According to my Urban Dictionary, the above phrase dates from early days in Las Vegas, when a standard gambling bet was two dollars, and most casinos offered a three-piece chicken dinner for $1.79. Anyone who won a bet would have the price of a chicken dinner (winner winner)!
One of our neighboring Idaho towns has put another spin on the phrase… Local legend has it that a farm-wife invited a politician to her farmhouse for a Sunday dinner about a century ago, and guided his arrival with “Chicken Dinner” signs painted with arrows. She had a scheme up her sleeve, though, and leaned on him to promise some road improvements before he was permitted to tuck into his apple pie.
She carried her point (“Winner Winner,” indeed!), and the resulting route is still named for her victory: Chicken Dinner Road. One of the nearby wineries even offers a “Chicken Dinner red” in its honor.
Whether these Urban Legend-esque explanations are accurate or not, the expression itself is apropos for our last family weekend, involving both chickens and Poker-playing…
We did enjoy a chicken dinner, courtesy of Keoni and his kitchen apprentice, Elena Grace: Katsu chicken, a popular Hawai’ian dish, and a favorite with the kids. But mostly last weekend we were winding up our preparations for welcoming some live laying-hens to the family. Our big news: the Chicken House is finished!
There are a few more touches to add; Keoni intends to cut shingles from some of our scrounged cedar planking, we’ll cut a space for an air vent (one of the items we scrounged from the neighborhood’s due-to-be-demolished trailer), and the back side hasn’t yet been painted. But the house and its surrounding fencing (complete with a left-over gate scrounged from another neighbor’s re-fencing project) are functionally finished, and ready for chickens!
Having seen similar structures offered on Craigslist for prices ranging from $200 to a thousand dollars, we’re very pleased with ourselves regarding our total project cost. (You noticed the repetition of the word “scrounged” above?) Thanks to our enthusiastic application of scrounging-and-bartering habits, our Hale Moa (the Hawai’ian words for “chicken house”) cost a grand total of thirty-one dollars. We purchased nails from Home Depot and chicken wire through Craigslist, but those were our only expenditures. We were scheduled to pick up the chickens themselves this weekend, but we had to postpone our adoption-day due to a medical emergency at the other end…
In the meantime, though, Elena Grace thinks she might write a welcome-letter for the chickens, since we’re already set up for poultry-post… The mailbox beside the chicken-house is our joke with our son Christian. When he first proposed the poultry project, he asked if he could help out with raising and caring for them. I answered without hesitation that he could be in charge of them if he wished to be the official Chicken Wrangler.
His response? “Actually, Mom” [his signature phrase since his toddler years] “a person usually has to start a job at the bottom and work their way up to full responsibility. You start in the mail-room—isn’t that how it works?” Well, we still had the mailbox from our last house, so we installed it in the chicken yard to afford him the opportunity of “starting in the mail room.”
The weekend’s other highlight was some poker-playing. We taught Christian to play a few years ago, and we’ve been promising to teach Elena Grace so the family can play. We finally made good on our promise—Elena Grace insisting on playing without help after the first hand, referring only to the written-out description of the various scoring hands. Fiercely independent little cuss, this one. I did have to promise her a “clean copy” re-write of the list, though, because I had inadvertently switched the punctuation style mid-stream—a deviation that offended her obsessive-compulsive need for consistency…
She added a “rule” of her own to the top of the list, after Keoni donned his sunglasses partway through the game. He was just goofing around, with the shades of World Series poker players in mind, but Elena Grace immediately declared the wearing of sunglasses to be a new “Tyler tradition,” and we rounded up all the sunglasses in the house so the kids could each choose a pair. Just for fun, I added a leather jacket to the look—a spontaneous idea that snowballed into half an hour of ransacking closets for an all-around game of dress-up.
Keoni and I didn’t say anything at the time, but I have to note that our eyes met (with matching raised eyebrows!) at her allusion to a Tyler tradition. The kids’ last name is not Tyler, but they have been applying it to themselves with increasing frequency… When I married Keoni, I thought it might be important to Christian (age 7 at the time) to have his last name still be a part of Mom’s, so I asked him to choose whether I should hyphenate. I’ve been grateful ever since for his decision: “That would be unnecessarily complicated, Mom. You should just take Keoni’s name.”
I’m also remembering an irate phone call a few years ago from my Ex, who was objecting to the fact that we labeled items (beach towels, etc.) with the Tyler-XXX hyphenate. “The kids are not Tyler-XXX,” he complained, to which I replied that we weren’t applying the hyphenated name to the kids, but that the kids are members of the Tyler-and-XXX family. “No they aren’t,” he insisted with angry illogic.
I can just imagine his response if he heard Elena Grace comment that she’s glad she’s a girl, because she’ll be able to get rid of her last name when she marries. He’d really throw a fit if he heard Christian’s occasional remark that he might legally change his name when he turns 18.
As for us, we don’t make a fuss about the kids’ use of names, though we certainly note it.
Our smiles didn’t stem from the fact of Elena Grace using the Tyler name, so much as from the natural and unpremeditated way in which she employed it. It’s the meta-message that makes us joyful: the kids feel loved and valued and home with us. And that’s Christian’s comment every time they arrive at our house: “It feels good to be Home.” Given that they spend the majority of time at their dad’s house during the school year, that designation says a great deal. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner all around!