It perhaps spoke to how comfortably middle-class Dorsey Birmingham’s life was that she took her second-place finish at at the county fair chicken salad contest as a gross, personal, slight. Missy Burgermeister had clearly had some devilish slight-of-hand on her side, perhaps bribery. After all, the $150 cash prize meant she could slip a crisp $50 to each judge and still come out even. And unlike Dorsey, she did NOT have Grandmother Birmingham’s chicken salad recipe, one which had seen generations of fowl laid low and served with whipped mayonnaise. That kind of patina couldn’t be bought, only earned.

Perhaps it was for the best that Dorsey never learned that Grandma Birmingham had clipped the recipe off the back of an old jar of Immelman’s Best Country Mayonnaise Spread.

Still, Dorsey had plans for the $15 prize money that the $75 for second place simply would not cover. Gertrude’s enclosure needed new chicken wire, and it had to be the good stuff. In her younger days, when she needed glasses but refused to wear them, Dorsey had mistaken a young possum straight from the forest for a kitten and hand-raised it. Now that she was older, and needed contact lenses more powerful than the ones she deigned to put in, Gertrude IV needed her play space. If it had been better built, with strong wire that could resist pit bulls, Gertrude III might still be alive and with us today.

There were ways of retaliation though, oh yes. Dorsey Birmingham had a galaxy of retributive options laid out before her to make sure that Missy Burgermeister regretted plying the judges with money and sexual favors for her ill-gotten win. In addition to being the administratrix at the local animal shelter–woe betide Punky Burgermeister if he ever wound up there!–Dorsey sat on the boards for the Ladies’ Auxiliary, the Cotillion Club, and the OkraFest planning committee. She would do her darndest to see Missy never got her foot in the door with any of those organizations ever again.

Some might have said that chicken salad was just a small thing. And it was, but as Grandpa Birmingham used to say, all it takes is a small salvo to start a war.

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