Monday, January 22, 2007

Chicken Business

Saturday I met with a great group of writers at the North Canton Public Library. I was a guest workshop leader with the Greater Canton Writers’ Guild, where I spoke on the topic of Writing Creative Nonfiction.

Creative Nonfiction is a genre that combines the creativity of fiction and poetry writing with the research and fieldwork of a journalist. The genre has been around for years in the form of essays and magazine articles and is often the style used for memoir. The writer of creative nonfiction usually writes in first person out of their own experience. Their quest for knowledge might lead them on an “adventure.” One source called this “immersion.” Other techniques the writer uses to gather information might be interviews, reading and research. Many creative nonfiction pieces have an element of subjectivity. so in that way they aren’t exactly like journalism.

The best creative nonfiction includes personal experience but goes well beyond the individual and personal to look at a broader topic that impacts many of us. The piece will be reflective since the writer must distill and shape her experiences, memories and things she’s learned in the course of her “adventures.”

In our class we took time to write short personal experience sketches and then talked about how they could be a springboard for a larger creative nonfiction piece. It was interesting to see the potential as we listened to several class members read their pieces. I didn’t read mine to the class but you can see it below.

Here is what I wrote during our class:
I had just finished putting eight large hair rollers which I secured with large bobby pins in my damp shoulder length hair. “Girls, don’t you think it’s about time to get out to the chicken house?” Our mother rarely gave any direct orders but her questions were usually enough to send us on our way. My sister and I grabbed our barn coats. Mine was an oily, gold colored reversible parka. The scent of chicken house lingered in the corner of the garage where it hung. I put a clean nylon scarf over my head and double-wrapped my curlered hair.

Dad was waiting with the egg carts filled with filler flats and a full spray bottle of mineral oil. He and I started on the left side, my sister went by herself to the right. We pushed the cart down the aisle and grabbed handfuls of white eggs from the wire trays where they rolled immediately after the white H&N leghorns had laid them. Some were still warm—a couple were damp. The noise in the place was cheerful with the cackling of several thousand hens. They lived three to a cage and spent their lives doing nothing but eating, drinking, laying eggs and talking to us when we came by. Dad said they were happy and I never doubted that a bit.

Our dogs, Toby and Trixie, who were a mix of golden retriever and cocker spaniel, could wander in the chicken house since the birds were all in cages. They followed us down the aisles snuffling up the soft-shelled eggs that slid through the wire. They had the shiniest coats of any dogs in the neighborhood.

Dad and I worked fast and took pride in our ability to grab up to four or even five eggs in one hand. We dropped them into the filler flats, points down, and when a flat was full we sprayed them with mineral oil. The oil sealed the pores and helped them stay fresh longer. Then we grabbed a new flat, gave it a half turn and placed it on top of the first one. We continued down the row with Dad and me facing one another piling the flats of eggs as we went. When the cart was full, we pushed it into the cooler and grabbed a new one.

The smell in the caged layer house was “intense” to say the least. I always worried that my hair smelled of the chicken house. That’s why I wore two scarves. But gathering eggs was my first job and it provided our family a good livelihood on a 48 acre farm in the 1950s and 1960s. I didn’t know many of the realities of agribusiness and probably none of us thought much about what was happening to small farms—or what would become of them as the years went by and “progress” and “technology” was applied to what my dad liked to call the “chicken business.”

Note to my readers: Here my musings stop for now, but my interest in this topic is building. Will I go out and immerse myself in the issues of egg production, packing and marketing? Why are few of these “caged layer operations” as my dad called ours, no longer in production? Where do supermarket eggs come from today? There is so much I don’t know and the lines above only hint at a beginning. Will I brave the sights, sounds and smells I’m bound to encounter if I set out to find the truth about the scrambled eggs on my breakfast plate? Maybe. Perhaps.
Lofty Thoughts

41 Comments:

At 4:27 PM, Blogger Rose McCauley said...

Dear Jo, I enjoyed browsing your blog. My DH's dad used to have caged layers when he was a kid so he could maybe answer some questions for you. love, your fellow storyweaver, rose

 
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At 7:09 PM, Blogger 翊翊翊翊張瑜翊翊翊 said...

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