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The Killing of the Hens

March 26, 2011

She was the sort of woman often described as burly or stout, who seemed to expand an inch or two in width with every year she lived. Her sons later referred to her as “a barrel of a woman”.

Her face was a particularly rural shade of red, and she considered anyone a lighter hue to be unhealthy. This, unfortunately for them, included all three of her sons.

She often said she was glad to have only sons as she had “no time for girls”. And the boys when they grew to men, remembered her not for her cooking, or her domestic chores, but for her mannerisms and strong character. She was not much of a mother, they said, but they praised her as a father.

One incident, in particular, they would remember: The killing of the hens. The youngest, in his infancy, pleaded to save them. But she would always tell them, her boys, that, “A hen that doesn’t lay is about as useful as a coop full of cocks.”

For a large woman, she was fast and could scoop a chicken up by the legs and have its neck on the stump quicker than any farmer for miles around. Then in one smooth movement, devoid of any reluctance, the sharpened hatchet would descend.  Without hesitation, she would raise the hatchet again to deal another blow. It would take several of these before the ordeal could finally end.

And the headless chicken would flail and convulse, without producing a sound, like a silent movie. She never seemed moved by this display, but for the boys the time dragged on and it seemed the hen would never cease until finally, it did.

And afterwards, hands would be washed at the outside tap and feathers would be plucked.  The boys never said as much to each other, but it was unanimously felt among them that this was the bravest act that their mother would ever make for their sakes, the killing of the hens.

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