“Why did Elena used to smack herself in the head at the end of the chicken song?” Maggie asked.
“To make you laugh,” I said. “She loved to make you laugh.”
Maggie smiled, pleased with this answer, and said, “yeah.”
When we first adopted Maggie she was an adventurous eater. She’d eat almost anything we gave her. She loved vegetables. But then something changed. She went into a stage where she’d mostly eat processed meat. She took salami for lunch every day. If we’d let her, she would have eaten salami for dinner as well.
Elena, meanwhile, would try anything.
When Elena was three and Maggie was five I cut up some chicken and put it on their plates. “You just have to try it,” I said.
Maggie put a piece in her mouth and started to chew looking like she was going to gag. She put a piece of hotdog in her mouth and ate it to wash away the taste.
Elena tried the chicken and liked it. Maybe to suck up to me or maybe to taunt her sister she asked for more.
Elena never lived through a moment for which she couldn’t make up a song. So when I returned from the kitchen with half a dozen bite size pieces of chicken on her plate she left to her feet and began to sing.
“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken.” And then she took a piece of the plate and popped it in her mouth.
For some reason, Maggie didn’t feel teased. She thought it was funny and laughed.
So Elena added a dance to the song.
“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken.”
Maggie rolled her eyes at me but she laughed at the end of Elena’s song. With more pieces on chicken on her plate, Elena needed to embelish more. This time instead of eating the chicken at the end she added a mock swallowing sound which she sang – sustaining he last note.
“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, ahhh-goooom.”
Elena knew that she had a hit on her hands but she wanted to evaluate it for herself. So she climbed onto a chair so that she could see herself in the mirror while she sang the chicken song again. Pleased with how it looked, she sang it once more with feeling. Slowing down at the end for the big finish where she drew out every note.
“Oh yeah, I say you just got ta try this chi-i-i-i-i-i-i-ken.” Big pause. Deep breath. “Ahhh-goooom.”
Over the years, every once in a while Elena would reprise the chicken song. It could be at dinner. Often it was when Maggie, Elena and I were sitting playing cards. Maggie would say, “remember Elena’s chicken song dad?”
Elena would leap to her feet, “oh yeah. I love that song.” And she’d sing it again. When Maggie stopped laughing at the song, Elena added a final embellishment: the head slap.
“Gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken, gotta try this chicken.” Elena would then slap her forehead with her palm like she’d just forgotten something really important. Then she’d finish, “ahhh-goom.”
Maggie would roll her eyes at me. But she’d always smile at Elena. And that was all the reward and encouragement Elena ever needed.