FEATHER TEA FOR THE OLD TIMER
By Norris Chambers
One afternoon I was prepared to spend the night with Ike Slate. When school dismissed Ike and I started hiking west toward his home. He lived about three miles away in an area where mesquite trees and post oaks were abundant. I felt a cold coming on and was sneezing a little now and then. I wasn’t suffering any yet, but I knew the worst was yet to come.
When we arrived we were cordially greeted by his mother and younger sister who was still under school age. We hadn’t been in the house long when I was forced to emit a noisy sneeze. Ike’s mother looked at me but didn’t say anything. Before I could excuse myself I was overwhelmed by another outburst.
“You must be catching a cold!” she exclaimed. “How long have you been sneezing?”
“It’s nothing,” I assured her. “I guess it’s just something in the air. I’ll be all right.”
That might have ended the discussion but at that moment I just had to sneeze again.
“That’s the beginning of a cold,” she insisted. “You’ve got to have a dose of feather tea.”
I hadn’t heard of feather tea. It didn’t sound all that good!
“Ike, go get a big hen. We’ll have chicken for supper and a cold cure for Norris!”
I went with Ike to get the chicken. There were a bunch of old black hens puttering around the cow lot. Ike pulled a long willow pole from under the feed shed. There was a long, thin wire hook on the smaller end. He held the pole low and began calling the chickens. They came running toward us expecting to be fed. After picking a large fat one he slipped the hook over one of her legs and pulled her toward us. She started squawking and the noise spread to the rest of the flock. I have heard less noise when a skunk was raiding a chicken house. The capture was successful and Ike’s mother met us at the lot gate.
She took the hen and without any comment started pulling the long wing feathers and dropping them in a bucket that she had brought with her. The chicken began such noisy squawking that the whole barnyard became alarmed. When she had about a half bucket of the
long black feathers she grabbed the neck of the noisy bird and started swinging it around in a vertical circle. Soon the body was separated from the head and lay fluttering on the ground. She pitched the head aside and headed for the house. We followed meekly and I was wondering what the next step would be.
When we came to the kitchen a large kettle was boiling on top of the stove and a full head of steam was rolling out of the spout. She poured a bucket about half full of the hot water and pushed the hen down in it.
“Ike, you and your sister take the chicken out and pick it.” She commanded and then poured a glass about half full of the boiling water. She gathered the long feathers that she has brought in and stuffed the sharp ends into the water until it was so full it would hold no more. She left it steaming on the table and walked out of the room. She told me she’d be back in a minute. When she returned she pulled the feathers out of the glass and poured something out of a big crock jug into it until it was full.
“You drink the whole glass as soon as it is cool enough - the hotter the better!” I was shocked and before I could think of anything to say I picked up the glass and started sipping. The concoction had a sour, rancid taste. I suspected that the liquid from the jug was vinegar. I thought about pouring the glass of stuff out and running but after so much preparation I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. As the liquid cooled I held my nose and drank it. That was many years ago but I have never tasted anything horrible enough to compare with it. Finally I turned my nose loose and placed the empty glass on the table.
“Good!” she exclaimed. “Now you can tell that cold bye, bye! You can go out and help Ike and Rosie with the feather picking and we’ll soon have fried chicken and gravy for supper!”
Your first question would be, “Did it cure your cold?” My answer would be “I guess it did. I quit sneezing.” The second question “Was the fried chicken good and was the whole thing a lot of fun?” My answer would be, “The chicken was good and I always try to have fun – but the feather tea? I might have to pass on that one!”