Feb 15, 2009

On the Farm

When I was growing up in the fine town of Budakeszi, at one point we had 3 chickens along the house. Then we got a rooster to keep them company. But the rooster didn't last long. He had the annoying habit of crowing at the crack of down. Who would have thought roosters would do such things? By the way the Hungarians word for crow is "kukorékol," which in my opinion is a far more descriptive word. Anyway the rooster ended up in the pot. His demise effected the hens in unexpected ways. One of them started crowing. Well, sorta attempted crowing, the melody was clearly and unmistakably recognizable, but it did not sound quite the same.

When I told this story to others, they sniggered and told me I was a city girl not knowing that hens didn't crow. Well this one did. I'm standing by my word. I'm also not such a city girl. As I mentioned before, my parents divorced, lived in different towns, I with my mother, but spent many vacations with my dad. He was a writer, novelist, but at the stroke of a peculiarly East European midlife crisis moved to the country, and got into a more farming life style. It was not a far jump for him since he was only one generation removed from the land anyway.

He bought a country school. The kind that has one classroom, the teacher's house and a couple of acres of land around it. It was sort of in the middle of nowhere, and kids once walked miles to get there ever day. It was not operated as a school any more, all the kids and their parents moved into the village, except for one old lady in the next farm.

My father started with chickens. At first they were not well enclosed, and the once weed covered yard was all dust and chicken poop. A couple of times we found chickens dead without apparent reason. We figured one thing - there were may little holes in the ground, entrances to the homes of a particular type of wasp. If a chicken was to eat one and it stung on the way down that would suffocate the chicken. That's the only possible explanation we could come up with.

I learned how to daze a chicken. It's quite simple. You pick up a chicken, tuck its head under its wing, and start swinging it gently back and forth. The best way to do it from the point of balance is with legs apart, leaned forward, arms straight down - and swing. After a few swings the chicken is dazed. You can put it down on the ground and will stay there without a move till you nudge it to bring it out of the daze.

I'm not particularly fond of chickens, they are very dumb, but thanks to my experience with them I became an egg snob. To me eggs need to be brown, and have deep orange yolks.

Then dad got a couple of pigs. Traditionally pigs are slaughtered in winter, most often in the weeks before Christmas. Killing porky is one of those true rustic family bonding experiences. It's a big job and the whole family gets together. After the pig is dead, every last bit of it, from snout to tail, get processed into food stuff. It is a whole day affair, and inevitably there is a generous amount of pálinka involved.

Sheep killing is similar, but is not tied to the season. A good lamb stew should have multiple cuts of meat in it, including offal.

Dad also experimented with his couple of acres of land. Fortunately tobacco didn't work out. Harvesting it was not fun. Picking potatoes was not much more enjoyable either. The corn worked out great, however. Especially when the state farm surrounding my dad's was also growing corn. For a small tip the man with the harvester would take care of my dad's crop as well. Heck, he would even leave some corn in the machine from harvesting the state owned corn first.

All the photos seen here are from my collection of found photos, none are personal photos.


Viewliner Ltd. said...

Great pictures, very nice story.

altadenahiker said...

Ok, so many new questions. for instance, how long did your dad keep up the farm. Are his novels published here? Brothers/sisters? Who came to the US, your mother or father? That's just for a starter.

Julie in Australia keeps a blog about growing up on a farm. There are quite a few similarities (city kids, midlife crisis dad, some failed experiments, etc.) You can find the link, if you're interested, at Sidney-eye

Petrea said...

I love this. I'd also like to know the answers to Karin's questions. Or did you come to the US on your own?

My dad was a ranch hand-turned professor who never let go of his roots. We lived at the very edge of town and our neighbors were the farm kids. Our backyard bordered on a cornfield and I hung out in barns as a kid. A double life.

Vanda said...

He kept writing on the farm, published a novel or two, and short stories. He had a wonderful old type writer, the kind with the round, glass covered keys. He died quite young, only 55. He is buried at the farm, has an old traditional grave stone - actually carved wood.

Only had half sisters and a half brother, whom I barely knew. Dad married 5 times (consecutively). I came alone.

Margaret said...

My great-grandparents owned raisin ranch in Fresno. And my grandmother would talk about killing chickens in Texas when she was a girl. The land was very important to my forebears, and my mom and sister must have gotten the gene because they love to garden. Me? I didn't get that gene. I'm a city girl through and through. Very lovely post.

Mister Earl said...

In Hebrew, a rooster says kookooreekoo, similar to Hungarian. There's a Hebrew song about the rooster crowing. In a TV episode, Borat (Sascha Baron Cohen) tried to pass it off in a slower version at a minor league baseball game as part of the Kazakstan national anthem.

There's a joke about a rooster in the early part of Streetcar Named Desire. A rooster is chasing a hen all around the barnyard. He's chasing her and chasing her, and she's running for dear life all over the place. Finally, the farmer tosses a couple kernals of corn toward the rooster, who immediately stops chasing the hen and pounces on the corn. The farmer says, "I hope I'm never that hungry!"

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Vanda, I believe your chicken crowed.

Best mid-life story I've ever come across. Does being a miner count as living close to the land? More importantly, if I got myself a chicken (a live one) would that end my midlife crisis?

Love those photos


Vanda said...

PA, everything is possible.

Mr. Earl, Hungarians might have lifted the Hebrew word. They are a nation of gifted linguistic and gastronomical plunderers.

M, you just haven't yet met the perfect chicken yet. /wink

J&D said...


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