'No, I don't want to try them," I said to grown son Patrick. Organically grown chickens, $1.79 a pound. "How much better can they be?" Chickens are the cheapest form of meat you can buy. Practically free if you wait for them to go on sale. "Eat today or freeze." At 31 cents a pound, I would usually buy two. "Mmmm, chicken!" as Homer Simpson would say.
"You'd be supporting the local economy," Patrick said. "And wait till you taste them! They're free-ranging, not all boxed up in those warehouses. No preservatives. No additives. And they breathe good, fresh, Maine sea air."
OK, I thought. Probably they were better. Certainly the chicken industry had taken a lot of criticism recently. Some company was fined heavily last summer for dumping waste illegally in the bay. Now "The Chicken King of Turner" had been forced to move out of state, supposedly, and was already in some kind of trouble where he'd gone. You could see those chicken penitentiaries from the road - huge, windowless, two-story affairs. The chickens were packed in like sardines. They never saw the sun. Standing in one spot their entire lives. And it was true that they were filled with all sorts of things: water, of course, to make them heavier; even artificial coloring - marigold leaves!
"Well, we'll be having them on Sunday," Patrick said. "Then you'll see."
When I was a summer person, growing up in Hancock Point, Maine, it was chicken every Sunday. Mr. Young's chickens from up the road. Mr. Young himself would deliver them on Saturday evenings, wrapped in white butcher's paper. We'd get four each week at the beginning of the summer, then down to two by the end, when they were practically the size of turkeys. Sunday dinner never varied: chicken, rice, and peas. Or fresh corn. Biscuits or blueberry muffins. Afterward, we would sit around on the porch groaning, or in the house. The grown-ups would usually take naps.
Chicken memories rose unbidden during the rest of the week. That skin! So crisp, so crackling. That meat! So succulent, so sweet. And how completely we took it for granted, my sister and I. When had I last had a really tasty chicken? Where the chicken had been served unencumbered by sauce - alone?
* * *
It was 12:30. My stomach was growling. My olfactories were on overload. I was pacing the floor, munching crackers, making polite conversation. Were we ever going to eat? When the birds were finally brought out from the oven, it was all I could do not to tear off a wing. As it was, I was reprimanded for snatching a bit of skin. At the table, digging in, it was like coming home.
"Chicken, at last!" I mumbled, hurdling the years.
* * *
That evening I called my sister in New York. She and her family still summer at Hancock Point. "You remember Mr. Young's chickens?" I said.
"Mmmm." she said. "The best!"
"Well, they're back." And then I told her. For a moment I thought she was going to drive straight up.