CHICKEN THIS OR CHICKEN THAT!
ate a lot of basic foods in the old days. Chicken was one of them. You
fried it, stewed it, roasted it, broiled it, boiled it, ground it and
fixed it just about every way except plain raw. It tasted different with
every modification, but you could always recognize it as chicken.
All this talk is leading up to a special flavor I discovered in
Piedras Negras while employed down there. I was working for W. Lee
O’Daniel during his big advertising campaign and I spent long hours
across the border from
, enjoying the actions of a border radio station. We arrived very early
in the morning and didn't return until after 10:30 at night, so there
was a lot of time in
and not too much in
, I had a small room above a cafe. It was the usual cheap room with no
cooking facilities and a bath at the end of the hall. My early breakfast
consisted of a bowl of cereal of some sort and a can of condensed milk.
My inventory of cooking utensils consisted of a bowl, a spoon and a can
I met Juan along the curb at the station. He would watch visitors
or workers cars all day for a few cents and see that no one stole it or
tampered with it. He was about my age, and spoke English very well. From
the first meeting, we were friends. He was well dressed and well
groomed, and apparently was a successful business man at that early age.
Juan had a brother that he called Pedro who came by several times
a day with a push cart. He was selling tamales and chicken sandwiches.
Ordinarily I ate tamales for lunch and chicken for supper. Pedro's
chicken had a different and distinctive flavor. After over seventy
years, I can still remember exactly how it tasted, but I have difficulty
describing it. I will just say that it had a flavor that I liked, and I
ate a lot of it.
Juan had still another brother who was a policeman of some
sort. At least he wore a uniform. He was older than Juan and Pedro and
came by frequently to see if Juan was having any trouble. There were
other boys around the station who practiced the same vocation and would
offer to watch your car for less. Sometimes some of the older and
rougher watchers attempted to drive out the younger and weaker ones.
This is where Juan's policeman brother came in very handy. Juan did a
good job and kept his regular customers. Often when his cars were
scattered, he employed some of the other boys to help him watch.
One Saturday night Juan asked me to spend the night with
him and go to the chicken fights the next day. Since the station was
practically shut down on Sunday except for recorded programs, I decided
it would be fun and accepted the invitation.
We walked to Juan's home, which was just a few blocks from the
downtown section of the little town. He lived in a two room building
without water or electricity. The back room was closed with a crude
door. He told me that his sister lived there, but was seldom home. She
worked in a bar. He said his parents lived a few blocks over and had a
cafe downtown. The house had a dirt floor which appeared to be well
packed and reasonably clean. There was a toilet a few feet from the rear
of the house, and I guessed from the smell that it might be used by
several other people. There was a clean looking bed in one corner and a
table and two chairs about the middle. A lamp was on the table and a box
of matches beside it. He had taken one from his pocket and lit the
"It's not much of a house," he told me, "but it
serves the purpose. It doesn't get cold enough to need a fire and I get
all my meals at the cafe or from Pedro."
With little more conversation we crawled in the bed and were soon
It was still dark, and I heard someone open the door.
"Wake up, Juan - time to go." It was Pedro. Juan woke
up quickly. I was already awake. Pedro had struck a match and lit the
lamp. "I've got a lunch in the wagon, so let's get going."
So we got going. I crawled in the back of a rickety wagon.
It was loaded with a wooden barrel and a few large boxes and sacks. Juan
sat beside me and Pedro crawled on the board seat in front. Two donkeys
were hitched to the wagon, and after considerable coaxing they started
down the street. Soon we were out of town and heading southwest toward
some hilly country. There were a few lights in town, but no one was on
the street. We soon rattled into the country and continued down a dirt
road. The sun was beginning to show a little red light in the east.
In about a couple of hours we turned off the road and into a
lightly wooded forest and in a few minutes we saw a bunch of wagons,
buggies, horses and even a few old automobiles.
"This is it," Juan said. "Our first job is
to gather some wood for a fire. Pedro is going to heat some water."
Pedro walked into a clump of bushes and dragged out an old cast iron
wash pot, turned upside down. He turned it upright and placed three
charred rocks under the legs. He took two large zinc coated buckets
from under the wagon seat and started toward a thicket of willows
about two hundred yards to the west. "I'll get the water," he
explained, "and you two get the wood."
Juan grabbed an ax and we walked into the woods. He told me that
they had used most of the dead wood that was close, so we would have to
walk a little farther to find some. But it didn't take long and we soon
found an old dead tree on the ground. Juan chopped off two big arm loads
for us to carry back.
By the time Pedro got the fire going, there was
activity farther down the valley, and a crowd was beginning to gather.
Juan and I walked down there and I saw a lot of chicken crates with
roosters in them.
Old Timer Tale will be concluded in the next issue.