Mama leaned over the barrel of chicks, examining the downy puffs scrambling over one another's back, tiny feet scratching the newspaper padding. She was shopping for hens for my baby brother and his wife, because that's what every newlywed couple needs: 6 place settings of chicken.
Sensing her dilemma, a salesman approached. He boomed authoritatively, "You see here ma'am, you hold the chick's neck in your fingers like this." He demonstrated, making a peace sign with the fingers of his right hand then flipping his hand over, palm up, and slipping the V of his fingers firmly onto an unsuspecting chick's neck. He lifted until the chick's legs dangled in the air.
"If it struggles, like this one here," he continued, holding it a little higher, "it's a rooster. If it gives in and hangs there, then it's a hen." Misinterpreting the expression on my mother's face, he added, "Don't worry, ma'am. It don't hurt 'em none."
My mama has lived a lot of years - enough that if I told you exactly how many, she would come over here and remind me about minding my manners - and she has raised her fair share of fowl. Not until that day had she ever, even once, witnessed or heard of such chicken gender divining methods. While she stood speechless, still staring into the poultry pen, the salesman walked away to aid a customer in the equine department and another man sidled over.
"Lookin' for hens, aintcha," he stated. "I tell you how to tell 'em," and he proceeded to give my mother precisely the same instructions as the clerk.
"How do you know that it works?" Mama asked.
He pointed toward the horse feed. "That man yonder told me yesterday."
My mother shrugged her shoulders, decided any method is better than no method, and started giving chicks the peace sign until she had picked 6 that either played dead or feigned enjoyment when she lifted them.
You know, people are even more particular about gender when selecting a kitten. "Think that would work for kittens?" I asked my mom.
"I don't know," my mother winced. "Kittens are different from chicks. They're heavier for one thing, and they scratch. And it might traumatize the kids to hear the kittens scream and whine."
"But did it work," I asked her. "For the chicks?"
"All six of the hens," she informed me, "grew up to be roosters."
"Hhmm," I sighed.
My mother, however, deviously said, "On the other hand, if you hold them like that long enough, the kittens, I mean," - she put her fingers in the necessary position, holding an imaginary kitten - "it won't matter which ones are males and which ones are females." And she smiled. If she had a mustache she would have twisted it.
It is a trying task to rid oneself of fresh felines. Nonetheless, I don't condone this method. Just passing on ideas.
(Disclaimer: No chicks or kittens were harmed while typing this column....so chill.)
(Lucy Adams is a syndicated columnist, freelance writer and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. She lives in Thomson. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)