I was recently in one of those fancy grocery stores. You know the kind, they are designed for the person that has lots of time, and they are wanting to make grocery shopping an experience. I was there for the free Wi-Fi in the café, and the cheap coffee refills. When I was done working and full of coffee, I packed my laptop and decided to grab a few items. I should note, that I typically only shop in one grocery store, the one closest to our house, because I know where everything can be found in that store. But they don’t have Wi-Fi. Or fresh brewed coffee to drink and a place to drink it.
I was on my third lap around the store, looking for regular sliced bread, instead of the “artisanal” bread that sold for more money per loaf than many people make per hour. Then I saw it. A capon. A capon, if you are unfamiliar, is akin to a rooster in the same way that a steer is like a bull. Snip snip. My grandmother lived through The Great Depression, and at that time when people hatched eggs for meat chickens, they would castrate roosters. This cut down on barnyard violence (roosters are mean, especially to each other) and it also made the birds get bigger and fatter.
My gram always preferred capon over turkey. Since she always came to our house for Thanksgiving, my mother would have to cook a capon as well as a turkey. Nowadays, chickens are making a comeback. I see free range chickens all over the place. They are in neighborhoods, running around downtown areas, and some people keep them in the house, which seems weird to me. Last summer, my wife, Renee, took me to a farmer’s market where she would shop and I would carry the stuff she purchased. She gets a little crazed in farmer’s markets, so she takes a cash budget with her, and when it is gone, then we are done shopping. It isn’t all that different from gambling fanatics or alcoholics—when the allotted funds are used up, it is time to go home.
“This is organic, free range, anti-biotic free chicken,” the farmer said.
“Ooh,” Renee said to the guy then turned to me, “You want to grill chicken tonight?”
“I guess,” I squinted but saw no price listed for this poultry.”
“I’ll take one!” my wife said.”
“That’ll be $20.” He extended his hand and my wife paid the guy. He handed her a small bag. We started walking to the next farmer’s stand.
“Umm,” I whispered, “Did you get a raise?”
“I didn’t realize we had come so far in this world as to be the kind of folks that eat $20 chickens! I’ve shot grouse bigger than this thing.”
“Honey,” she put her hands on her hips, “Of course it is smaller. It is free range.”
“Judging by the weight in this bag,” I lifted it up in the air, “That thing spent more time running from fox and coyote than eating. That is free range.”
When I was a kid, living in rural Pennsylvania, you did not see capons on too many farms. So, they were a little hard to find. Some butcher shops and grocery stores would carry them once in a while. As Thanksgiving approached, we would look for one, and some store would have a couple. There were a couple years that they did not.
“Claude,” I said as I arrived at his farm to hunt rabbits, “You had a capon a few years ago, got any more?” I walked up to him, and sighed. It was all uphill from my house to his.
“Nah.” he was working on something in the barn.
“Where is the bull?” I asked as I let the dog loose from the lead.
“Far pasture,” he said, “I knew you were coming.” The bull had put the run on me several times over the years. The first time I saw a rodeo clown I was impressed by how close they got to bull to save the cowboy. I was an expert at diving over electrified barbed wire fences, sustaining minor shocks and moderate cuts.
I hunted for the morning and got a few rabbits for rabbit stew, one of my favorite Thanksgiving meals. I started walking for home.
“How bad does she want that capon?”
“Oh man,” I said, “I have been to every store in the county!”
“I got the meanest rooster in the world. We can clean it here, leave the feathers on it, how is she going to know it was a mean rooster and not a calm capon, other than the size?”
“Sounds good to me!” I tied the dog to a tree and in a short time I was on the way home with three rabbits in one side of my game vest, and the tail feathers of a rooster sticking out the other side.” Gram was pretty ecstatic. “Thank you!” she smiled, “Even if it is a little small.”
“Well,” I said, “I got it for free, I hope it is okay that the farmer didn’t pluck it?”
Of course, the feathers were on it so she knew it was a rooster, or what she thought was a capon. But I knew the fact that it was free would really get her happy. She was sure that The Great Depression was coming back for round two to wipe us all out, the way influenza mutates and takes vengeance.
This was my first Thanksgiving since dad died, and I was a little puzzled about what to do on Thanksgiving. I was down to one dog too. In the wake of my father’s death, mom sold our dogs, except my favorite one. She sold his truck too. It didn’t make sense to me then. Dad died at 64 years of age, but had been too weak from cancer to have worked the last couple months. Mom had no work history, but did get a job as a cashier. She was in her 40’s and needed to make her own way. It makes sense now, especially since I was away at school and unable to take care of the dogs. At any rate, dad and I always hunted on Thanksgiving, just to avoid the arguments in the kitchen between my mom and gram.
“Your mother and her mother cannot agree on anything,” he would say to me when he was living.
I was trying to determine where to hunt without a vehicle. I thought that perhaps I would just do homework, since I was in my second year of college. I pondered this conundrum all day on Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, when the phone rang. “Are you hunting tomorrow?” the voice said.
“Who is this?” I asked. This was before caller ID
“Tom” said my dad’s older brother.
“Oh, okay. I don’t know yet.”
“Well, you can take my truck if you want. I know you and your dad loved to go.”
“Sounds good to me!”
I felt bad for my mom, because Tom would sit in the kitchen and talk her ear off. I felt bad for Tom, because I don’t think he ever spent that much time with my gram.
I can’t remember much about the hunt. I know I went to a favorite spot that my dad liked for the long chases. I remember the big chases, and how I would sit on a log and listen, the way dad always did. I shot one rabbit, because the point of Thanksgiving hunting was to hear dogs and avoid the cluttered and busy kitchen, shooting a rabbit was a bonus. I returned to the house after noon.
“How was your hunt?” Tom asked.
“It was really good,” I said, “How was your morning?”
“I haven’t peeled that many potatoes since I was in the army,” Tom said, “Oh, is Myrtle (that was my grandmother’s name) cooking a chicken?”
“Don’t ask. And thanks for letting me use the truck.”
“Sir?” a voice said to me.
“What?” I answered.
“You’ve been staring in that cooler for quite a while. Do you need assistance?”
“Oh,” I said, “No, I am fine.” I was still staring at the capon. They are all gone now. Mom, gram, Tom, Claude.
“Well, many people ask us what a capon is, and how to cook it.”
“Oh,” I said, “I know how to cook it. Say, I do need some help. Do you know where the plain old sliced bread can be found? I’ve been looking for it.” She pointed me in the right direction.
Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone. I will be afield. My wife and her mother do not get along any better than my mom and gram did, at least not at cooking. I hope we aren’t eating organic, free range turkey, that might run $150.