[November 1, 2016] It was a hot summer day in southern Arkansas when my grandmother decided to teach me about life. It was my turn – at a meager six years of age – to catch, kill, and prepare one of her chickens for our supper that evening. Killing the chicken would be a first for me but it was to forever remain one of those life’s lessons that helped me later develop my leadership skills in leading soldiers.
If you’ve never caught a chicken or killed one (the proper way, so my grandmother says), then you have not lived the life of hardscrabble or are sufficiently close enough to “God’s green earth;” virtues that were not just common but also expected if you grew up before the 1970s era. To do those things necessary to live and do them correctly and morally is a lesson that a young boy or girl should learn early and then carry through life.
It was a tough lesson for me personally but I learned how to catch a chicken (using my father’s fishing net), how to kill them (with a sharp knife to the neck), and how to prepare them (plucking the feathers and gutting). If you’ve never done it, this is a much more difficult and unpleasant task than you can imagine … I assure you! What it taught me was that being a man was going to be something I had to prepare myself and that meant more than just going to school.
Killing the chicken that day taught me more in an hour than a classroom could in a week. I remember how hard it was, the copious amounts of blood, feathers, and guts, and I remember my grandmother saying how proud she was that I was the only grandchild that had actually accomplished the task. She said I had more courage than most people and that I would do well some day; as long as I found a good wife to be my companion and I taught my children how to kill a chicken (apologies to her but I never did teach them).
Doing the right thing is sometimes difficult and may be so difficult that most will shy away from it. I try to remember my grandmother standing there while I did my best not to disappoint her and to do as I was instructed. I’ve told that story to many a young soldier and to a number of college students. Some find it appalling or humorous or at least surprising but after I discuss it with them, I think they see it also as I did. At least that is my intent and life’s lessons that follow.
That chicken gave me more than a meal, it gave me inspiration to do better in life and it gave me confidence. I’ll always remember that chicken.
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