A long time ago, in a lifetime far, far away — when I was still eating flesh and muscle — there was a grand tradition during Summertime in Nebraska for family and friends to get together and eat outside under the sun, moon and stars.  BBQ was a rite of passage and to get there, you not only had to learn how to BBQ, you also had to be a master eater as well.

Unfortunately, for young children, eating meat on bone usually means there is some muscle and gristle and bones left behind — and some people, who were born poor and raised to be frugal — can get upset that one child’s “completely eaten chicken leg” is, in evidence, barely more than a single missing biteful.

An old family friend, who was raised on a dirt poor farm in the Midwest would cringe at the uneaten leftovers, and instead of allowing the uneaten bits left on the chicken bones to be thrown away, he’d ask that any leftover bones — even bones stripped of any ready meat by ravenous teenagers and experienced adults — be piled on his plate so he could “finish them off” on behalf of the “starving children in Africa.”

My friend would then commence to consume every last bit of chicken, gristle and bone.  Like a dog, he would chew on each bone, consecutively and meticulously, so he could suck out the little bit of marrow in the dead body part.

It was always quite a show to watch him vacuum empty every single bone set before him. Jokes about a human garbage disposal abounded each time he set forth on that feat of hubris and demonstration of gastrointestinal strength; but the process was always sad and sloppy, and greasy, and gross, and the only thing left behind on his plate when he finished was something akin to residual nuclear ash from a bonfire of his vanity.

I’m not sure if a person ever stops feeling like an impoverished child — no matter how much money or success won as an adult.

One cannot help but feel the ongoing pain of a man who could not let a single chicken bone pass by with a little bit of gristle left hanging off the joint.

It was as if he were possessed — not by a need to be unwasteful — but by an overwhelming compulsion to confirm the hope he’d never have to go to bed again hungry, no matter how desperate he became, if he faithfully finished what others left behind.

A man like that can never satisfy the stricken child trapped within, and that’s a sort of silent suffering that no mound of chicken bones could ever mend.


  1. During the Jewish holiday of Passover there are two meals at which meat is traditionally served. One of the laws of Passover is that during the meal one is forbidden to suck the marrow from the bones, as the holiday celebrates the freedom of the Jewish people from Egypt and breaking bones to suck marrow is a sign of poverty — which we do not consider ourselves, at least during the holiday!

    Great story as always, David!

    1. That’s interesting!

      I know in some steak houses beef marrow is a delicacy — “nature’s butter” — and you spread it on toast or just scoop it from the bone, but the whole notion is a little displeasurable to me.

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