Chicken is…Just Chicken Jan Beiler

Those chickens must’ve had to work for their living, I thought as I looked at the scrawny chicken drumsticks for sale in Hermanos Castillos.   I turned away from the display.  Much as I longed for the taste of fresh chicken, it wasn’t worth the price they were asking.  Converting pesos to dollars and kilos to pounds it would have been over a dollar per pound… unreachable on a missionary stipend.

In the mean time, Dad and Mom came for a visit.  Dad had been the Bishop over the Mexico  churches for many years, so, like it or not, we had to share them with everybody.  Still, they were my parents and when it was time for their return flight, we were privileged to take them the six hours to El Paso, Texas to the airport.

As we neared the border town of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Mom dug around in her ample purse and pulled out fifty dollars.  “Here,” she said.  “I want you to go to Walmart and stock up on meat.”

Such riches!  I picked out several ten pound bags of chicken leg quarters and three five pound rolls of ground beef and I think I even bought a ham.

Gratefully, I stored the meat in the freezer in our little house in La Esperanza.

Phil was adding a second story to the Pastor’s house.  Dave and Phyllis’ family of ten had crowded into the three bedroom, one bath house for the last five years.  They frequently hosted large groups of visitors, who stayed for weeks at a time. It seemed the addition wasn’t happening a minute too soon.

A work day was scheduled.  Folks were coming from the Pedernales mission, and three men from the states had arrived to help with framing.

“I’ll bring the meat for the casserole,” I offered.  “I have all those leg quarters.”

Phyllis planned to make pies.  Pies were her specialty.  The tender crusts melted in one’s mouth and the chocolate filling with real whipped cream from Naomi’s cow, would be sure to make every worker glad he had come.

The bone to meat ratio is high, even on chicken from El Paso.  The early darkness of winter had fallen by the time I finished picking the last piece of chicken off the last bone.   The mixing bowl full of succulent meat was a treasure to gloat over, especially when one is in the habit of eating beans.

A kerosene lamp flickered on the table, not quite able to dispel the shadows in the corners of the room.  I pushed the cookie sheet full of bones off to one side and turned to the cupboard for a container in which to store the meat.

“Chad,” I said over my shoulder to my eleven-year-old son, “Take this stuff out to the dogs.”

“This?”  Chad asked.

“Mom,” Francie said at that precise instant, “do you want me to start bathing the little ones?”

“Yes,” I said to Francie.  I was still rummaging in the cupboard.  In a kitchen as small as mine, everything had to be stacked and packed so that getting a container was not a light matter, especially in a dark cupboard.

There!   This one looks like the right size, I thought, seizing a square, six cup Rubbermaid with a matching red lid.

I turned back to the table.  Where was the chicken?  I moved a lid and a basket of tea towels, placed there in my quest for a container.  I looked on the chair at the end of the table and on the bench by the wall.  The only sign of chicken was a silver pan full of bones.

“Where is the chicken?”  I asked as the horrible reality began to sink into my unwilling brain.

“Chad, WHAT did you give to the dogs?” I asked.

“The chicken,” he said innocently.  “I asked you if that was the pan I should take out and you said ‘yes’.”

“I said ‘yes’ to Francie,” I moaned.

“Well, I kind of wondered,” Chad replied.

“You kind of wondered?” I choked.  “How could you not know?”

Never one to accept what he considered undeserved blame, Chad shrugged and said, “I’m sorry, but I asked you.”

I slumped onto the kitchen chair.  All that precious chicken!  Brought clear from El Paso, cooked and picked off the bone for two lousy mutts! I felt like I could not accept it.

In the end I didn’t have any choice but to accept it.  I grudgingly carried the chicken scraps out to the dogs, and watched resentfully as they pounced upon the spoil. Low growls rumbling in their throats as each warned the other not to take more than his share.

I fried hamburger for Phyllis’ rice casserole and tried to figure out what was left to be thankful for.

We still had plenty to eat, nobody was hurt, and, after all, chicken is… just chicken.

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