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The Details of Tomato Butt

May 15, 2008 | 8 Comments


Post to the Host:
I teach 8th grade literature and attempt to cover as many genres as possible. I've now added "Story Telling" as a genre of American Literature, and we listen to some of your monologues as part of this. "Chicken" and "Tomato-Butt" are their favorites.

Nancy O.
Fort Wayne, IN

You did right, Nancy, though I'm not sure 8th graders are ready to tell stories about themselves — I remember it as a time of horrible self-consciousness, and though kids today are way much cooler and savvier than back then, I don't favor making vulnerable people expose themselves to classmates. There was a vogue toward journal-writing in comp classes long ago that I had doubts about too. I favor letting kids enjoy the cocoon awhile longer. But I'm all in favor of them listening to other people —such as me, for example—tell stories about our sufferings and comeuppances. My sister, by the way, argues with the details of "Tomato Butt" and doesn't remember it the same way I do, but it's all quite vivid in my mind, the young man who yielded happily and quickly to temptation out of plain curiosity— what does it feel like to do the wrong thing?—and I've been yielding ever since. Chickens—a painful subject: I was so self-conscious about the fact that my father liked to get a few crates of chickens and butcher them in our garage and backyard, which nobody else in our neighborhood did. (We lived in the country as it was rapidly getting suburbanized.) All that clucking when we got up on a Saturday morning, and then the slaughtering, the blood, the terrible smell of the boiling water they were dipped in, and of course it was all to save money—we were a family of eight—but to me it seemed like such a poor-person thing to do, and I was all for subterfuge and my father was not. He was a country person; I am not. (In fact, I think I was in the 8th grade before he consented to store-bought chicken.) Chicken slaughtering and the home haircut and the handmedown clothes and belonging to a tiny fundamentalist sect, the Sanctified Brethren—that was the suffering of my rather happy childhood and I still talk about it, if invited to, which is not nearly often enough. Telling stories is the poor man's therapy.


8 Comments



READING YOUR POST TO THE HOST REPLY BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES OF FEELING UNCOMFORTABLE WHEN MY MOM SENT ME TO THE LOCAL GROCERY STORE TO BUY 25 CENTS WORTH OF
"OLD POTATOES." IT ALWAYS MADE ME WONDER IF WE WERE TOO POOR TO AFFORD NEW ONES ! OF COURSE, NOW, SOME 60 YEARS LATER, I REALIZE THAT THEY WERE BETTER FOR MASHING ! I LOVE READING ALL OF THESE POSTS AND THE ARCHIVES AND MRS. SUNDBERG'S COMMENTS. THANKS FOR THE NOSTALGIA.


I too remember the unmistakable odor of boiled chicken feathers! It took weeks after the eventful day before I could eat chicken. My father hates chicken to this day!

But, oh, for the taste of an honest chicken, raised on a farm, clucking around the garden or in the feedlot! Todays factory output chickens are merely something to chuck down with lots of grease, dipping sauce or marinade to give it some flavor and make it palatable!

:-)


Happily, some of us still have relatives who raise and butcher their own chickens each year. I just ordered 25 from my sister-in-law. But I have yet to help with the ordeal preferring to take the packages wrapped in white paper with her undecipherable scribbles or codes for half, whole or giblets.


What is the tomato butt story? I might have one and not even know it. I would like very much to find out.
I love your story telling!
Barbara Miller
Yes, I'm Lutheran.


"Tomato-Butt" has been a favorite at this house, too.
But I was taken back to my childhood with your discussion about chickens. Now I know I was not alone. My mother grew up on a farm, and continued the practice of chopping the heads off chickens in our back yard. (She got the chickens from my uncle, who still lived and worked on the farm.) We lived in a small town in Iowa. My sister and I would stand on tiptoes on our beds to look out our tiny upstairs bedroom windows while our parents killed a chicken. The bloodbath and violence was enough, but we learned why there is the phrase "running around like a chicken with its head cut off".
But no one will ever forget the smell of the chicken feathers in that boiling water. It was my job to pluck those feathers from the flesh. And my mother would immerse her arm into the chicken and pull out the gizzard to dissect it and find out what the chicken had eaten before its untimely death.
We only bought eggs from a farmer and grew all our vegetables in a large garden. "Boughten" bread was revered for it's standardized size and texture, since my mother baked all our bread.
We had the home haircuts and all----many tears after a particularly severely short cut. And my mother sewed all of our clothes. She bought me only one dress in my whole life, and I have saved that precious garment.
You've managed to bring back the smells of my childhood in memory; a blacksmith's shop, chicken feathers, freshly baked bread, new fabric, and the hen house. Thanks, I think.


As I grew up in Indiana,on a farm I too remember the Chicken, Only, I was the one as a young child to kill the chicken, not only do I remember the boiling the chicken, Mom would sing the chicken before the boiling water, so it would burn the feathers, It was always be for our Sunday dinner, she could make the best Chicken gravy, and then we would always have Chicken gravy for Monday mornin, before we went to school. I guess, the kids now would have something sweet. I loved farm life , We all hadf chores to do. Do you think kids would know how to milk a cow before they went to school? I think not.My granddaughter doesn't know what fried potatoes are.But, she know's what french fries are..doesn't like gravy..But, thats another story, for another time. Just wanted to say Hey, you sure give me reason to Pause..I love that..Keep on --tell us those stories..as always Sue Myers..Still livin in the country..


Oh what memories the chicken story brings. As someone growing up in a family of eight myself, chickens had to be stretched to a fair level for all. Ummm ummm chicken backs for Sunday dinner again. Of course with the bisquits(unfortunately not Powdermilk though)and accompanying milk gravy, the pieces we got were enough. I also remember raising a dozen young chicks for the Future Farmers of America project. It was alright until time came to kill off one of the duelling roosters to keep peace in the egg laying henhouse.
Never again I say never again.
I really do enjoy your shows and am an avid fan. Keep it up as long as you have fun doing it!


My mother and I would listen to you every Sunday morning while we cooked together in in our floury old kitchen. I went away to college, but still kept our kitchen close through your show and your stories. I am now 29, so it has been 20 yrs now that you have made me chuckle. I have a request and it is long overdue. Please ask The Greencards to play on your show. They are charming, warm, funny, smart, charasmatic, and genuine. And to top it off, they are amazing musicians! Bluegrass my friends! Beautiful, life is good, pat each other on the back, the sun should be shining bluegrass! Ask them. Two Australians and a Brit. What could go wrong?

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