Since I keep talking about writing from experience, I thought I would write this week about an episode of my life that has been on my mind lately. I can’t explain why it just happened to pop up this past week or two, especially since it took place more than 40 years ago.
The year was 1971 and I was in my single digits, but old enough – at least back in those days – to get around town on my own. My family and I were living that summer in a flat in Bucharest, the-then capital of “communist Romania,” well behind the Iron Curtain. Bucharest, of course, is still the capital, but as this was a different time, it may as well have also been a different place.
When we were not touring the beautiful Carpathian Mountains or enjoying the beaches of Romania’s Black Sea, we pretty much got caught up in the city life routine of Bucharest.
I know this all sounds more like a story in itself, but the event I want to highlight occurred one morning in the courtyard, in the rear of our building, where I liked to play.
So anyway, during that particular morning, one of the neighbor women who I got to know, came out carrying a live chicken. She had, apparently, maintained a firm grip on the legs all the way home from the market, as it hung upside down squawking in her right hand.
If you have already figured what was about to happen, don’t spoil the “surprise.” Remember, I was just a young child from a big, modern American city, who wasn’t quite sure what the woman’s next move was going to be and certainly did not want to believe it.
Oh yeah, I suspected what was about to go down, but it all happened so fast, that I didn’t have time to digest it until it was all over. Even if there had been time, which there wasn’t, I couldn’t ask what she was doing, since my Romanian vocabulary encompassed little more than “good morning” and “thank you.” It did not include, “What the bloody hell are you doing with that chicken and cleaver?!”
The deed was done in only a second, but the main event had just begun. The chicken’s severed head flapped around, bobbing up and down, clucking wildly, as if it had taken on its own life and personality. I’m sure this was all a weekly routine for the woman, but up until then I had never seen anything like it, especially as a small kid from “big city America.” Had I mentioned that? After all, it was enough of a shocker to have to stand in long lines for fresh milk; that is if you could even find a market that had it in stock in this country where most farmers didn’t have the luxury of a tractor and still used a horse and cart to get produce to the market.
But then, over in “ring number two,” the chicken’s headless body did its own act, running – not walking – around the courtyard in a circle and in a state shock, as if it could see where it was going. It was as if it, too, had taken on its own personality, not realizing the cleaver across the neck deal meant it was supposed to drop dead.
Okay, so even though I have yet to use any part of this particular incident in any of my stories, this is the type of personal experience I draw on when I type away on my keyboard. It is an event that, 40-plus years later and for better or worse, remains vividly imprinted in my mind. And, while it is rare that I will use an entire event in a story, I will take bits and pieces to combine and embellish to fit my needs.