This post is part of an on-going series where I tell random stories from my life. Names are changed to protect the innocent, unless given direct permission to publish.
When I taught school, once in a while my students would ask about my years in high school. This was one of my favorite stories to tell them. My students rarely believed me.
I was a member of the FFA – blue-corduroy-jacket-wearing, creed speaking, card-carrying member of the once dubbed “Future Farmers of America” (now it’s just FFA). My small school had one of the best chapters in the entire country. I learned about parliamentary procedure, castrating pigs, mending fence, installing electrical equipment, welding, carpentry, and the lyrics to the entire canon of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Jimmy Buffet.
One of my teachers, Mr. Griffin, decided he wanted his students to see animals go from pen to slaughter to dinner-table ready in one class period (they just don’t cover this in your average curriculum, folks). This particular class period, the class walked to the back shop (normally reserved for welding), where we all immediately noticed four chickens in a makeshift pen over next to the cutting torches. Mr. Griffin called us on over to the pen, while he calmly picked up one of the freaked out birds. He cradled the bird in his arm like a football and carefully explained how we were going to watch how a chicken became edible.
I had just eaten lunch, so I wasn’t terribly keen on watching a chicken die, but before I had much time to protest, Mr. Griffin walked the class outside, telling us to gather behind the dumpster. He grabbed a hatchet on his way out (oh, yes he did). Then, he offered a prayer thanking God for blessing us, His children, with the ability to take the life of a chicken and eat it (I’m not really sure on the particulars of the prayer. Still processing how I was about to watch a beheading.) Mr. Griffin said his amens and raised the hatchet. I closed my eyes.
Over the chorus of “eew’s” and a round of nervous laughter from the class, I heard Mr. Griffin (the consummate teacher) meticulously continue his instruction, noting the accuracy of the saying “running like a chicken with its head cut off.” I looked up to see this decapitated bird flail itself repeatedly against the dumpster until sputtering to a stop. He gave one last desperate kick toward the sky with his upturned legs.
Mr. Griffin tossed the head into the dumpster, grabbed the chicken by its feet and let the blood drain out. He walked us all back into the shop and showed us how to rip off the feathers. He tossed the feathers into a plastic trash bag. Then, he grabbed a hand torch and singed off the remaining hairs across the skin. He talked to us about the inner-workings of our denuded fellow and where we could find the different pieces of the chicken. He showed us the organs and digestive tract (cutting open the intestine to show us the contents of the bird’s last meal). He wanted to know if we had any questions. One of the girls asked where to find the chicken strips. Mr. Griffin washed his hands and told us we needed to go ahead and finish up for the day. We walked back into the classroom to gather our books and headed out to chemistry.
The next week, we saw a wild hog carcass hanging by its feet in the back of the shop.