a chicken story, slightly modified from one of my early blogs. “Which Came First, the chicken or the egg?”
CHICKEN by Sharon Eagerton
Like most Chinese children, I had no pets growing up. The only living things we had besides humans in our family were chickens. Every year after the Chinese New Year, my grandmother would buy a young chicken. We would raise it in our courtyard until the Chinese New Year Eve. It would be killed for the reunion dinner that day.
Grandma used to buy young hens, for their ability of producing eggs. One year, grandma brought home a tiny beautiful chicken. I was very excited. She had very soft downy feathers in brilliant yellow, ranging from dark to light from her back to her tummy. There was a dash of orange on the tip of her wings. Grandma put her on my palms carefully. I looked at her. She looked at me. She made a little screeching noise. I smiled. She did not try to run away. She kept on looking at me with her light green eyes. I said “Goo goo….” She said: “Goo goo…” back.
My job was to feed the chicken three times a day. After each meal, I would take a handful of brown rice to feed her. I would make the noise: “Goo, goo, goo…” to find her. “Goo Goo” was not her name. Our chicken had no name. That was simply the way Chinese call their chickens. The chicken would always magically appear from somewhere. I would spread the rice on the floor. She would gobble the grains up in no time.
My chicken pooped anywhere she wished. I helped grandma to clean it up whenever I was around. I would use a small shovelful of coal ashes to cover the poop, and then sweep them back on the shovel.
Our chicken was growing up fast. Her down had turned into mature feathers. The light yellow had turned into light brown. She no longer jumped on the palms of my hands anymore. She started to get out of rooms, and wander around in our courtyard. We made a nest out of hay in the breezeway between our two rooms. In the early summer, she started to lay eggs in her nest. She would always go to her nest around naptime. After I woke up from my naps, I would see her lying peacefully on her nest. I would carefully put my hand under her warm tummy. There would always be an egg for me to harvest. There are no words to describe the joy of harvesting eggs. I would hold it up in the light. The shells were transparent. I could usually see the yoke inside. I would carefully take the egg to the basket on top of grandma’s dresser. One day my grandma opened an egg. There were two yokes. Our chicken was having twins! Every once a while, there would be a pleasant surprise of twin yokes. Our chicken became famous in the neighborhood.
One day after nap, I went to get the egg as usual. Our chicken was not on her nest. I ran to get a handful of rice. “Goo, goo.” “Goo, goo, goo…” I called my chicken. She did not show up like she usually did. I found my grandma. I told her that I couldn’t find our chicken. Grandma joined me in searching our chicken. “Goo, goo.” “Goo, goo, goo…” We went door-to-door, courtyard-to-courtyard. After hours of searching, our chicken was nowhere to be found. “Our chicken had been stolen!” My grandma got angry. I went with grandma to policeman Liu’s house in the neighborhood. We reported our chicken missing. We told everyone we saw to keep a look out for our chicken. Everyone felt sorry for us. Our home seemed very quiet without our chicken. The next a few days, it was hard for me to wake up and see that there was no chicken laying on the nest in the breezeway. My friend Strength’s father had two pet birds he kept in a cage. The cage was hanging outside of their window during the day. The bird’s presence made me miss my chicken more. A week had gone by, and there was no trace of our chicken. Our hopes had faded.
One day, policeman Liu showed up at dinnertime. He said he had good news for us. Someone had reported to him that a suspicious chicken appeared in her courtyard. He had investigated. It turned out a troubled teenager nicknamed “Pig” living across the street stole our chicken. He had it hidden in his buddy’s home. They were waiting for an opportunity to kill it and have a feast. Policeman Liu had just spoke to Pig and his mother. They were waiting for our forgiveness to bring our chicken back. Policeman Liu brought the mother and son to us. Pig held the chicken’s wings with his left hand. Our chicken was trying to escape. She looked at me with her intense green eyes, pleading for help. I ran to get her from Pig’s hand. Her wings are dirty. There is a small spot on her tummy that was bald from missing down. I held her to my chest. I sat down and let her rest on my lap. I patted her back.
Suddenly, Pig’s mother slapped Pig’s face. He cried out in pain. My chicken jumped out of my lap. “I did not raise you to be a thief. You brought shame to our family. You brought shame to your dead father… Say you are sorry to Aunt Yang and Uncle Yang.” Pig’s mother cried loudly. My grandpa waved his hand and said: “All right, we forgive you this time.” The mother kicked the back of Pig’s knee. He fell down. Hands and knees on the floor, he knocked his forehead on the floor three times in front of my grandpa, begging for forgiveness.
After the mother and son were gone, my grandpa asked policeman Liu stay for dinner. My grandma grabbed two eggs from the basket on top of her dresser, and disappeared into the kitchen. Grandma added the fried eggs with chives at our dinner table. Grandpa purled a cap of white rice wine for policeman Liu. They started to complain about today’s youth.
After dinner, I got two handful of rice instead of one. I spread them on the floor for our chicken. She gobbled them up quickly. I hand fed her a few green vegetable leaves. That night we moved her nest into Grandma and Grandpa’s room. We kept her nest inside from then on.
Lunar New Year is the most important holiday in Chinese people’s lives. For kids, the New Year’s Day was what we were looking forward to all year long. On the New Year’s Day, we got to wear new cloths, new shoes, and receive red envelops with brand new money in them. The celebration starts from the New Year Eve through the Lantern Festival (the 15th day after the New Year). The Lunar New Year Day lands from the end of January to the end of February according to the western calendar. My birthday February 10th is usually somewhere during the New Years.
New Year Eve reunion dinner is the kick off for the New Year celebration. Families from near and far would get together having a once a year feast. A whole chicken is usually the centerpiece of the New Year Eve dinner table. My grandpa used to start writing down the New Year Eve dinner menu about a week before the New Year’s Eve. Usually, the chicken was the first thing on the menu. This year, my grandpa sat down with grandma and I, we discussed the menu together. After we came up with seven dishes, at last, grandpa wrote down “Chicken” silently. Grandma looked at me. I looked at our chicken. She was wandering around aimlessly. After a long pause, I said: “Can we not having chicken this year?” After another long pause, grandpa said: “No, there would be no New Year Eve dinner without the chicken.” “Can we buy a chicken?” Grandma said. “But we already have one. After all, isn’t that what we raised her for?” Said grandpa.
New Year’s Eve arrived faster than ever that year. My eldest aunt and her husband arrived from Chong Qing with their two kids. My second aunt and her husband arrived from Liang Ping with their two kids. My father who I haven’t seen for a year came with my mother and brother. Kids were eating candy, sunflower seeds and cookies, all kinds of snake (snack) food we didn’t have often. Adults were playing cards. “It’s time to kill the chicken.” Sometime in the early afternoon, grandpa said. I was fetched to find the chicken. I went to get a handful of rice. “Goo, goo…” “Goo, goo, goo…” I called our chicken. This time I wished that she would not show up like she did in the summer. After a while, the chicken showed up. She was heavy because of the extra rice I fed her since her disappearance. She walked slowly and reluctantly towards the courtyard. Everyone’s eyes were on her. She looked sad as if she knew what something was going to happen to her. My mother was order to catch her. Mother said no, because she was afraid of the chickens. My uncle from Chong Qing was a soldier. He volunteered. He approached the chicken, she flew away. He chased her, she ran even faster. Everyone backed off. The chase went on for quite a few circles. My uncle got really frustrated. He rolled up his sleeves, and said: “I don’t believe I can’t catch a hen!” He chased her again, yelling for others to help stop the chicken. A circle was formed. I was left behind the circle of the adults. I couldn’t see the chicken anymore. Suddenly, I heard a horrible shriek from the chicken. Someone yelled: “Got it!” Everyone cheered. The circle was breaking up. I saw my uncle holding the chicken’s wings with his left hand like Pig did back in the summer. He pulled her head back with his right hand. His thumb and index finger of the hand he held the wings caught the comb of the chicken. I saw the chicken looked at me upside down with her intense green eyes, pleading for help. Her feet were kicking for escape. I couldn’t stand to look at her eyes any longer. I turned my head away from her. From the corner of my eyes, I saw a shiny flash. My uncle swiped the sharp blade across the chicken’s throat. “No” I screamed. The blood splashed everywhere. My mother screamed at the same time. The blood splashed on her winter coat. I ran into my room, slamming the door behind me. I threw myself on the bed, covering my head with my pillow. I cried. I heard people yelling to get the boiling hot water. I saw my chicken soaking in a basin full of boiling water in my mind. A couple of hours later, the smell of the chicken soup came out of our tiny kitchen, drifted about in the air of our courtyard. The birds of Strength’s father were singing cheerfully. I wondered, as they are birds just like my chicken, why were their destinies so different. Why some were raised for pleasure, while others were raised for a meal? While the birds in the fine cage were singing, my chicken was boiled in a big pot.
It was time for the New Year’s Eve reunion dinner, the feast of the year. I walked in my grandparents’ room. Immediately, I saw the corpse of my chicken lying in the center of the adult dinner table. I walked over and sat down at the little kids table. When everyone sat down, the toast started. In between the toasts, my mother and her sisters started to tell the stories of their youth. The hardship that my grandmother had gone through to raise them as a young widow; how my grandmother marched behind her husband’s coffin with my mother in her tummy; how my grandmother washed the clothes and stinky socks of her co-workers at the steel factory to make extra money; how hungry they felt growing up… Those stories were repeated every year. My grandmother said: “That’s the sort of things everyone had to do in those years.”
All three sisters stood up, toasted for my grandmother’s health. “This leg goes to our mother!”. My eldest aunt pulled off one of the drumsticks and put it in my grandmother’s bowl. They then toasted my grandpa. “This leg goes to our uncle” They call my grandpa uncle because he was their stepfather. “For your kindness to us and our children!” My second aunt pulled the other drumstick to my grandpa. The bittersweet stories of the past went on and on. My uncles were adding their fair share as well. The only one from the adult table who did not contribute was my father. Because his childhood as much different from the rest. His family was one of the wealthiest in Wan Xian, a small town near the “Three Gorges of Yanzi”. Prior to the communist takeover, my father’s grandmother, who was the head of the household, committed suicide by hanging herself on the beam of her home.
My grandpa called me to the adult table. He put his arm around my shoulders. He said: “One of the wings is for you. For you will fly far away from home for success. Your duty is to set up a good example for your younger brotherand cousins.” I did not move. “Dig in, help yourself.” Said grandpa. I dropped my head, looked at my feet and said: “I don’t need wings, I will stay home with you, grandpa. Forever!” My grandpa rubbed my head and shook his head, saying: “Silly girl!”, but smiled with satisfaction.
Three days later, it was my 8th birthday. In the morning, my grandmother made me two hard-boiled eggs as usual. I held the warm eggs in my hands for a while. Then cracked one open. I like the yokes the best. I always liked to eat it first. As I peeled through the whites, there were two yokes! “Wow! What good luck!” Grandma exclaimed. I stare at the yokes; my chicken reappeared lively in my mind. “Eat them, they will bring you good luck all year.” My grandma said. I took a bite of the yoke. My tears ran down my cheeks. I swallowed the egg with my tears. I did not remember the taste of the egg, but I remembered how I felt as it went down my stomach. I felt a part of the chicken was inside of me. I felt I was been blessed with good luck by our chicken with the trauma she went through, and the sacrifice of her life.
After the New Year, my grandma did not bring another little chicken home. We did not raise chickens anymore. From that year on, we bought chicken from the market the day before the New Year’s Eve.
Chickens Have Something Important to Say About Evolution (after the clucking is done)
“Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?”
Rhode Island Red, Bantam, Leg Horn, it doesn’t matter, chickens have been dealt a foul blow. They’re tired of being associated with the stupid mind twister, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” The chicken, an animal known for its stupidity and ability to run around without its head, deserves a little respect for helping to clarify an evolutionary enigma.
What’s that, you’re not sure of the answer? If you are a Creationist or IDer you can be forgiven for being uninformed. After all, you believe God made all species (kinds) less than 10,000 years ago, end of discussion. But if you are of the secular persuasion or are of a liberal Christian theology there is no excuse for your hesitation in answering the question. After all, it’s seventh grade level evolution. Maybe you should read the following explanation, and then let on you always knew it.
The simple answer is, of course, the egg came before the chicken. But wait a minute, that proverbial chicken was an imposter. It was not a 100% chicken. In reality it was a “pre-chicken,” a chicken ancestor; one of a line of birds that were almost chickens but not quite. If you could identify and examine this most immediate chicken ancestor, you would find that it looked very much like a modern chicken; its eggs would look the same and its chicks would look like chicken chicks. To find a difference you would need some very accurate measuring tools, a good microscope, a genetic laboratory and many research hours. You would have to measure thousands of beaks, wings, record body weights, etc. and most importantly, you would have to examine every chick’s DNA. You would have to keep track of every little “micro evolutionary” genetic and body change for at least fifty years. Eventually, over the years, you would notice that the pre-chicken had gradually turned into a 100% bona fide modern chicken. There would be no celebration or Nobel Prize marking the event, just a few clucks from the first birds to become modern chickens. (The Grants researched Darwin’s finches for almost forty years on the Galapagos Islands. Read their book “ The Beak of the Finch” and you will believe in evolution if you do not already.) Amazing, isn’t it?
In summary, During and after your study, you would not have noticed any overt, and obvious physical change between any two consecutive generations of chicken-like birds, except perhaps for tiny accumulating DNA mutations. But eventually, those almost unnoticeable mutations (microevolution) would have added up to an actual change of species (macroevolution), allowing a pre-chicken to evolve into a modern chicken. Hurrah! That’s evolution, and it’s been happening ever since the first glob of pre-life organic material started replicating itself. Don’t try to explain all this to someone who doesn’t really care, just say, “The first chicken hatched from a pre-chicken’s egg and it took a long time, too long to wait for an omelet.”