Chicken feet: All smoke and mirrors

Folks who grew up in the country like to tell tall tales. My church’s Sunday luncheon group proved that recently.

The East Texans tried to outdo the North Louisianans – not to mention the Arkansans – regarding mud pies and hay lofts and torn britches and bare feet walking through fields of stickers and even chickens with their heads cut off, stumbling through the backyard. We’re talking old-time, country livin’ at its finest. And the unfortunate souls who grew up in the city were left behind in the historical – and sometimes hysterical – dust.

Since that Sunday afternoon of friendly conversation, all those memories about chickens and such have made me recollect not only those types of experiences, but also ideas of a more peculiar and superstitious nature that circulated among rural families in the 20th century, mine included.

It’s not that Mama and Daddy held onto those ideas as a belief. I’m sure they just shared them with Sister and me to have a bit of fun. I mean, both my parents had master’s degrees and were, shall we say, rather erudite in their approach to life. Even so, we do have roots that come from deep within the countryside, and I’m intensely proud of that fact.

And I love thinking back on such customs and wonder how many people are aware of them today.

For example, have you ever heard that if you eat a chicken foot behind a door and no one sees you, you’ll become beautiful? I knew that bit of wisdom from the time I was, as we from the country say, knee-high to a grasshopper. Mama, who I believe was a pretty woman, always said she had done that with a chicken foot as a girl– but that she’d been found out, and that’s why she didn’t end up beautiful.

I admit: I tried it myself when I was about 9 years old in the dining room at Ma and Papa’s farmhouse on top of that steep hill in Union Parish and, as I recall, got away with it.

I love that superstition so much I sometimes shared it with my Louisiana Tech feature writing class, just to spread the charm. After one such lecture, a young woman who’d never even heard of eating chicken feet finagled somebody into cooking one for her and wrote a personal experience story about its consumption. Good times.

Hint: As far as I’m concerned, chicken feet should be boiled and are best served with dumplings.

Now, just to make this discussion more scholarly, let us note that one possible explanation for the chicken-foot ritual is that it originated from the belief that chickens symbolize good luck and prosperity and that eating a chicken foot will bring those qualities to the person who scåarfs it down.

And while we’re on the subject of good looks, what about smoke following beauty? Mama related that superstition to us as well, and I remember Sister and me burning big piles of leaves, each of us hoping the smoke would pursue her. Frankly, I think we both tried to stand on the downwind side.

Of course, regarding superstitions, let’s not forget the ones involving misfortune. Examples: a black cat crossing your path and a broken mirror both mean bad luck. But fear not. Such curses can be overcome. As for the mirror, simply bury the shattered pieces under the light of a full moon, and your luck will turn.

Knock on wood.

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Thomas FieldsThomas “Tuffy” Fields is an author and regular contributor to The Gazette. He can …

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