Wednesday, May 11, 2005

the artifact

The instructions seemed so simple….

Assemble the following:

3 cans baking powder
3 boxes baking soda
Lots of freezer bags
Paper towels
Rubbing alcohol
Plastic gloves
Lots of salt
Scented oil
Various spices
Water, white glue
AND, strips of white linen fabric,

Oh yes, and one chicken, pre-plucked.

I had finally joined the ranks of the HCHSM, also known as, Hard Core Home School Moms.That morning we would begin a project that was to be my crowning moment in home education…

We were about to mummify a chicken.

We had spent days reading detailed accounts of people with names like Hatshedsoot and Nephrotitti, and Ramses, and other Egyptian notables who had been embalmed, their internal organs neatly and precisely removed, spiced, wrapped and stuffed into little jars. I figured that if guys who had never even heard of a microwave could do it, why couldn’t I?

I looked at my children. There they were: three boys with rubber gloves on their hands, peanut butter and jelly on their mouths. I heard one whisper, “Do you think she knows what she’s doing?”

“I’ll bet she never even did this in college,” his brother said.

“Ssshhh, said my oldest. “This is cool. Maybe she will let us do this to the cat when it dies.”

Well, first, we washed down that bird. I mean to tell you, by the time we were done,that was one clean capon. Mohammed Ali should have hoped for such an alcohol rub down.

“This bird had pimples but I rubbed ‘em off.”

“I’m telling mom!!!”

“Those aren’t pimples, dummy, those are chicken pox.”

I placed the chicken in a freezer bag and held both the bag and the chicken open while the boys poked the salt and spice mixture inside the bird, inside the bag, inside their pockets, everywhere you could place it. And when I thought that chicken had had enough, I sealed the bag.

We set the chicken on the back porch, where my cat sat, Sphinx-like, guarding it. We checked it every single day for the first week. On days when it seemed wet,we repeated the salt down process. On other days, we simply opened the bag and reverently looked at it.

Week two went by. Weeks three, four, and five were uneventful. We continued our study of ancient Egypt. We stacked cereal boxes and built pyramids. We made a miniature Nile River in the backyard. Our neighbor lady thought we were crazy to dig up perfectly good sod but she was slightly interested when she saw the plastic reeds growing on its banks in November. (Just so you’ll know, she hasn’t liked us very much ever since we made the paper mache to-scale replica of Mount Rushmore on the garage door and a big wind blew up, sending Teddy Roosevelt rough riding through her tomato plants.)

Finally, after six weeks, we were ready. We cut inch wide strips of cloth and soaked them in the water and glue mixture. The directions said that the Egyptian priests used scented oil. But for some reason that morning, I couldn’t find any kind of oil whatsoever, no vegetable oil, no olive oil, not even any baby oil. I rummaged around in my kitchen cupboards and finally determined that our chicken would have to go on to his eternal rest swaddled in lemon-scented furniture polish.

At last, we open the bag and took out what was now one really stiff chicken. He was starting to look like a big pink beef jerky. Then each of the boys carefully positioned strips of glue-soaked fabric around and around the chicken.

“How will we know when we are done,” someone asks.

“I don’t know, dude, probably when we are out of fabric.”

“Are you sure this is what we are supposed to do? I don’t think the real Egyptians would have used left-over Christmas stocking material.”

I had to admit he was right. Somehow that chicken had lost his exotic edge the minute Rudolph’s red nose was wrapped around one wing.

Finally we were done. We stood back and examined the handiwork. It was beautiful! We put it on display in the middle of the dining room table where it sat for a few weeks until the preacher and his wife came for dinner one Sunday.

We then moved it to the top of the piano. But I noticed that for several days no one wanted to practice, there was just something a little creepy about that bird and besides, the cat growled at anyone who came near the piano bench. So when my cat wasn’t looking, I placed it on a shelf in the schoolroom where it perched, surveying its golden kingdom. We had mostly forgotten about it, though there were days when I swear I could feel his little beady chicken eyes following me around the room while I drilled the boys on multiplication facts.

More months went by and we were studying the great explorers of the western world. We made swords and battering rams from old plungers. The boys wore real animal skin vests from Wal-Mart. And then, suddenly, I had a thought, a profound poultry epiphany. We were going to give our chicken a real Viking funeral. So we made our chicken a little Viking helmet, placed him in a miniature Viking ship, took his lifeless alcohol soaked form, lit him on fire and sent him sailing down the Spoon River. And as we stood there with our hands over our hearts, I wondered to myself what do you suppose you could do with a glue gun and the charred remains of a mummified chicken?

(This was the speech I gave for Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest in the fall of 2004, taking it all the way to District 54 competition and winning first place. I brought it here for your homeschooling enjoyment!)


At 9:42 AM, Blogger Stacie said...

Finally I hear the chicken story! Thats great Karen, thanks for sharing.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger PlaidHearts said...

I can not stop laughing!!!!!!

At 12:03 PM, Blogger Threefold Cord said...

I love it, Karen! :) Got here via Kristen's site...glad I came! I am a homeschooling mama to 6 children, myself...and yes...we've made a chicken mummy. We called her "Cleofatra." She was create...and yes, the neighbors DID stare at us when we changed her salt and spices. Did you know you can mummify mice? And practice your mummy wrapping on barbies? My boys loved that idea. The girls weren't so sure.

I loved your tribute on your anniversary, too. FUNNY, and true!


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