Cleaning was easy – she just dipped the chicken in boiling water for a few seconds and removed the feathers.
Likewise, carving was easy for her. I do remember her saying, “I’ve got to cut that wishbone piece just right.” And that she did, for she enjoyed seeing the children make a wish with the piece after the fricassee, gumbo or smothered chicken was cooked and eaten.
I do not remember which two children got the wishbone. It could have been the youngest ones or grandma may have decided based on which two were better behaved.
Children nowadays would probably not recognize the wishbone piece, and if they did, they probably would not know how to wish with it.
For those who are unfamiliar with the bone, it is a little fork shaped bone found in the front part of the bird’s breast. The great thing about this bone is that when two people pull on its ends, it will split into two pieces, but not cleanly in half. One end will take the top of the bone with it and it’s, therefore, larger.
Two contestants would each grab on piece of the bone (after the meat was eaten and the bone thoroughly sucked) and each would pull in opposite directions.
The winner of the contest was the one who wound up with the larger piece. This is the one who would make the wish.
For some, the wish was to have a remaining drumstick. There was no sense in wishing for too much; it’s not as if the wish ever actually came true anyway.
It was about two centuries ago when a tribe in Italy began the tradition. These Etruscan people considered chickens to be a “know-it-all” kind of bird.
Tribe members sought insight from the poultry by placing kernels of grain in a circle that represented the 20 letters of their alphabet. A chicken would eat the seeds in certain patterns, which provided messages to the tribe members. After the event, the chicken was prepared and eaten. The collarbone was saved and later dried in the sun. Members were allowed to make a wish, while stroking the bone, and then the battle would begin.
The pilgrims carried the wishing tradition to the United States. A major difference was that these pilgrims discovered turkeys on the American soil. The turkey had a much larger wishbone and the pilgrims had bigger needs so I assume they made bigger wishes.
Most of us elders still remember the wishbone and the tradition. Few of the youngsters do. I recently mentioned “wishbone” to some teenagers. When asked, one boy mentioned that it had something to do with a play developed by the Oklahoma University football team. One mentioned that “wishbone” was the name brand for a salad dressing. One youngster thought that it was either the name of a music group or the name of a song. Finally, someone mentioned that her mother had told her about making a wish on a chicken’s wishbone. Hopefully the tradition will continue!
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