42 Capons

During my packing plant career in the 1970s and 80s, I would spend Friday afternoons or evenings in a Vail, Iowa, bar. Whether it was Lucky’s, Homer’s, the Longbranch, or the American Legion Club, I could be found in one of them.

Vail, with a population of fewer than 500 residents, managed to support four bars. That was in the 1980s. Today, three of the bars remain in existence. There’s been a name change or two, a bit of remodeling, switch in ownership, but the same number of residents continue to keep three bars alive.

One afternoon, I was sitting with three other packinghouse workers enjoying a cool beer at the Legion Club. A young man walked in and asked if anyone was interested in buying some capons. We all knew him; he was brought up in a family of about ten or twelve who lived a few miles north of town.

Before I go on, I may need to explain to those not familiar with farm animals just what a capon is. A capon is a castrated rooster. A castrated horse is a gelding, a barrow is a castrated hog, a castrated bull is a steer, and a castrated human is respectfully called a eunuch. Capons are actually more tender and juicier than a hen. Besides, one can weigh up to ten pounds, dressed. That’s a lot of good tender, juicy, chicken meat.

We agreed to pay $50 for 42 capons. There was a catch; we had to go out to where he lived to capture them. They were all over the farmyard. I wasn’t able to go with them that Friday night. I don’t recall what prevented me from joining in the fun of corralling 42 chickens in the fading sunlight. However, I did offer to show up at Miller’s farm the next morning to help butcher. Also, since I didn’t participate in the Friday night chase, I promised all the gizzards, livers, hearts, etc. to those who did. [I could do without the livers, anyway.]

Saturday morning, seven of us set up a processing line, each with a different set of tasks. Within a couple hours, we tipped a few beers to a job well done. I took my seven wrapped capons home and placed them in the freezer of our refrigerator. Once defrosted, each had to be cut in two halves to fit in the pot. Eventually, I made soup out of all of them with the exception of one. It was roasted. My, they were delicious.

The following Monday, I had ridden to and from work with one of the other three guys. Coming back into town he asked if I wanted to stop for a beer. Sure, why not? The other two guys were sitting in the Legion Club already. We sat at the same table we had sat at the previous Friday.

We weren’t there very long when Teddy walked in. He stood at the bar, a few feet from us and, after he had ordered a beer, told the person he was standing next to that his hired hand took off last Friday, and what was strange is that he managed to take off with over forty capons. Oops! We all heard him.

We invited Teddy to sit down with us and we told him the story of how his hired hand came in asking if we wanted to buy some capons. Teddy was one of the most mild-mannered persons you could ever meet. He laughed. “Son-of-a-gun!” He shook his head and smiled.

We promised to chip in and pay him, but he wouldn’t have it. He said something about learning his lesson. Hell, we did, too. I just can’t remember, but I’m sure we paid Teddy something.

If you are ever offered a capon that is still alive, be sure that the person offering it owns it, and savor every bite. It will be the best chicken you ever eat.

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