The one-legged chicken my cousin Mike and his spouse Darlene cooked on their grill sums up about how I feel about my relatives in Wisconsin and the dairy state in general.
As I detailed last week, my brother and I drove Mom and Dad to Wittenberg (population 1,177) recently for a quick family reunion over a couple of beers with aunts, uncles and later, a few cousins.
Mike and Dar have interesting stories.
Mike was on his way to Vietnam with 213 other soldiers when their military charter flight was intercepted by Soviet jets on July 1, 1968. The American airplane had unintentionally violated Soviet airspace and was forced to land on an extremely remote Soviet-controlled island in the Pacific Ocean. For two days, the soldiers and crew were kept under gunpoint and confined to the airplane and its immediate vicinity. When the food on the airplane ran out, they were fed military rations. Finally, negotiators won release of the hostages, and Mike arrived in Vietnam as a POW survivor before his tour of duty even started.
At the same time, Darlene was a member of the She 5, an all-girl teen band from Fox Valley, Wis., an area only a few miles away from Wittenberg. The girls signed on to do a USO show in Vietnam. Needless to say the young women dressed in hot pants were a huge hit with the troops.
Mike didn’t have a ticket to a show in which the She 5 were playing, but he was assigned to drive an officer, who did have a ticket, to the performance. As fate would have it, the officer got sick at the last minute, and Mike got to attend the show.
Several years later, Mike returned home and took a job at a factory where Dar was also employed. Risking a stale come-on line Mike soon asked his pretty co-worker, “haven’t I seen you someplace before?” They figured it out, began dating and then married.
The fact that the one-legged chicken turned up in the conversation early with the aunts and uncles isn’t surprising. Talking food is one of the favorite pastimes in Wisconsin. For example, on a bicycle trip through the state a few years earlier, we couldn’t help but notice that everywhere we went people were watching coverage of the international bratwurst eating contest. You know people take their food seriously when they are glued to a TV showing slow motion replays accompanied by commentary and teleprompter arrows of someone stuffing the winning sausage in their mouth.
Anyway, when the aunts and uncles were going through some photos they came across the one of the one-legged chicken. Mike had bought it at the local grocery store and was surprised to see it was missing a leg when he unwrapped it. He might have taken it back, but that might seem like complaining, and the chicken was sold by the pound so he wasn’t out any money. There was one small problem, however. Since he was planning on cooking it up-the-butt style with a can of beer, he realized the chicken would not stand with just one leg. Did he despair? No, he made a small prosthetic device, cooked the chicken, took its photo and ate it.
Later he shared photos of the fowl, and the story was the talk of the family and town for a couple of days. It was just about to die out when another cousin, Mike’s brother Jim, got involved. Jim is the butcher at the store where Mike bought the chicken and he remembered setting it out for sale. He knew that chicken and the story made the rounds a second time.
And that’s how my family and people in the dairy state are. They love food, beer and hate to complain. They are close and share in each other’s life. They are easily entertained. They are my family.