January 26 '08
Volume 608

Dennis’ Dislike Ruffling Feathers

Other than an occasional vegetarian, I don’t run across too many people who don’t eat poultry, chicken in particular. And, if the next Great War fought on this earth is anything like the apocalypse many feel it will be, then I’m going on record to say vegetarians are going to experience a change of heart and a change of diet.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to be more tolerant of those whose dietary preferences clash with mine. That’s something that would have made a good New Year’s resolution for me, had I thought of it sooner.

Since this article is a continuation of comments last week on how I consider friendships formed in the workplace an unheralded corporate fringe benefit, perhaps, it’s time to resume the adventure of my travel to Kenosha, Wisconsin a few days ago.

When Wayne Hunter and I departed Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Tuesday morning we knew we would be meeting Mark Frank and Dennis Conn in Champaign, Illinois, before continuing the drive to Kenosha. Mark is a relative newcomer to the team of retail technology consultants in our region, but Dennis Conn came over on the Mayflower (joke).

I first met Dennis when we both had managerial positions in our respective wholesale divisions. Dennis managed the Retail Technology Department for J.M. Jones in Champaign, and I was his counterpart for Lewis Grocer Co., Indianola, Mississippi. In 1990, our companies were already a part of SUPERVALU, spelled Super Valu in those days, but our retail customers knew us better by our division names, J.M. Jones and Lewis Grocer.

Somewhere on the Kenosha trail, Dennis shared with us, "I don’t eat chicken."

It was a nugget of knowledge I had allowed to slip my mind, but as soon as he mentioned it, I remembered hearing him make a similar comment last year at one of our regional meetings.

Dennis forgave my forgetfulness and commented, "But, you’d think my parents could remember I don’t eat poultry! Yet, every Thanksgiving, Mom tries to push some turkey on me. Sometimes, she puts chicken or turkey in something thinking she can fool me into eating it."

Dennis vividly recalled how his aversion to chicken emanated from his childhood, "I was no more than six or seven years old, and I ate meat, but it was meat like bologna, hot dogs, Vienna Sausages, and Spam. I wouldn’t eat anything with a bone in it."

Dennis explained that his two sets of grandparents were quite different. One granddad was always taking time to teach him farm related tasks, but the other granddad didn’t.

"Years later, I asked my mother why her dad was so mean, when I was young." Dennis shared. "She said he wasn’t mean to me, but that he was very business oriented and was probably more concerned about making a livelihood for the family than spending time with a grandson."

Dennis’s paternal grandparents allowed Dennis to participate in family chores when he visited them. Being at a tender age and not wise to what constituted the "meats" he enjoyed eating, Dennis had no idea that some farm animals were destined for the family dinner table.

"My granddad would catch a chicken by its legs with a long piece of wire and wring its neck and then take a hatchet and chop its head off on a block. The headless chickens were dead, but as soon as he dropped one it would run every which way flopping and bleeding all over the place," Dennis remembered. "My grandmother was seated over by a big pot of boiling water on an open fire in the backyard. It was my job to gather up the dead chickens, once they stopped flouncing around, and take them to my grandmother. She’d dunk them in the boiling water, or I think she did, and then she’d pluck off their feathers. Well, the sight of all that blood and the smell of wet chicken feathers was pretty traumatizing to me. Then, when we sat down to eat dinner, there’d be fried chicken on the table, but I said, ‘I’m not eating that.’"

I can recall a similar scene at my granddad’s farm in Thaxton, Mississippi, but I was never asked to help, and I may have been a year or so older than Dennis was when he was first exposed to animal slaughter on the farm. It’s hard to say why we both witnessed similar acts, but only one of us was persuaded to enjoy the end result.

"Would you believe," Dennis asked, "I was a sophomore in high school before I ever ate a steak? It was a t-bone, and had it not been for peer pressure from fellow athletes, I don’t think I’d have eaten one then."

Returning to more recent food memories, Dennis shared, "I think I’ve found a way to keep my family happy at Holiday meals. I look for the smallest piece of turkey on the platter and put it in on my plate. I’ll eat small bits of it throughout the meal. This seems to satisfy my family."

Ah, the sacrifices one makes for family. For my generation, our parents sacrificed so that we could have things to enjoy, and as we grew older we found the balance of sacrifice shifted, and often we were called to sacrifice for the sake of our parents. Sometimes our sacrifice was in finding time to run errands for them or chauffeur them about. And, sometimes, it became our lot to care for them in their golden years. As the sage observed, it is how we pay for our ‘raising.’

As for Dennis, having found a means to reduce his parents "hand wringing" over his aversion to poultry, I find it interesting the fifteen acre farm near Tuscola that he and his wife purchased last year has free-range chickens in the yard and ducks on the pond. While the critters are safe from any act on Dennis’ part, I understand at least one duck has fallen prey to a hawk.

My travel companions and I arrived at our motel in Kenosha before dark. The remnants of an earlier snowfall were noted as we made our way inside.

Dennis made sure I saw the snow and warned me he was making me a snowball. I asked him to let me get a picture of him throwing it in my direction, carefully noting he should aim to miss me. The snowball can be seen in flight in the lower left corner of the photo.

At check-in, each of us was given a $10.00 coupon valid at a nearby local establishment specializing in alcoholic beverages. I don’t drink alcohol but saw no good reason not to accompany my friends. Our certificates paid the tab and left plenty of tip-money for the waitress.

An effort was made to find a deck of cards in order to play a card game named Eucher. I was told it was the sort of card game one could play and carry on conversation while playing, because it wasn’t too complicated from a rules and strategy perspective. Our first stop was Gander Mountain, which had most anything one might need in sporting goods, but they had sold out of playing cards. At the local establishment specializing in alcoholic beverages, the eight-dollar price on a deck of cards was too steep for our needs. Perhaps, one of the guys will bring a deck along on our next trip.

The strength of friendships in the corporate world may be negatively influenced by the physical distance separating individuals. Dennis and I have remained friends almost twenty years in spite of the miles that separate us and the infrequent meetings that call us together. It’s too bad neither of us have another twenty years of working in our future, for I believe our friendship would continue to strengthen.

A Corn What Mark Frank Knows

Two years ago, Wayne Hunter and I drove to Champaign for a regional meeting. I was puzzled by what appeared to be an upper room atop many of the barns we saw in Illinois. I asked Wayne if he knew the purpose of the structure, but he didn’t. I seem to remember asking a few folks at our meeting, but none of them knew either.

Seeing them again this year, our curiosity was roused again.

"I know, let’s ask Dennis and Mark," Wayne suggested, "They live up here, and I’ll bet they know."

The "upper room" as pictured here, is representative of the style we most often saw, but many rooms were much larger, and all of them had a door.

Thankfully, there were a few such structures along our route from Champaign to Kenosha.

Wayne asked the question, "What’s with the room on top of the barns around here?" directing our companions attention to that which had us curious.

Mark confidently stated it was used by a "corn hiker."

"They put those on top of corn cribs," he explained.

Neither Wayne Hunter nor I was familiar with a corn hiker and it took a bit of explaining on the part of Mark and Dennis for me to understand the concept.

As I understand it, the upper room has a doorway, often on both sides. The purpose of the door is to be an access point for the conveyor to escalate ears of corn from ground level to the top of the crib. A hopper in the room allows a worker to direct the ears of corn to different areas of the barn-sized corn crib.

Mark stated "hiker" was native slang for any conveyor system used on the farm, whether it moved hay or corn into a barn.

Finally, it all made sense. Illinois farmland is planted predominately in corn. Therefore it takes a lot of storage space for the annual harvest, which explains why the cribs are so large. Honestly, here in North Mississippi, my mental image of a corn crib is an out building smaller than a one car garage.

Bodock Beau Menopause Jewelry

My husband, being unhappy with my menopausal-induced mood swings, bought me a mood ring the other day so he would be able to monitor  my moods.

We’ve discovered that when I’m in a good mood, it turns green.

When I’m in a bad mood, it leaves a big red mark on his forehead.

Maybe next time he’ll buy me a diamond.

Contributed by Ralph Jones


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