The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Jack H. Smith
Whitehall Ledger 

Column: Chicken in a Can


December 5, 2018

It always makes me laugh when I'm watching a "true crime" show and someone will describe their community as a small town.

I recently watched a show where Fort Collins, Colorado was painted as a small college town and I could not believe what I was hearing. Having lived there I can 100 percent say it is far from a town and probably has a population close to 200,000. I guess since so many people live in major cities, they probably lose sight of what a small town really is. When someone references a small town on a television show, I certainly think of places like Three Forks or Whitehall, but even more I associate a small town with a community like Willow Creek or Cardwell.

I whole-heartedly believe that the many small communities are one of the best things about Montana and it was not a complete culture shock for me when I first moved here and to a rural area. While I had lived in bigger areas, I have lived in some pretty remote places that make Three Forks seem like a bustling metropolis. One such location was in Washington State and it was quite the experience and my first true "rural living" experiences. I was working for a newspaper company with several publications and depending on what office I was at on a certain day, I was at least 30 minutes from work. I've commuted for plenty of jobs, but this one was different. Just to get to a main road I had to navigate a labyrinth of old farm roads. It was fascinating to live in one of the most fertile areas for crops in the country, but also a major pain because it was really confusing to get home.

I had a great deal for rent, so I was perfectly fine with the drive, and I also had a prime location on the main street of the town. Along with my "loft" in an old bar, I was joined on main street by a restaurant, bar, town hall, and a Mexican Market. The true gem of the main street however was a market that had one single gas pump. I'm sure at some point the market may have been bustling, but it was in bad shape. The owners couldn't even bother to pave the parking lot.

The first time I walked in I was mortified. It was like time had forgot about this market. Just a quick look around the shelves and there was food that had most likely been in the store for 10 plus years. I swear I saw products that had been discontinued years ago. Despite the fact there were crops of just about everything being grown all over the place, some of the produce looked like it had been there since the Nixon Administration. I think the market was a perfect example of how some larger stores can really hurt small business. People were driving 30 minutes to go to Target, Wal Mart, Costco or somewhere else. This store was an afterthought.

I would try to give them my business for stuff like drinks or snacks but tried not to get anything that expired before I was born. On one occasion I went to get a gravy packet for dinner and when I found one, it literally was covered in dust. This was when I found the chicken. Sitting on a bottom shelf was a "chicken in a can". I'm not talking about chicken that comes in the same container as tuna fish, I'm referencing an entire chicken stuffed in a can. While the thought of it disgusted me, I was also mesmerized. I asked my girlfriend at the time if we could purchase it, but she told me no. I knew at some point she would go out of town, so I patiently waited and when she did, I walked through the dirt lot, grabbed that chicken and was ready to take a culinary adventure. I wish I never would have left the house.


The moment I opened the can the house started to stink and when I pulled the chicken out it was covered in a mucus like film that still makes me sick to think about. Once I made my way through the film, I was able to get to some chicken and it was a salty mess. There was nothing fun about this chicken I had been craving for nearly a year. I tried to give some to my cat Peaches and he looked at me like I was crazy. I threw the chicken away and never told my girlfriend about the experience. I'm sure if she ever went to the store, she may have noticed the chicken was gone, but she probably felt bad I was that stupid. This doesn't factor in the time I spent in the bathroom.

The next time I'm watching a show and they describe somewhere as a small town, I really wish someone would remember that it's not really that small of a town unless you can buy an entire chicken in a can.


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