The Chemistry Chicken

We had done the math, and without a doubt, Todd and I were going to flunk 11th grade chemistry.

It was 1978 and as my buddy and I sat in the back of Mr. Smith’s room, we knew that we would run out of school year before we had any chance of making a passing grade.

We were desperate.

As class was dismissed, we waited until all of the other students left the room.

“Mr. Smith?” I said. “Can we talk to you for a second?”

“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that you boys are failing, would it?” Mr. Smith asked.

“Yes, sir,” Todd said.

“Well, exactly what is it that you two think that I can do about that?” he said.

“In exchange for a passing grade, we are willing to offer our services for anything that would be helpful to you and the class,” I said.

“Anything?” He said.

“Pretty much,” said Todd.

“I want a chicken skeleton. In a nice glass case,” said Mr. Smith.

Mr. Smith also taught a biology class and obviously needed a chicken skeleton.

Todd and I looked at each other, then back at him.

“You got it,” Todd said.

We left.

“Where do you buy a chicken skeleton?” I asked my partner as we walked to our next class. “I don’t know,” he said.

We both went home and asked our parents where to buy a chicken skeleton. My dad looked at me as if I had three eyes. He informed me that if I wanted a chicken skeleton, I needed to start with a live chicken.

I called Todd, and he said that his dad told him the same thing.

So, the next day, Todd and I bought a chicken from a local man.

As we drove back to Todd’s house, I said, “So, do we shoot it or break its neck?”

“Can’t do either,” Todd said. “Can’t break any of the bones if we’re going to make a skeleton.”

He had a point.

“I guess we have to smother it,” I said.

“I guess so,” he said.

We arrived at Todd’s house and took the chicken and the cage out of the car.

We both stared at the chicken.

“Well,” I said. “You wanna hold or smother?”

“I’ll smother,” he said.

I’ll spare you the next 10 minutes of the story, but suffice it to say, chickens are a lot like people. They don’t like to be smothered.

At first, we decided to pluck the chicken, but then our hands got tired, so we took him and, feathers and all, threw him in a boiling pot in Todd’s mom’s kitchen.

There’s a reason that a chicken’s insides are removed before they’re boiled. About 15 minutes into the boiling process, the smell began to be annoying. Then it became unbearable.

We opened the windows and turned on the fans.

It still smelled awful.

About this time, Todd’s mom came home. Boy, was she mad.

Todd, myself, and the boiled chicken all found ourselves in the front yard. We dumped out everything in the yard and slowly went through it.

This was way before the Internet, so we had to look through the encyclopedia to find a photo and bone count of a chicken.

Once we found all of the bones, we proceeded to clean and dry them. Using the picture in the Funk and Wagnalls, we used glue and coat hangers to build our chicken skeleton on a wooden base.

The hardware store had the wood and glass for the rest of the display case.

When we took the chicken skeleton to Mr. Smith, we could tell that he was impressed.

“You boys have a much brighter future in chicken skeletons than you do in chemistry,” he said.

Todd and I got our passing grades, went on to the 12th grade, graduation, and then on with our lives.

Several years after graduation, I returned to my old high school for an event. When it was over, I was walking back to the parking lot and passed my old chemistry classroom. I stopped and peered through the window.

There it was. Right where it sat the last time I saw it. Sitting on a table near the front of the classroom.

The chemistry chicken had not died in vain.

©2016 John Moore
For more of John’s musings, visit

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