Chickens in the ’hood


The other morning, as I was sitting on my front porch in a rocking chair enjoying a cup of coffee before I left for work, I thought I heard a “clucking” sound. I stopped rocking and listened a bit more intensely. Yep, there it was. I was hearing the sound of chickens from a house near mine.

The sound brought back memories. When I was a child, I spent some time at my cousins’ house. Ruby, my mom’s sister, was married to John Honeycutt. They had three children, John, Pashie, and Jeff. Johnny, as he was known back then, was exactly four years younger than me, having been born on my 4th birthday. The others were younger so it was mostly Johnny and I who did things together on the farm.

Uncle John worked at the Eastman Chemical Products plant in nearby Kingsport but, at night and on the weekends, he worked on his property. There was a barn, a pond, and a pasture. There may have been cows, but there were definitely horses, which we rode in the field that was eventually taken over by the government and now contains a portion of I-81.

There were also chickens. I was allowed to help feed the chickens and to collect the farm fresh eggs which we would see again at the next day’s breakfast. I also chased the chickens (which was not allowed) but never caught one. I chased a rooster once but he chased back and I never tried that again. The memories were sweet ones.

The clucking of chickens in my neighborhood also brought back memories of Bob Luster. To me, Bob Luster was ancient. I was very young but he had been retired for years, had white hair, and walked with a slight stoop. He and his wife lived directly across the street from my home, which was on Hill Street.

Later, we would be annexed into the city, which already had a Hill Street so our Hill Street was renamed Busbee Street. But, before all that, there were chickens in Bob Luster’s back yard.

Bob and his wife (I think her name was Bertha) raised the chickens for the eggs but, if he had a non-producer, Sunday dinner brought fried chicken.

Once, I was present when one of the chickens was about to become dinner. In the Tennessee hills, the three daily meals are called breakfast, dinner, and supper. Dinner is what other people call “lunch.”

Anyway, in Bob Luster’s back yard is where I saw my first chicken decapitation. A quick swing of a hatchet and the chicken’s head lay motionless on the ground. The body, however, took off like a spastic ballet dancer on meth. After years of hearing the phrase, “He’s running around like a chicken with his head cut off,” I finally understood.

The neighborhood girls thought it was gross and never came back again to watch. The neighborhood boys tried to be present for every execution. Those were good memories, too.

The other memory that flooded in was the smell of my mother’s fried chicken. When Zac Brown sings, “You know I like my chicken fried …” I understand what he means. No commercial chicken specialty restaurant has ever cooked chicken like my mom.

Even now, I can hear the sizzle of Crisco and smell the aroma coming from her kitchen. I can feel the crunch of that first bite and can relive the taste of her incredibly moist fried chicken. That memory is both sweet and sad and makes me miss my Momma who departed this earth about 10 years ago.

Some folks might not like the sounds of chicken clucking at the crack of dawn. I am not one of those people. In fact, if I thought the wife and the cats would approve, I’d get a few myself.

For now, I will content myself with the sounds from across the road — and with the memories they bring.

[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sharpsburg, GA ( . He is the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese which consists of Georgia and Tennessee ( and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at]