"Hey, John Ose, which one of these birds is the scrawniest?" Arch Pennock asked, eying the chickens.Janos Tamas stopped what he was doing and looked up from his place inside the open air market stall. Behind him were crates of live chickens. In front of him were half a dozen plucked, gutted birds, hanging head down. Off to one side was a hook over a large kettle of boiling water for plucking. At the other side of the stall was a gutting and sorting area. Livers, hearts and gizzards, and other innards each went into separate buckets.
"Mister Pennock, good morning. What means scrawniest?"
"The least plump, the smallest."
"Mister Pennock, if you want a cheap chicken, they are cheaper live."
Arch shook his head. "No, John. I want it plucked. I just want an old, tough, scrawny one that's too stringy to fry and too skinny to bake."
"Mister Pennock, are you sure? Nobody asks for that."
"It's what I want, John."
"Well, if you are sure, I have just the bird. You come back in little bit and I have it ready for you."
"That's fine, John. I've got some other things to pick up."
After Arch had walked the market and picked up some garden produce, he stopped back for his chicken. As asked for, it was indeed a scrawny old bird. Arch smiled. "It's exactly what I wanted."
Janos was worried. He thought the only way he was going to sell that bird was when it was the only one left. He found Arch's smile reassuring. "Mister Pennock, can I ask why?"
"Sure. I've got a hankering for my grandmother's chicken and dumplings. She only used the oldest hens to make dumplings and I want it to be just right. I could make a better dish, but I'm cooking a memory as much as I'm making dinner." He didn't add that he could get a chicken from the grocery store near his home for not that much more, and he could save himself the walk. He liked the walk. Then, too, he wanted a freshly plucked bird, not one that had been in the meat locker for several days even if it was kept just above freezing. His grandmother's chicken went into the pot minutes after it was plucked. He thought it made a difference.
Janos got a faraway look in his eyes. "I know just what you mean. My bushka, my grandmother, she would make the most wonderful dumplings. When there wasn't enough of any one thing in the house to feed everybody, she would make dumplings. I miss them. The food is good, but I miss those." Janos was living in a settlement house, a co-op one step up from a refugee camp, practically a dorm. When he said the food was good, he meant there was enough to eat, but, truth be told, it wasn't the cooking he was used to.
"Well, hey, you know where I live don't you?"
"Tell you what, I'll start the pot a little late and you come on 'round after you shut down for the day. You can share a bowl or two with me so I don't have to eat alone."
"Are you sure, Mister Pennock?"