Here a chick, there a chick
I thought it was 1946, but now I wonder if it might have been four years earlier. In any event, it was a year thousands of parents put the chicken before the egg. As Easter approached, my parents, two aunts and two uncles became victims of an irrationality that was epidemic. They bought 20 baby chicks and divided them among five cousins.

I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. Maybe, considering the food rationing of World War II, this was someone’s solution to a future egg shortage. Or maybe a retirement-bound farmer saw an opportunity to get rid of thousands of chicks – by convincing adults their children would find the animals irresistibly cute. I don’t know. At 7, I wasn’t paying attention to marketing schemes.

Some of the chicks didn’t make it through Easter. Each day for a week my cousins reported another casualty or two. Inexplicably, the four chicks in our cellar remained alive. Well, perhaps not inexplicably. My indifference to the chicks may have saved their lives because it put them in the hands of my mother, who soon had reason to regret her winning way with poultry. My cousins, tired of tears and mock burials, asked if they could move their three survivors to our house. My mother now had a flock of seven.

DAYS PASSED, then weeks, and the chickens continued to thrive. Warm weather arrived and the chickens were moved to more spacious quarters in the garage where they blossomed into healthy young adults. We may have been violating a village zoning regulation, but in those days neighbors didn’t squeal on each other. Besides, chances are they were violating a few regulations, too.

Winter arrived and the chickens returned to the cellar. They were bigger, stronger and louder – so loud that our early-morning dreams were interrupted daily by the increasingly annoying roosters. Our cellar became overcrowded, the odor unpleasant. The hens laid a few eggs, but that novelty quickly wore off.

With only slight reluctance, my parents faced the inevitable: the chickens had to go. But not to a farm. Their destination was our oven – as soon as they were fat enough to be finger-lickin’ good.

AND SO it came to be. The executioner was my grandmother, who had a hidden talent that astonished us. I won’t go into details, but she dispatched the chickens quickly, efficiently and without implements. Our quiet, loving, self-sacrificing Nana revealed a dark side. I never looked at her quite the same way again.

As for our “pets”, they left us with a few good meals and one very important rule: the only chicken that belongs in an Easter basket is one made of chocolate. I’m happy to report we’ve observed that rule every year since.