Saturday, March 9, 2013

Fearless Females: Working Girl

Lisa Alzo at The Accidental Genealogist launched a series of 31 blogging prompts for celebrating and honoring the "fearless females" in our family trees in March, 2010. This year the series is being revisited in honor of National Women’s History Month and the purpose is to focus on the women in our lives and to make sure their stories are told.

Today’s prompt is from March 12:  Did your mother or grandmother work outside the home? What did she do? Describe her occupation.

I know that my grandmother, Loraine Gunzendorfer, worked as a secretary as a young woman but from what I know, she didn’t really care about the job or occupation all that much.  My mother didn’t work as we were growing up but after we all moved out, she found her niche working part time in a book store.  Mom is a voracious reader to this day and I’m quite sure she spent her entire paycheck each week on new books!

But Mom’s mother, Clara Fitzgerald Martin Hunter, was a working girl as we were growing up.  Sure, she’d worked as a young woman as my mom was growing up – after all, she was divorced (not too common in the 1940’s) and raising a daughter on her own.  But it was her occupation while she was a grandma that always fascinated me – she was a chicken farmer!  She and her second husband, our step-grandfather, Shell (appropriate name for a chicken farmer) Hunter, raised hundreds or thousands of chickens and sold the eggs to local restaurants, grocery stores, and anyone else who would come along.

I really don’t know exactly how many chickens they had but I would guess it was over a thousand and maybe closer to two thousand.  There were chickens and eggs everywhere!  And boy did we love visiting so we could help with collecting the eggs, cleaning them, weighing them, and putting them into the boxes.  Then after they were put into a huge refrigerator, Grandpa would pile them in the car and off he’d go to deliver them.  I also have memories of people coming by to pick up dozens and dozens of eggs.

Boy this was a lot of work!  Grandma would spend hours “candling” the eggs to ensure there was no blood inside – it wouldn’t be too appetizing to have the restaurant serve an egg with a spot of blood on it.  Here’s Grandma at work in the candling room.

Clara candling eggs

The lights were turned down as Grandma put each egg in to the lit container in order to see shadows of what was inside.  Then she’d turned it over and put the other end in and repeat the process.  This was a very delicate procedure and one we weren’t allowed to help with.  But while she was doing that, we’d sit at a table with baskets of eggs and one by one we’d clean them, careful not to break them.  And after they were candled, we'd weigh them and put them into batches of small, medium, large, extra large, and jumbo.  Our favorites were the “pee wees” – little ones about the size of a fifty cent piece.  We’d carefully take them home and share them at Show & Tell.

Here’s Grandpa Shell with his hens.  Looking at them now it doesn’t look too humane to have them all shoved in those cages but it was handy when they’d lay an egg and it would roll down into the trough.  We could walk by with a big egg basket and quickly collect lots of eggs.

Shell with chickens

There were also areas that were like a big stall where the hens would all run loose.  I don’t remember collecting eggs in there so they must have been the young chickens who weren’t producing yet.  I didn’t really like going in there as those birds would run around and sometimes even fly at you.

I know these chickens were a lot of work.  When we’d be visiting, Grandma and Grandpa would have someone come to the house to “chicken sit” if they wanted to go out to dinner with us.  And traveling even overnight was next to impossible for them.   I will always remember Grandma sitting in the warm Fresno sunshine, cleaning eggs while listening to her beloved San Francisco Giants on the radio.

I think Grandma and Grandpa must have rubbed off on me because we’ve raised chickens in the past.  It wasn’t a business for us but we did enjoy watching them interact with each other and our kids loved them, too.  And now that we’re grandparents, we’re passing the tradition on to our grandchildren as we’ll once again raise chickens so they can learn more about them.  10 days ago we became the proud owners of new chicks, all of whom have been claimed and named by the grandchildren.  It’s amazing how fast they grow as these chickens aren’t even two weeks old yet.

Some great memories with Grandma and Grandpa, chicken farmers!

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